Stepping out of Anwar’s shadow

In this last week of 2011, we will be re-publishing selected stories carried in FMT throughout this year. We find that these stories still remain relevant in the present context.

Nurul may have risen in the party ranks but she hasn’t forgotten her first political appointment. The Lembah Pantai constituency remains just as precious to her as when she won her seat in 2008 and she is determined to defend it in the next general election.

Stephanie Sta Maria, Free Malaysia Today

This article was first posted on Jan 19, 2011. FMT still considers Nurul Izzah Anwar, the Lembah Pantai MP and the PKR vice-president, as a rising star in PKR.

Being elected the youngest vice-president of PKR wasn’t part of a preordained plan. Neither was winning the Lembah Pantai parliamentary seat.

In fact, Nurul Izzah Anwar used to duck the political spotlight until it was rudely thrust upon her in 1998. And even then there was no plan.

The then 18-year-old would have been forgiven had she wound up submerged by the waves of political pressure. Instead, the daughter of PKR de facto leader, Anwar Ibrahim, not only stayed afloat but sailed through her baptism of fire to earn the moniker Puteri Reformasi.

Some call it destiny, others call it an obligation. Nurul herself simply calls it putting things into perspective. And it was a perspective that seared itself so deeply within her that she still speaks of it in befittingly hushed tones.

“A part of me changed forever that day,” she said softly. “It wasn’t just about my father’s sacking and eventual arrest but having everything I held sacred just crumbled before me. I felt the fragility of life.”

“It then dawned on me that it wasn’t about any single individual but about a movement and the need to be part of something you believe in. That was my earth-shattering moment. And that has made me the person I am today.”

The people who ushered her onto the “reformasi” path were those who were by her side during Anwar’s arrest. After enveloping her with support, they told her that she had to take up the fight, not just for her father but for the scores of other political prisoners. Nurul didn’t hesitate.

“If I didn’t do it then no one would know of our plight,” she said earnestly. “They wouldn’t know of the judicious arguments for my father’s release, about the other political prisoners and why the Internal Security Act is unacceptable. These messages need to be propagated.”

First hurdle

Nurul’s first hurdle was persuading her reluctant mother and PKR president, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, to bestow her blessings upon her daughter’s new career. Then she turned to PAS, DAP, Abim (Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia) and even Suaram (Suara Rakyat Malaysia) to seek guidance in learning the ropes. A trait that perhaps further strengthened her tenacity was her disinterest in “what ifs”.

“I never thought about what I would have done if 1998 didn’t happen to me because it is an exercise in futility,” she reasoned.

Then with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek, she added, “I’m very glad that 1998 did happen because I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to join Puteri Umno!”

Indeed, Nurul has come a long way from the young woman who once didn’t relish the political association that was packaged into her name. Her strong embrace of political activism therefore greatly astonished her. It also taught her the importance of owning an idea before bringing it into reality.

“There was a sense of obligation certainly,” she readily admitted. “But I also owned the idea of becoming a politician. If I felt forced into it, I would have led a very unhappy life and let down all my supporters.”

“So the process of owning this new life and identity has been a very important and invaluable one for me. It has been a very steep learning curve and I’m glad I stayed the course. But my husband was still surprised by my decision to contest for vice-president!”

Was vice-presidency really not part of a blueprint? Nurul sighed quietly. It was obviously a question that she has been asked too many times. She looked up and straight into the camera.

“No,” she said clearly. Then she smiled. “But now that I am, I have a plan.”

Laying the groundwork

The moment her vice-presidency was announced, Nurul hit the ground running. Before the first week was over, she found herself assigned to Negri Sembilan and Malacca where she was tasked with obtaining feedback from members on the party’s first direct elections.

Her other assignment was to lay out the groundwork that would help the party design programmes aimed at garnering support from the younger electorate. Nurul’s hands are also full at the Federal Territory level where she has commissioned a 100-day programme for Kuala Lumpur if Pakatan Rakyat were to take over the federal government.

“My plan is clear but I’ll need at least a month to assess the needs of the different states and the party before implementing them,” she said. “And I’ll be working closely with the secretariat because they too have planned many programmes.”

“The challenge here is to work cohesively. It’s not going to be an individual pursuit because that would never achieve the intended results.”

The project that is closest to her heart at this point of time, however, is the Democracy Rehabilitation Act, a bipartisan Bill which encompasses the six principal prerequisites for a thriving democracy.

A one-million signature campaign for a memorandum of the Act kicked off this month which will be subsequently submitted to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Pakatan will also propose this Act to the ruling government to move during the next parliamentary sitting.

“We’ve used the word ‘rehabilitation’ as a sign of respect for what is enshrined in the Federal Constitution,” she explained. “We’re drafting the actual Bill but the petition has begun because we urgently need to revoke all emergency declarations.”

“We have to explain to the people that we are democratically poor as a nation. We’re still living under Emergency Rule! So I’m bringing this matter down to the grassroots and getting them to sign the petition.”