Anwar’s open house attracted Malaysians from all walks of life

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Anwar Ibrahim will be having a dialogue with the legal fraternity at 5.00pm today. The dialogue, which will, amongst others, feature his views on Malaysia’s legal system as well as what he had to go through these last six years, will be held at the Bar Council Auditorium in Kuala Lumpur.

Yesterday, Anwar’s open house attracted Malaysians from all walks of life. You would not be faulted if you mistakenly thought you had stumbled in on a Malay College Kuala Kangsar Old Boy’s Association (MCOBA) gathering or an Umno meeting. Both, in fact, were well-represented.

For that matter, the Reformasi presence seems to have been downplayed somewhat and the only indication of politics were the welcome and congratulatory banners carrying the party colours lining the road leading to the house, in this case the Parti Keadilan Rakyat colours.

Malaysia Today spent many an hour photographing the various dignitaries and familiar faces amongst what could have been ten thousand converging on Anwar’s Bukit Damansara home. It was of course extremely difficult to assess the size of the crowd as there were streams of visitors both ways — those arriving as well as those leaving — so it was quite a smooth flow.

While on the subject of crowd turnout, it was reported that 200,000 turned out for the Umno open house at PMTC on the first day of Hari Raya and another 80,000 at Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s (Pak Lah’s) home in Kepala Batas the second day. Now, assuming the Prime Minister takes five seconds to shake the hand of each and every visitor; which it seems he did; then he would need 16 days, non-stop, to shake everybody’s hands. If he stood there from 10.00am to 6.00pm without even taking a pee break, then he could only have shaken hands with 5,760 people.

Hmm…mathematically it does not add up. Did only 10,000 people turn up in PWTC and Kepala Batas or did Pak Lah stand there for 16 days non-stop?

Anyway, back to Anwar’s open house yesterday.

The security and crowd control unit must have learnt a lot since Anwar’s release from jail on 2 September 2004. Probably the criticism levelled at it — which it did not take kindly and became quite hostile at being criticised — helped somewhat. You could hardly feel the presence of the security and crowd control unit and no one felt intimidated by bouncers in black T-shirts and berets pushing and shoving them.

That is probably the problem with asking a boy to do a man’s job. And whenever Malaysians are given a uniform and a mandate, they act like they are second to God Himself. The hilarious thing, of course, is when Anwar’s own family is prevented from entering the house and, yesterday, it was repeated when some members of his family were stopped from entering the house.

Hmm…surely Anwar’s family does not look that menacing that the security personnel need to be uptight whenever they get close to the house.

The fact that the Reformasi Movement or Parti Keadilan Rakyat — unlike Umno, MCA, MIC, or even PAS — is extremely diverse could be felt if one were to mingle amongst the crowd at Anwar’s open house yesterday. Clearly, the Anwarists are very divided on many issues and it is probably only Anwar’s charisma that is single-handedly holding everyone together.

One thing that is apparent, people have a ‘follow the herd’ mentality. They form opinions based on other peoples’ opinions. They like to be part of the majority, not within the minority.

For example, take the case of Anwar and Dr Wan Azizah Ismail dropping in on Pak Lah the second day of Hari Raya. If you were to ‘ambush’ an Anwarista and immediately ask him or her his or her opinion, they would probably not have one. But if you allow them time to check with their contemporaries, then they would later form an opinion based on what many others feel as well. This means; this opinion is not their own but ‘popular’ opinion — or follow the herd mentality.

While on that subject, some Anwaristas feel it was wrong for Anwar and Wan Azizah to pay homage to Pak Lah, but they are divided on the reason. One group feels Anwar has ‘lowered’ himself by going to meet Pak Lah. Then, another group feels it may give the wrong signal; that is Anwar ‘gila talak’ and misses Umno and this is just another attempt to get close to the Prime Minister to facilitate his return to Umno.

There are also those who have no problems whether Anwar returns to Umno or not. They are just worried that by visiting Pak Lah this would cause his Deputy, Najib, to start feeling jittery in that maybe Anwar could replace him as the new number two. This may result in Najib making a move on Pak Lah, argued these people. Najib, backed by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, may oust Pak Lah just to prevent him from bringing Anwar back into Umno.

Then there are other political theorists who welcome Najib making his move on Pak Lah. They contend this may cause Pak Lah to panic whereby he would quickly team up with Anwar to defend his own position. It would be a win-win situation, they explained. Pak Lah’s position would be secure and Anwar would get back into power.

Hmm…was yesterday a Hari Raya get-together or a lining up of political forces?