An ode to Anwar Ibrahim: The long and winding road


Is this the rebirth of the Reformasi Movement that saw life in 1998, or is it its death? Actually, Anwar and PKR killed the Reformasi Movement some time ago. They killed the Reformasi Movement when they felt they were on the way to taking Putrajaya soon after Anwar was released from jail in September 2004.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Long and winding road

The first thing that crossed my mind when at the wee hours of this morning I heard that the Federal Court has rejected Anwar Ibrahim’s appeal and has upheld the conviction and five-year jail sentence was the song ‘The long and winding road’. That is actually one of my favourite Beatles songs and an evergreen classic to boot.

But, no, I was not contemplating a long and winding road for Anwar. I was contemplating the long and winding road that I, and those who back in the late 1970s aspired to see reforms in Malaysia, had to take to reach where we are today. And, of course, that will bring us to the other and maybe even more important question: where exactly are we today and what have those 45 years of ‘struggle’ brought us?

I had been receiving WhatsApp messages from friends over the last couple of days telling me about 2,000 people attending Anwar’s goodbye ceramah in Petaling Jaya or about 2,000 people assembling outside the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya. What was in my mind was not the 2,000 people who were there but the 2,000 people who were not there.

Yes, there may have been a lot of noise over the last two days: 2,000 people cheering, clapping and urging Anwar on. But the more deafening noise is the noise of silence — as what the late Tun Ghazali Shafie used to say: the silence is deafening.

It is not about the 2,000 who were there. It is about the 2,000 who were not there, people who have since died over the last 45 years or so as they sincerely and relentlessly struggled in the hope to see reforms and a better country for the generation to come — you Malaysians who just started to become political since 2008 or thereabouts.

History is measured over time. Some talk in terms of pre-war Malaysia. Some talk in terms of post-Merdeka Malaysia. I talk in terms of the Vietnam War era, and 1970, and when I was still just 20 and a rebel and an idealist, and when the song ‘The long and winding road’ first swept the world.

How we clamoured for reforms back in those days of the 1970s. We saw that if there were no reforms there was only one direction Malaysia was going to go. And that direction was downhill. That was almost 40 years before the historical 2008 general election that shook the very foundation of Malaysia and opened the eyes of Malaysians to not only the need for change but also the possibility that it can happen.

It was a noble cause. But then are not those who are in their 20s always idealistic and fight for noble causes? That normally comes with age, or in this case lack of age. We dream and we struggle to achieve those dreams but dreams do not always come true and dreams could actually be nightmares in disguise.

That dream was shattered a mere decade later when Anwar decided to abandon the cause by joining Umno on the excuse that we need to change Umno and Umno cannot be changed from the outside but must be changed from the inside.

Ustaz Fadzil bin Muhammad Noor, who later went on to become the President of PAS, did not quite agree. He felt that Anwar would not be able to change Umno. Instead, Umno was going to change him. But Ustaz Fadzil respected Anwar’s decision and because of that we, too, respected his decision and supported his move into Umno and gave him the benefit of the doubt that he not only was sincere in his attempt to change Umno but would actually be able to achieve it.

Alas, as what Ustaz Fadzil feared and predicted came true. Umno did change, but for the worst, and Anwar, too, changed. He became more Umno than Umno to the dismay of many of his ABIM comrades who eventually abandoned him, me included. Anwar was now our enemy.

Then, in 1998, Anwar went to war with Tun Dr Mahathir and lost. Anwar was arrested and charged for sodomy and we were elated. It was so nice to see the two most powerful men in Umno turn on each another and go for each other’s throats.

This same thing had happened ten years earlier during the days of Team A and Team B that saw the collapse of Umno. Now we are seeing it happen again. How exciting it was to see Umno suffer its second internal conflict between number one and number two in just a matter of one decade. Will Umno be able to survive this second split or will it go down for good?

Invariably, we all returned to the fold and rallied around Anwar. We did that not because we thought he was an innocent victim but because any internal fight in Umno is good for us. Hence we supported Anwar not because we loved him but because we hated Umno. An enemy of my enemy can be my friend if the situation can be exploited to our benefit. It was just like America supporting the Taliban to fight Russia.

Then the Reformasi Movement was launched. Finally we had a platform to fight on. Then they decided that the Reformasi Movement must be turned into a political party and they launched Parti Keadilan Nasional soon after that.

Many of us did not agree with that. In fact, many of us did not join the party. If I wanted to join any political party I would have joined PAS, not a party of disgruntled ex-Umno members whose only interest was to fight for Anwar to return to Umno to become the Umno Prime Minister.

And for ten years Anwar fought to get the court to declare his sacking illegal and to get the court to declare that he is still legally an Umno member. He wanted to go back to Umno and he used the judicial process to try to achieve this.

Finally, after exhausting all avenues, including negotiating with ex-Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, he failed to get back into Umno and had to accept the fact that the only way he was going to become Prime Minister would be if the opposition won the general election.

And that was when Anwar began to take a more serious interest in the opposition. Pakatan Rakyat was formed and DAP and PAS agreed to disagree on the Islamic State and the Islamic criminal laws of Hudud and instead focus on first trying to win the general election. And we saw what happened in 2008 because of that — some measure of success at last.

Then, after the 2008 general election came the 2013 general election. But still Pakatan Rakyat could not kick out Barisan Nasional and take over the government. Hence the temporary marriage of convenience in Pakatan Rakyat no longer served its purpose. As the Opposition Leader, Anwar may not become Prime Minister after all. And this possibility becomes even more remote with the Sodomy 2 trial that started in 2008 and threatened to see Anwar serving a second term in jail.

So there is no longer any need to pretend. PKR, PAS and DAP began showing their true colours. They began to reveal their true feelings. It was just like the many factions within the Taliban uniting with America’s support to defeat the Russians and once that has been achieved the Taliban fight amongst themselves and America bombs the Taliban into the 19th century.

It was a long and winding road. For me it was a journey that started more than 40 years ago when that song was first written during the era of the Vietnam War. It is long because it involved two-thirds of my life. And it was winding because the fight was not a straight line but had to meander and change with the changing political situations.

Is this the rebirth of the Reformasi Movement that saw life in 1998, or is it its death? Actually, Anwar and PKR killed the Reformasi Movement some time ago. They killed the Reformasi Movement when they felt they were on the way to taking Putrajaya soon after Anwar was released from jail in September 2004.

Now Anwar is back in jail and Pakatan Rakyat is not yet the government. And Pakatan Rakyat itself is chaotic and in a mess. Hence they may need to revive the Reformasi Movement to, yet again, fight for Anwar’s freedom.

But the 2,000 people who were at Anwar’s goodbye ceramah last night and in front of the Federal Court today are not the 2,000 who came out in 1998. The 2,000 of 1998 are all gone. Some have died and some have moved on in disgust. Hence Anwar might as well call it Reformasi 2.0 like he did with Bersih 2.0 and PAS 2.0 a.k.a. PasMa.