Interview: Anwar Ibrahim

anwar ibrahim

The Malaysian opposition leader talks about his impending return to jail, political oppression and Obama’s visit.

Jarni Blakkarly, The Diplomat

The Diplomat’s Jarni Blakkarly spoke recently with Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim about the likelihood that he will return to jail, political oppression in Malaysia, and the upcoming visit to Malaysia by U.S. President Barack Obama.

You’ve recently had your prior acquittal on sodomy charges overturned by the courts and been sentenced to five years in jail. As this case has been going back and forth for many years now, how likely do you think it is that you will find yourself behind bars again?

Looking at the names of the judges and the way they expedited the process, they even disallowed me to ask for just a few days to get medical documents. So looking at the judgment I think it is clearly fundamentally flawed, because they did not deal with the facts that were abused. So I think that it is clear that the executive is acting under the instruction of their political masters.

Therefore I’m not too optimistic that I will get a fair hearing and I think that it is a foregone conclusion. Notwithstanding we are of course doing our very best to get the best team of lawyers to expose the whole fiasco in the courts. Since Karpal Singh died in the accident I am now faced also with the problem of getting new lead counsel.

So you do think it is quite likely you will go to jail again?

Yes. In fact colleagues I was with in London for the Al Gore group meeting as well as some friends and Muslim groups in the U.K., all of them without hesitation tried to persuade me to remain in London instead of coming back. They all know and assume that because of the opaque system here and the judiciary that I will go to prison. But I said to them, thank you very much, but I have made my decision, I will continue the fight from within Malaysia.

What do you think will be the political ramifications if you are sent to prison? Would we see Refomasi-like protests on the streets again?

Well the system is still oppressive and there are serious signs of it. It’s not just me and Karpal Signh they are trying to haul to prison, but also a few other MPs, assemblymen, party leaders and protest leaders and I think this trend will continue. Therefore you are giving people hardly any option for recourse. Where do you go if you have a problem? Are you going to go to the courts? You will not get a fair trial. So I think what the authoritarian leaders fail to realize is that there is a limit to what people and the society can endure.

However I think with the ineptitude in dealing with MH370, the international community and the international media are becoming aware of the opaqueness of the system and the failure of governance. So I think we are left with no option but to demand our rights not within the prescribed method of elections that are fraudulent or the courts.

So are you saying that Pakatan will be calling people to the streets if you are sent to jail again?

Well I’m not suggesting that; that is for people to decide. For now we are just organizing a series of meetings to explain what is going on. As you know, even the funeral of Karpal Singh—one of the great opposition leaders and icons—was not reported at all in the mainstream media. And during the final funeral possession not one leader from the ruling party or the government attended, so you can see the tendency to consider opposition leaders as the enemies of the state and I think it is very unhealthy. I can’t predict exactly what will happen. There is also this movement on the first of May for example. There is already this call to protest in opposition to new taxation, fraudulent elections, and the beginning for Reformasi 2.0 will be on the first of May.

Do you think the persecution of politicians like yourself, Karpal Singh prior to his death, Tian Chua and other politicians is strengthening or weakening the positions of Barisan National?

I think that when they become more desperate they become more ruthless and this series of measures is unprecedented. We’ve seen it under Mahathir, we’ve seen it under Abdullah, but under Najib now it has gotten worse. The number of people denied entry to Sabah and Sarawack, even during a by-election, can you believe this? The election commission is just completely muted, when party leaders are denied entry to come and campaign, because they say this is the law, but this is the Election Commission acting like a small government department.

Now for example the number of MPs and State Assemblymen being hauled to court over unlawful assembly and sedition just keeps on increasing. It is also a sign of desperation, when the ruling party becomes weak they will resort to creating this enemy of the state business. I mean I’m for now [not being called] an “American CIA agent” only because Obama’s visiting. So now they are downplaying the American agent thing. In fact the ruling party UMNO’s paper Utusan even inferred that the MH370 is the work of the Americans and the CIA. They have now downplayed that too because of the Obama visit.