In Malaysia Baharu, Anwar’s time starts now

Shazwan Mustafa Kamal
PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim speaks during a dinner event at Tanam Putri Jaya in Balakong September 6, 2018. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 9 ― Politics is not for the faint-hearted but for those who are in it for the long haul. If there's anyone who understands this very well, it is Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The PKR president-elect has certainly had an illustrious and dramatic career, having survived so many political hiccups that could have ended his prospects. From the height of power as deputy prime minister in the 1990s to being imprisoned over corruption and twice over trumped-up sodomy charges, many would have believed that a political resurrection would be highly unlikely.

But then May 9, 2018 happened and with it, the so-called “death” of Malaysia Lama and birth of Malaysia Baharu ― and the possibilities now seem endless. The downfall of an allegedly corrupt regime and the installment of a new government, made up of former Opposition leaders and the man who was once his biggest nemesis, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Within days after Pakatan Harapan's GE14 win, Anwar was released with a full royal pardon.

But what role does Anwar play while he waits for Dr Mahathir to “fix” the country's problems before handing over the prime minister's post? 

There have been some doubts to this, and if Anwar should be relegated to a role of a “diplomat”, strengthening bilateral relations with leaders of other countries on an unofficial basis, while PH runs things.

The official narrative from Anwar is that he is in no rush to return to government, and will take his time before contesting in a by-election to become MP.

But that by-election date has now been brought forward, as PKR is set to announce the seat Anwar will be contesting in next week.

It is a move that has divided public opinion among PH supporters, but one which is necessary. Politics is about perception, and the reality is that Anwar needs to cement his position as a political leader and to “reintroduce” himself as soon as possible to a new generation of voters, those who may not be familiar with the Reformasi movement or his time as Opposition Leader after 2008.

Memories are a fickle thing. People tend to forget the past and in politics, it is crucial to remind voters who you are and what you have to offer frequently, and because Malaysia Baharu needs Anwar.

Why?

We talk about the new PH government and how all the different parties came together as one, but this would never have happened without the original template provided by Anwar via the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

As leader of PR, Anwar showcased the need to forge and cement alliances and  to work together to overcome differences. DAP and PAS did not always see eye to eye, but Anwar tried his best to make sure the partnership was oiled and primed to work as one force until at one point, they just could not.

For all the talk there is about PH's array of younger leaders like Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, Rafizi Ramli, Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail and Nurul Izzah Anwar, they would not be where they are today without Anwar's guidance and leadership.

Dr Mahathir may be the face of PH, but Anwar is the heart of the coalition. Without PR, there would not have been PH.

And fresh out of prison, Anwar has already showcased his skill for tactful diplomacy as a leader. His official visits with Sultans as well as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong have been successful in assuaging concerns as to Malay rights and the role of the Rulers in Malaysia Baharu.

Anwar's meeting with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V back in June helped smoothen the appointment of Tommy Thomas as the new Attorney General, although the PKR leader has downplayed his part in it.

There are now parties who have been trying to pit Anwar and Dr Mahathir against each other, and Anwar knows this, and has been extra careful in his public statements, making sure to acknowledge Dr Mahathir's role as PM and to avoid making any untoward remarks.

All these are actions of a consummate politician, one who is ready to become the next prime minister.

What next?

Anwar should not waste any time to contest a parliamentary seat and return as a federal lawmaker. Yes, there will be some unhappiness over the move, but his presence in Parliament is important in his path to become the next PM.

Once in Parliament, Anwar will have the chance to be an effective backbencher; one who is ready to advise and even criticise the government of the day when the need arises.

As MP, Anwar can use his position to ensure that all of PH's promised reform pledges are realised, such as the formation of bipartisan select committees to decide on appointments of key officials.

But beyond that, Anwar can then also start working on his own personal reform pledges for when he becomes PM, ones that can be separate from PH's electoral promises.

As MP, Anwar will have that platform to distinguish himself as a leader and what he has to offer to the Malaysian electorate.

Last but not least, Anwar should also push for a deputy presidential debate between Azmin and Rafizi. There has been a lot of bad blood between the two, and it has tarnished PKR's image.

As a reformist and future PM, Anwar's backing for a debate would be good to not only put an end to the public attacks by both camps, but to allow members to see what each leader has to offer and for everyone to close ranks during the election process.

The ball is ultimately in Anwar's court, but he has to strike while the iron is hot.

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