Anwar Ibrahim: Strengths, weaknesses, and style

He is a charismatic leader who can rope in allies, but lacks the ‘wow’ factor. The prime minister’s fate hinges on the performance of his Cabinet.

Murray Hunter

We are now four months into Anwar Ibrahim’s tenure as prime minister of Malaysia. We are only just now beginning to see what aspects of our perceptions of him, are myth and reality.

Anwar has a very strong personal following, 2.5 million on Facebook alone. Many see him as a messiah, and wont listen to any criticism, even if it is constructive. This is a very similar effect that Barak Obama enjoyed, before and after he became the president of the United States. However, paradoxically, Anwar didn’t enjoy any honeymoon period with the electorate, after he became prime minister.

We are also witnessing a clandestine campaign by pro-Anwar writers, bloggers, and journalists ‘talking up’ Anwar in the media. They are writing headlines like ‘Malaysian PM vows to help Thailand solve southern violence’ that is just building up unachievable expectations, that could create disappointment and loss of support in the future, and increase his unpopularity.

Talking up Anwar through the media is potentially a counterproductive strategy, and damage his long-term popularity.

Let’s look at some of Anwar’s strengths, weaknesses, and style that can be observed in office.


Anwar’s biggest strength and asset is his unending determination and persistence. Anwar had an ambition to become prime minister and put up with two jail terms, countless political betrayals, and other personal setbacks. Most others would have taken the easy way out and taken up offers abroad as a professor, or head of a think tank.

On many occasions, over the past three years, it looked like Anwar had no chance of becoming prime minister. It looked like he was finished, but he came through.

Anwar has shown he is a symbol for people to focus upon. A symbol of hope. Put the right forces behind him, and Anwar will be able to achieve great things for Malaysia. Put the wrong forces behind him, and the Anwar brand would be tarnished.

The second Anwar strength is his ability to gather people around him, and form alliances. If it wasn’t for Anwar, there would be no reformasi, meaning there would be no aspirations for a better Malaysia, just depression. There would have been no Pakatan Rakyat, that brought the impossible together, and there would be no Pakatan Harapan, which delivered a ‘unity’ government in GE15.

The bottom line is Anwar is the epitome of hope for the nation.

Anwar has tremendous personal energy. At 75 years old, it appears he doesn’t sleep. He has a 24/7 drive, which many can’t keep up with.


Like any human, Anwar has strengths, and also has weaknesses.

On the flipside of Anwar being able to bring people together, is his propensity, as we have seen many times, is to have falling outs with his closest confidants. This has been part of Anwar’s plight, all through his career, which almost destroyed his Parti Keadilan Rakyat, more than one time.

As to why these falling outs occur can only be speculated, but it appears Anwar has trusted the wrong people on some occasions.

Anwar lacks the ‘WOW’ factor. This could go someway to explain why he isn’t popular in the Malay heartlands. Anwar is one of the best public speakers in the nation. He draws crowds, but this doesn’t equate to any “WOW’ factor. This is something his minders must really look into and analyse, as they have been doing.

Style will be critical to the perception of Anwar

What people observe on a daily basis is Anwar’s style. This is ultimately what he will be judged upon.

Anwar is no micro-manager, unlike some past prime ministers. He acts like a chairman of the board, except his board is the cabinet. If Anwar has a tight-knit and coordinated cabinet, then he will become an incredibly successful prime minister. However, at this time its not the case. His cabinet is stumbling upon itself.

If the cabinet can grow through this learning curve, then there is still time for Anwar.

Anwar will live or die by the performance of his cabinet.