The hard work of forging alliances

Richard Synge

Creating a common platform among the parties challenging the ruling coalition was “an arduous task”, Anwar Ibrahim tells Global

The general election of March 2008 brought about a new political landscape in which the incumbent National Front (Barisan Nasional – BN) was, for the first time, matched by a strong performance among opposition parties at both federal and state levels. The results soon put Anwar Ibrahim – himself a former deputy prime minister who fell out with the ruling coalition in 1998 – into the frame as the fully-fledged leader of the opposition.

The three leading challengers were Anwar’s own People’s Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat – PKR), the Chinese dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia – PAS).

Although each had its distinct agenda, the effort to bring them together under the umbrella of a People’s Alliance (Pakatan Rakyat – PR) eventually proved successful.

Interviewed by Global, Anwar Ibrahim said that the PR “is now a coalition not just based on what is deemed to be expedient but based on a clear policy paradigm, things that the BN after half a century is not able to develop… I think we are on the moral high ground.” Creating a common platform was tricky. “Frankly, initially it was very, very challenging and an arduous task, because you have to continue having regular meetings on every alternate day and also weekly just to get them to understand the need for a viable, cohesive opposition force,” he said. “Our feeling was… that we must spell out the agenda on all the sensitive and controversial issues, like freedom of religion, freedom of expression, the rule of law, economic policies and education.”

Of the component parties, Anwar admitted that his own PKR had recently suffered setbacks and defections to the government but said that its ability to penetrate the traditional heartlands of the BN had made it “the major target and victim of incessant propaganda and attack”. Of the Islamic PAS, which recently elected a new leadership, he said: “The party has matured and has given enough space for people of various educational or cultural backgrounds to come in and participate.”

The court cases – relating to allegations of sodomy – that Anwar has been subjected to have been a distraction, he admitted, but he remained defiant: “They are just desperate to defeat me at all costs, and to defeat me in court if they cannot do so in politics and elections. I can be talking to you but not a word appears in the mainstream media. I can be the opposition leader, I can enter any university in this country and I can speak there but I am not given even one minute of airtime on television. People are not aware of this. They think that this is Malaysia, a well-run Muslim country where there are free and fair elections.”

Commenting on the opposition’s electoral performance in 2008, Anwar said: “Despite all this incessant propaganda and control of the systems of governance, we were able to win five states – the majority in Malaya – and we lost because of the loss in Sarawak and Sabah, and so I tell my friends not to be too disheartened.” He claims to be “very optimistic” about the next elections and believes that the outcome will be more convincing: “We will be able to penetrate the rural heartlands, particularly in Sabah and Sarawak, and make a difference and be able to offer an alternative government.”

About the author:

Richard Synge, Editor of Global, is a freelance journalist, editor and writer, specialising in the politics and economics of Africa.


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