(The Sun) There is just so much first time MP Nurul Izzah Anwar can do to bring change to the country. Beside taking care of Lembah Pantai which she won in 2008 she is also highlighting national issues in Parliament. While she may have her sights on bigger things, she tells ZAINON AHMAD and ALYAA ALHADJRI that there is no hurry.
theSun: Watching your father, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, grow into a powerful national politician and the second most powerful man in the country in the 1990s, did you harbour any interest at all of one day entering politics? Or were you motivated to enter politics only after your father was sacked, arrested and jailed?
NURUL: I would say that it’s a combination of many factors. But certainly what happened in 1998 changed the 17-year-old idealistic student – full of youthful exuberance – to a determined campaigner to right what was wrong. Of course, at that time I was all fired up and thought I could change the world.
theSun: What did you do?
NURUL: With the support of relatives, friends and well-wishers we tried to get all the help we could at home and abroad, to get as much sympathy for my father’s case. But gradually we tried to develop the rallying of support into a movement for justice, not just fighting for Anwar. And hence the reformasi movement, many of whose leaders are now core members of PKR. Helped by these people, my perspectives gradually changed. It was no longer about my father alone. It was a bigger movement. And this saw us campaigning alongside PAS and DAP. And in 2008, to finally enter active politics, I contested in the general election.
You know in 1999 when PKR first contested as a party … your mother contested in Permatang Pauh, a constituency your father had held since 1982. I think your party won five seats. But in 2004 only your mother managed to cling on to her seat. Did you see it as people becoming disenchanted with reformasi?
NURUL: It was a low point for us. In the beginning, we had huge turnouts at all the ceramah. If I recall correctly, it started with the arrest of some of our leaders who were the main speakers at the rallies. Very good orators, very captivating. Low on resources, we just trudged along. And we were against a very powerful and resourceful ruling party, Barisan Nasional, led for the first time in more than 20 years by a new man Datuk Seri (now Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He, too, promoted reforms.
The promise of change that Abdullah represented was enough to dwarf other efforts at change and reform. Agree?
NURUL: Yes, something like that. Basically, he wanted to change everything. It was a euphoric hailing of the post-Tun Mahathir Mohamad era. None in my generation had known any other prime minister but Mahathir. So all these factors converged and resulted in a generally pro-BN sentiment. And, of course, you know even for Permatang Pauh we had to do a recount. I was with my mother there. It was very disappointing but we didn’t despair.
And it paid off in 2008. It was a totally different experience, almost within reach of power.
NURUL: For us, in Keadilan, it was such an amazing journey because we managed to get multi-racial support. In 1999, it was majority Malay that came to our ceramah, but in 2008 a very good mix.
In 2008, when you were pitted against Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, a three-termer and a minister. Was there any apprehension on your part?
NURUL: I was very much an underdog. But during the campaign, I sensed the sentiment on the ground was very much in favour of change. The people wanted an MP who could really represent them in Parliament. Still it was only two days before polling that I felt I had a chance of winning. And I won, and with such a convincing margin too. About 2,800 votes.
But this time around there has been speculation here and there that your support may not be as fulsome as it was in 2008 and some people are saying that you may even move. And if the BN chooses Senator Datuk Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin, the federal territories minister, to fight you, your chance of winning may not be good as in 2008.
NURUL: Being an MP in the Federal Territory has a lot of limitations. I am alone and have no influence on how taxpayers’ money is spent. What I have at my disposal is very limited. But I do my best in my capacity as legislator to take up national issues. At the same time, I try to provide whatever service I can. I organise volunteer doctors to provide service to my constituents. But, more importantly, I listen to them. I listen to their woes and try to get whatever assistance I can for them.
In view of the BN trying hard to regain the constituency, can you get those who voted for you in 2008 to continue to support you?
NURUL: I will say this. There are challenges. For instance, there are now about 15,000 new voters in Lembah Pantai. Many of them had just moved in. Others are those who qualify to vote for the first time. These are some of the challenges! That’s why we call for a level playing field. That’s why we call for a clean electoral roll. It can be intimidating, yes. But all things considered, I am confident. Because people are more matured. They want a legislator who can truly represent them.
As you may well know, that to have clout in the party in order to help in formulating policies, you must hold some important position. Thus members bid for positions in their parties. In your case, when you bid for the vice-presidency and won, you can’t help people saying that she got it because she is the party de facto leader’s daughter. In so far as bidding for positions in the party, being Anwar’s daughter has its advantage.
NURUL: I know what you are getting at. But let me say this: You can always choose your vocation, your hobbies, but you cannot choose your parents. And for me, yes it is part of who I am. I would not be here without them. But it is also very important for me as a person in my own right, a person with my own philosophy and capability. I love being in politics now because I love being in this field. It is very important to love your job.
Which means you love politicking, intrigue, horse-trading?
NURUL: You put it in such negative terms! Whether you like it or not you have to have the best person to do the job. At the end of the day, these are the people who will decide the course the country should take. So I always believe in sincerity. The stakes are high and the ability to negotiate is important. It is more about managing relationships, making sure you make the best, most well-informed decisions and this involves a lot of negotiation. Certainly it involves a lot of meetings and understanding of your opponents as well as political supporters.
Now that you are vice-president, the next step for you is, of course, the deputy presidency.
Surely you don’t want to remain vice-president for ever? Surely you must have set your sights higher? Maybe even president?
NURUL: I think right now there is so much work to be done for the party … for the next general election. I need to focus on the work at hand.
So, for the moment, that’s it?
NURUL: That’s it.
Would you like to comment on PKR deputy president Azmin Ali’s recent statement that Pakatan Rakyat should avoid nepotism in politics and that he had paid a high price for his loyalty to your father.
NURUL: Many of us have paid a high price for our loyalty to the struggle. We take risks. My father said in 1998 that “if you flinch from taking risks, do not even bother to talk about the struggle.” Until today, it is impossible to count how many people have sacrificed. I am one of them. Malaysian politics is a very challenging terrain. It was not an easy decision to make to be involved, for me and for many others of my generation. People will judge whether you are up for the job, whether you are deserving, regardless of who your parents might be. And I will let these judgements take their course. That’s all I can do.
You have come a long way from the precocious little girl living in a house in Section 14, Petaling Jaya, when your father, who was Umno Youth head then, was about to make a bid to be one of the vice-presidents. Now that you are one of the PKR vice-presidents, has the prime minister-ship ever been in your sights?
NURUL: Well, like I said earlier, at the moment I am just focused on the work at hand. Like everything in life, you just take it one day at a time.