Malaysia has recently been beset by an epidemic of betrayal and disloyalty in the political arena. There seems to be no penchant for integrity in the accelerating realignments of opportunity. In this never ending saga, this interminable tragedy, that is contemporary Malaysian politics, one figure stand out as a complex of qualities. A relentless fighter, a hopeless loser, beacon of hope, a focus of hatred and an object of ridicule, Anwar Ibrahim is all of these in one. He seems to be all things to all Malaysians, and while he is still the leader of the parliamentary opposition, his recent u-turn on around challenging the incumbent Bersatu-led government on the budget vote may signal an the end of his long and arduous quest to become Prime Minister.
Anwar purports to stand reform and unity over corruption and ethnocentric politics, but his past and his present actions indicate that this may just be the position he finds himself in. Anwar began as a firebrand Malay/ Islamic youth leader in the late 1960’s who was co-opted to the mainstream of Malaysian politics by Dr Mahathir Mohamed in 1982 and then dramatically ejected from his place of power in the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and imprisoned on the basis of a sodomy conviction, arguably under the auspices of by the very same Dr M in 1993. His recent return to a place of power has, once again, been on the coat-tails of Dr. M and, once again, he has been severely let down. This recent collaboration between these two bitter political political foes was arrived at on the basis of the utter repugnance and destructiveness of the present UMNO leadership. Now, in the increasingly fragmentary and multivalent political scenario, there is some well reasoned speculation that Anwar is contemplating alignment with these very folks. As the Financial Times puts it, some might say that his journey “has been Janus-faced and opportunistic.”
The Asia Times suggests that Anwar faces such a situation today, that he might prefer to “choose to withdraw PKR from the PH coalition to stand in the general election on its own, affording him more room to negotiate with UMNO or form a new coalition with whichever parties are expedient depending on the outcome of the polls.” Disappointing though this all is from the point of view of the mandate and manifesto, I suggest that, either by reason of true conviction or pure circumstance, Anwar Ibrahim remains the best hope for a progressive and inclusive Malaysia. I am not, however, optimistic that, if Anwar pursues such a hardcore realpolitik , it will play out for the good of all the rakyat.
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The above image from the from the Panji Pauh Ulong Series was shot in on the Lumut Waterfront, Perak in the course of the Dari Pusat Tasek performance presented by Percha Artspace on 25th Dec 2019. A 15 ft banner image of Anwar Ibrahim was raised on an 18ft flagstand in a performance that was loosely based on a Perak Malay cleansing ritual using cut limes. After 7 points of my body were rubbed with lime, I faced East and spat 7 times. I then threw the remains of the limes in the Westerly direction saying, “Pergi-lah semua sial jambalang daripada badan aku dan dari tubuh negara, pergilah ke Pusat Tasek Pauh Janggi“ (‘Misfortune and spirits of evil begone from my body and from the body of the nation, begone to the Navel of the Seas!). Water was then poured over me in order to complete the cleansing.