Anwar Ibrahim: Malaysia can learn from Manila


By Leila Saraverria, Global Nation

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Friday said his country could learn a thing or two from the Philippines’ experience under a dictatorship.

Anwar, who traveled to Manila to speak at a forum on national hero Jose Rizal, said he was appealing to Malaysian authorities to respect the rule of law, to stop filing trumped-up charges against protesters, and not to allow the judiciary to work at the behest of the executive.

“The entire world, including the most conservative Muslim hotbed in the Middle East, has now transformed and is clamoring for change and reform. Why must Malaysia be lagging so much behind?” Anwar said at a breakfast forum in San Juan organized by the city government and his friend, former President Joseph Estrada, whom he described as having “many admirers” in his country.

He lamented that a simple and peaceful demonstration in Malaysia was “treated like al-Qaida,” with state forces shooting and arresting people.

Over 1,600 were arrested in the aftermath of a mass action in July, he said, adding that the demonstrators were merely seeking clean elections, and not the ouster of current leaders.

“This has to change. Learn from the experience of the Philippines. Learn in a positive light what happened after years of dictatorial rule,” Anwar said.

He was referring to the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolt that ousted the strongman Ferdinand Marcos and that became the model for bloodless revolts all over the world.

Honored to speak

According to Anwar, he cannot even get a minute of airtime in the Malaysian media, which the government controls.

He also cannot enter universities, he said, adding that this was why he was honored when the University of the Philippines invited him to speak at a forum on Rizal later Friday.

But he professed optimism about the prospects of democracy in his country, and said he believed that Malaysians were now more aware of their rights.

Anwar said there were things worse in Malaysia than in the Philippines. For example, he said, the use of indelible ink during elections was not even possible in his country.

He said the controversy here over the Philippine National Police’s purchase of two used helicopters at brand-new prices had puzzled Malaysians.

A bigger scandal in Malaysia involves two huge submarines, he said.

Nevertheless, “we must stop this rot of corruption,” he said.

Anwar said Malaysia had been lagging behind the Philippines and Indonesia in building credible institutions.

He said that while Malaysia’s economy was in a better position, it had been falling behind Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam in terms of foreign investments, competitiveness and market capitalization.

“There is an imperative for reform in Malaysia,” he said.

Support from Estrada

Anwar said he wanted the help of Estrada as his group battled with the ruling party in Malaysia’s forthcoming general elections.

He said getting Estrada to directly campaign for him would be a sticky matter but that the former Philippine leader’s endorsement and support could come in many ways.

“Erap is my great friend, family friend,” Anwar said, referring to Estrada by his nickname. “And how I wish he could come to Malaysia and help me in the campaign because he still has many admirers there.”

In a subsequent press conference, Anwar said that under Malaysia’s rules, it would be difficult to get a foreign spokesperson to campaign directly for him.

But Estrada can speak on issues in other forums, Anwar said. “In the right forum, I’m sure he will be able to be of immense influence in many parts of Malaysia, I can tell you. Do not underestimate the importance of his call and his passion.”

In response, Estrada said that if Anwar would ask him for support, he did not think there was a reason to refuse.

“As I said … I’ll be all-out for him because I believe in him,” Estrada said, adding that he would be there for Anwar’s inauguration when the latter became prime minister.

Common vision

In a speech, Estrada called on all freedom-living Filipinos to support Anwar.

He cited their common vision to have an Asian region with “a democracy that is committed to supporting instead of suppressing the will of the people; a democracy that honors instead of obliterates justice; a democracy that respects religion and race.”

Estrada lauded Anwar for the latter’s impressive knowledge of Rizal, and went on to crack a joke: “As we all know, Jose Rizal was a hero not only of the Filipino people but also of the Malay race because he was a man who died for his convictions. My good friend Anwar and I are also men of conviction. That is why both of us were convicted.”

He was referring to his being convicted of plunder, and Anwar’s being convicted of corruption.

Estrada also said he was supporting Anwar because he knew what it was like to be a victim of “unjust and ruthless” politics.

He said he was “unconstitutionally” ousted and jailed for six years on “trumped-up” plunder charges, while Anwar was jailed for six years on corruption charges.

“But we all know that Anwar was imprisoned not because he committed corruption but because he countered it,” Estrada said.


In his own speech, Anwar also heaped praise on his friend.

He lauded Estrada’s humility when the latter told him that he was more knowledgeable about Rizal. He said that this may not necessarily be true, and that it was rare for political leaders to show humility.

“Tell me, how many ministers, vice presidents and presidents in the world would tell another friend, ‘Thank you, you are more knowledgeable’?” he said.

He added that he believed in Estrada’s desire to help the poor and the oppressed, noting that the latter spoke with so much passion about the matter.