Beyond Anwar’s trial – A flawed legacy

Shahril Hamdan

Shahril Hamdan, NST

Few court cases in recent times have generated bigger interest than that of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s. It has been controversial and at times polarising, in part due to continuous accusations by the opposition that government interference was present throughout the proceedings.

Anwar and his supporters have always questioned the impartiality of the Malaysian justice system when things don’t go their way. The very system that set him free in 2004; the system that initially acquitted him in 2012. His supporters screamed foul play, ignoring the evidence of the case and the telling fact that Anwar refused to swear on the holy Quran (both in and outside court) and opted not to be crossed examined under oath – he probably remains a God-fearing man.

Alas, even the driest presentation of the case facts cannot change the minds of people convinced that Anwar was framed. So I shan’t bother.

What’s more interesting and productive at this point is to work off something written by an Anwar fan – one Chris Wright from Forbes, who authored the article “A Disgrace That Damages Malaysia”. Instead of focusing on the technicalities of the case, he chose to envisage a Malaysian future without Anwar.

Wright wrote that the imprisonment of Pakatan’s most charismatic leader and the only man seen able to unite his coalition meant that the prospect of having a credible opposition had been all but removed. In short, he spoke of a man that was the only one within his party that was able to offer an alternative future.

To me this spoke volumes about Anwar’s leadership of Pakatan and the legacy he has left behind.

In the aftermath of the case some tend to look back at his career as one where he was continuously persecuted, and one where he brought a credible political alternative to the table.

I beg to differ. His gift of gab aside, if we take an honest, critical look, I think we find a legacy of vacuous ideological platforms, multiple failures to unite his own ranks, and the most stinky of political manoeuvring.

Anwar failed to galvanise the opposition behind a solid and common ideological cause except to merely oppose everything that Barisan Nasional does. A cursory look at the ongoing battles between DAP and PAS over fundamental issues like what laws should govern this country is instructive.

The political plays throughout his career were relentless and loathsome. Few will forget the Kajang Move anytime soon, least of all PAS. Kajang also amplified the lack of a clear leadership succession that wasn’t based on keeping one or one’s kin in the top seat. Again, this isn’t some self-serving Umno narrative. The current menteri besar and PKR Deputy President Azmin Ali, a long time Anwar loyalist – slammed the move, claiming that nepotism was brewing within the party ranks with no room for younger talents to shine.

This only serves to confirm Wright’s point that the end of Anwar may leave a gaping hole in the opposition, except that this is largely Anwar’s own doing.

On the policy front, did we really know what he stood for? ABIM firebrand aside, despite calling for meritocracy, he failed to spell out what a new Bumiputera agenda would look like, dithering over issues such as MARA and PNB – trying to have his cake and eat it too. Year after year, the alternative budgets proposed have been skewed towards populism without any care of fiscal credibility.

Internationally, his style remained duplicitous. Cue his interview with the WSJ, where he supported all efforts to protect the state of Israel, only to retract his statement back home in Malaysia.

The legacy he has left is a coalition and party in tatters, unsure of whom to turn to for future leadership, with a policy platform that remains tenuous and flimsy. A coalition whose reason for existence was to merely be anti-government with a crusade to make Anwar prime minister.

Now that that crusade is all but over, might their supporters finally wake up to the idea that whatever they feel about the case, Anwar was ultimately one of the most self-serving, devious and ultimately ineffective politicians of our time.