Malaysians will go to the polls on May 5
Malaysians will go to the polls on May 5 in what is predicted to be a closely fought election, with 55 years of one-party government being challenged by Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the People’s Justice Party and head of the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat.
Campaigning for the ideals of empowerment, justice and equity, the coalition is calling for an end to corruption and the reform of civil and democratic institutions. Anwar Ibrahim emphasises social justice, poverty eradication, education and civil society and he has been a powerful symbol of integrity in the shadowy world of Malaysian politics for many years.
He was a former deputy prime minister in Malaysia, holding various cabinet positions in agriculture, commerce, education and finance before becoming right hand man to former prime minister Mahathir.
While finance minister he was recognised as an “Asian tiger” and Newsweek named him its 1998 “Asian of the Year” for his role in rescuing Malaysia from the Asian financial crisis.
When establishing a reform movement, he courageously accused the prime minister of corruption, which led to his temporary downfall and six years in jail on trumped-up charges.
Emerging from the politically motivated accusations in 2004, he gained a notable result in the 2008 elections, winning one-third of the seats and five states from the incumbent National Front party.
Attempts to smear his reputation again failed when accusations were finally dismissed last year for lack of evidence. He is regarded as Malaysia’s best hope against an autocratic and corrupt government which many think have ruled Malaysia for far too long.
The incumbents are using the usual tactics such as tampering with the electoral rolls and using huge amounts of public money to campaign against the opposition.
At speeches and rallies Anwar Ibrahim is compelling, charismatic and persuasive as he remains steadfast in his trust in true democracy and his faith in the wisdom of the people.
His followers are joining him in their hundreds of thousands in the call for electoral reform and an end to corruption scandals, crime and police brutality. Anwar knows well that he is up against a well-oiled propaganda machine that calls itself “Moderate Malaysia” and controls the media’s often empty vote-getting slogans which distort the meaning of freedom, democracy and human rights.
His own coalition is a triumph of bringing to consensus the disparate elements of his People’s Justice Party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic party and the ethnic Chinese Democratic Action party. He has managed to bring them together into a broader liberal community through “active and vibrant intellectual discourse,” acknowledging extremists with respect and tolerance.
The objective is a multi-party democracy where leading parties will change every few years as a way of being accountable to the people, putting an end to the single party domination of Malaysian politics.
The twin issues of corruption and living costs are of major concern to voters. Anwar’s People’s Alliance has established a good track record in the states it currently governs, and he told reporters on April 4 that he was “cautiously optimistic” about winning a majority in parliament. The people of Malaysia have become more aware of national issues and their right to criticise, question and condemn their current rulers whose excesses and extravagances have no limits.
In the culture of patronage and political largesse, huge sums of public money have been squandered in failed economic ventures and speculative projects, which certainly have not benefitted Malaysians.
Education, housing and health services are all in need of upgrading and investment and the country suffers from stagnant wages and a huge and growing national debt, as the government borrows to maintain handouts to retain political power.
It is a tragic state for a Muslim country to be in, as it has moved far from the tenets of Islam which include moderation, piety, justice and fairness to all. The Pakatan Rakyat offers the best hope of reform and change and the fact that the coalition contains diverse interests and competing ideologies can be seen as one of its strengths. By bringing together different ethnic and religious groups the PR coalition is more representative of a truly democratic Malaysia, more concerned for the good of the country and all its people than the nationalist Malay group represented by the ruling Barisan Nasional.
If the nation is to eradicate poverty which is one of the often repeated campaign promises of the current government, then mismanagement, corruption and abuse of power will have to be replaced with a moral government with the interests of the people at heart.
Anwar Ibrahim has an opportunity on May 5 to save his country from the one-party rule that threatens to hold back the country with stagnating ideas and economics; hopefully the people of Malaysia will recognise the moment for its historical significance and give Anwar Ibrahim the chance to lead his country to a renaissance of integrity, prosperity and true democracy.
Dr Azeem Ibrahim is a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.