Anwar’s wasted Saudi Arabian trip

P Gunasegaram, Malaysiakini

Barely four months in power, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has made whirlwind tours to eight countries – Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Cambodia – and is planning one to China.

The visits overseas could be more than the number of Malaysian states he has visited since he became prime minister. That would be the more preferable route because he could have used his oratorical skills to drum up support from the rakyat for what he proposes to do, chief of which is fighting corruption.

His latest quick trip to Saudi Arabia raises more questions and answers and in his haste to make his way there, he has created more problems than solving them. The trip ended in ignominy when he met neither the king nor the crown prince.

Considering that these are the two people who hold the power strings in the kingdom, which is an absolute monarchy like Brunei and therefore a dictatorship, there is nothing of note that he could have achieved without meeting both of them.

To put it bluntly, Anwar’s trip to Saudi Arabia was needless and a complete waste of time and money. You can spin it any way you want to and give all sorts of excuses, but it will remain a puzzle that the meetings did not take place at all.

Surely Anwar expected to meet both of them when he decided on the trip, so what went wrong? Did not the foreign ministry and the diplomatic corp make the necessary arrangements to ensure the meetings took place? Why was it not possible to even have just a half-hour face-to-face meeting with them?

In contrast, former premier Muhyiddin Yassin met Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit in March 2021 in Riyadh. They reviewed bilateral relations, aspects of cooperation and opportunities for strengthening them in various fields.

Both sides also discussed developments in the region. After the meeting, the crown prince and Muhyiddin witnessed the signing of three agreements between the two countries.

Comparing and contrasting the two visits, Muhyiddin’s came out way on top in terms of the optics, which seems so much more important than good, solid substance to politicians, including the PM.

Anwar’s visits seem designed to help increase his esteem in the Muslim/Malay community, focusing more on Muslim countries and designed to raise at least the perception of international esteem for him in Malaysian eyes.

Out of eight visits done so far, four are to Muslim countries, three of which – Indonesia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – are very important Muslim nations. But the apparent snub he received in Saudi Arabia is going to set him back some. Rest assured his political opponents will make substantial capital of it.

Focus on local issues

It is now high time that Anwar focused on local issues. Every trip overseas takes a lot of time, effort and planning which could be better utilised to deal with local problems which are many. Foreign relations in the current environment should be the least of priorities and can be dealt with after he gets a proper handle on local issues.

Time is of the essence right now and eight trips, including Cambodia, in two months can take a lot of energy out of a man who is 75 years old and remove his focus away from much more pressing matters at home.

At home, no progress has been made in terms of concrete measures for Anwar’s key objective of fighting corruption, including legislative change to ensure independent investigation and prosecution of offenders. Meantime, he faces charges of selective prosecution in the face of indications that some are more liable to be charged than others.

His home minister has used a clause in the Societies Act giving him discretion over the issue of holding elections in Umno, effectively ensuring that no elections for the two top positions at Umno would be held for six years!

Why is the home minister exercising his discretion to stop elections at a political party? Should he not be looking at changing such legislation to ensure that party leaders do not abuse the law to stay in power and ensure that democracy prevails? Should he not be working to remove such legislation instead of abusing them himself?

It’s bad enough that Anwar has a deputy prime minister who is facing serious corruption charges in court. The same DPM has made a string of political appointments to key bodies, some of which are corporations, a measure that Anwar said he will stop. This is being emulated not only by other Umno ministers but by PKR ministers too.

Meanwhile, concrete measures for the resurgence of the economy, holding down price increases, revamping the education system and improving competitiveness, among many other important things, have not been announced.

In the face of all these serious problems facing the country which Harapan promised to deal with, it is difficult to understand Anwar’s predilection for foreign trips and relations at a time when he needs to stay here and pay his full attention to Malaysia.

The neglect of successive governments of the real problems facing our country means that much more needs to be done by the unity government to address those.

Pussy footing around Umno will achieve nothing and result in Pakatan Harapan becoming subservient to the needs of Umno leaders. Harapan needs to remember that Umno/BN are merely a minor partner in the coalition only having 30 seats.

If they don’t do that, it would be a sure recipe for disaster at the next polls as the rakyat become disappointed, disillusioned and disinterested in the process of change because they expected better, much better, from Anwar.

The time for change – in Malaysia – is now. It should take precedence over everything else.

P GUNASEGARAM says that you must not disappoint people at more than the rate they can take – that will lead to distrust.