Najib Abdul Razak and Umno Baru were denied an early Deepavali present when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim dismissed all talk of going into exile, in London.
Just imagine the headlines in Utusan Malaysia and TV3 if Anwar had chosen exile: ‘Coward Anwar seeks exile to escape jail’, ‘Exile proves Anwar’s guilt’, ‘Anwar abandons followers, lives in luxury in London’, ‘We told you so; Anwar is scared to face the truth’.
When he was interviewed by The Daily Telegraph, Anwar expressed no plans to form a government in exile, in London, despite unsuccessful attempts by his friends to convince him to stay. He admitted the strain placed on his family. He was sanguine about reform.
He said, “It is very difficult, particularly for my family. But when I started this case for reform in Malaysia I knew it was not going to be easy.”
If Anwar had chosen exile, Najib would have effectively isolated Anwar from his followers. The rakyat would not be spared either. They would be told that throwing their money and weight behind Anwar was wasteful, and their support for the opposition a futile cause.
Najib knows that having Anwar in exile is as good as putting him behind bars; but there are subtle differences.
People who have conducted a long-distance romance know that the relationship could suffer without complete commitment and absolute trust. The pressures and sacrifices are enormous. Anwar, in exile, and his supporters would face the same test. Who would falter first?
In recent months, many disillusioned Malaysians have had their confidence shaken by the troubles in Pakatan. In the recent Kajang move, PAS appeared to be hastening the break-up of the coalition.
Disheartened Malaysians should heed Anwar’s words. When he led the charge for reform, he knew it was going to be a long haul. Change is not for the faint-hearted. Decades of Umno Baru’s decadent and divisive rule, cannot be unravelled overnight. Are we all prepared to wait?
Anwar has laid the foundations for change, and although he risks losing his freedom, we have nothing to lose, apart from some sleepless nights, or our cool, when we are spat on, in a peaceful protest, by pro-government thugs.
If he were to be jailed, Anwar’s companions will be a few books, if his captors allow him that luxury, and the cockroaches in his cell. In relative freedom, we have the companionship and support of one another, to continue the reform agenda.
Jailing Anwar is not a simple matter for it presents Umno Baru with several dilemmas.
First. Jail might make Anwar a martyr. Umno Baru will want to avoid this at all costs.
Second. Jail reduces many of the opportunities to distract the rakyat. At present, our attention is immediately diverted, should any bad news emerge. Notice how the major corruption or religious scandals are immediately preceded by yet another Anwar sexposé? Sex sells, especially among the Malays.
Whetting our appetite for change
Third. Jail will not isolate Anwar. He may be physically removed, from our presence, but he has whetted our appetite for change. His absence will focus Malaysian minds and provide renewed momentum for change. It will prove to the authorities that we are capable of leading the charge, by ourselves.
Jailing Anwar may backfire on Najib. Urgings for reform will be re-energised with vengeance.
Anwar said that his exile would have a detrimental effect on Malaysians, especially its youth. He knows that responsible leaders are important role models. He said, “…if people like me can’t stand up against these atrocities what can we expect from young people?”
He is right. The problem is not always with our leaders. Our youth can be equally perplexing.
Two days before Anwar’s interview with The Daily Telegraph, PAS president Hadi Awang (right) had given a talk to Malaysian students in London.
Responding to a question fielded by a student, Hadi told his audience that women were perfectly suited to be leaders in their respective fields, but that they had no legitimacy to be leaders of the state, or the nation. He stressed that the woman’s importance lay in nurturing the family unit.
There is sex equality in Islam, so one must assume that Hadi is a closet misogynist. Why has he avoided the remarkable women leaders from the decadent west and Israel? Any Malaysian woman who aspires to be a menteri besar, or prime minister should avoid Hadi.
He has conveniently ignored the women leaders in Pakistan and Bangladesh, both Muslim nations. He has forgotten the succession of six Queens who ruled the Kingdom of Patani in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The PAS president is entitled to his views, but more shocking was the reaction of some female students that night. They agreed that Malay women should not aspire to be PM.
It appears that Anwar has much unfinished business amongst the Malay community. We still need him to free young Malay minds from the bondage of conservative Islam, Malay feudalism and subservient culture. Without Anwar, few Malay women will contribute to nation-building.