Two Malaysian rivals cross paths in New York, but Anwar rules out secret talksMalaysia’s political impasse needs to be urgently overcome if rising crime, bigotry and the perils of economic decline are to be reversed, warned opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in New York this week.
He urged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who has also recently arrived in New York, to engage in dialogue and reconciliation amid “rancorous” times in Malaysia since the fraught May general election.
On the eve of what New Yorkers now refer to as “hell week”, where a heavy security presence shut down parts of Manhattan as this season’s United Nations General Assembly gets underway, the Malaysian opposition leader cut a becalming swathe through a jammed nearby theatre on a mild midtown evening.
The 200-seat college hall was filled with mostly Malaysians from universities and UN-linked agencies to Wall Street and fine diners, who came for an open forum that aired vexed allegations of fraudulent elections and looming electoral delineation battles, the prospect of an Islamic state, and a Malaysian economy undermined by a ballooning deficit that was accelerating the “brain drain” of skilled Malaysians abroad.
“There is a clear impasse because we have a minority government where the majority of Malaysians are completely marginalised,” averred the weary opposition leader after arriving in New York the day before from Malaysia. “There is this fear in Umno, of not being prepared to engage in a debate or dialogue. Yet we have garnered 52% of the popular vote.
“I think this impasse is quite temporary in light of this vicious campaign among Umno members themselves, where in the run-up to the Youth (wing) polls, they can call another contender ‘Bangladeshi’ or whatever.
“It is a fractured leadership and Datuk (Seri) Najib is quite reluctant to make any decision, a reflection of weak leadership if he’s reluctant to engage in a dialogue. There is no option but to have a dialogue because Malaysia has not seen such vicious race bias and attacks since the 1969 riots. We have a lot of concerns about rising crime. And worse, the economic potential and attractiveness of Malaysia as foreign destination for investments is now adversely affected.”
Sporting a fashionable pair of Christian Dior sunglasses because of an eye infection and a wry if a little jet-lagged demeanour, Anwar went through in some detail with the audience the various challenges facing Pakatan Rakyat following the May elections. It was apparent throughout the three hours of questions and replies that Anwar was in his element, flashes of his charm and his stout defence of a modern Islam informing Malaysia’s politics recalling his 1990s “Asian Renaissance” persona, fleshed out this time in New York with tales about how he had long fought for people-focused policies at top World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings when he was Malaysia’s finance minister and deputy prime minister.
In an interview afterwards, Anwar ruled out doing any “UN corridor meetings” with Najib despite both being in New York about the same time.
The former deputy prime minister said he would not be partaking in a UN "tradition" where global antagonists such as Presidents Obama and Hugo Chavez have been known to inspire informal meetings in between sessions during the UN’s General Assembly week.
“No, I’ve not had any indication to that effect,” he said when pressed about the prospect of such a reconciliation.
“My contention has been very clear in the past - when we called for a dialogue, it would be a transparent, open meeting. And we would be represented by our key Pakatan leaders.
“I don’t believe in this quiet, secretive rendezvous because it would be open to too many questions.”
Looking ahead to next month’s historic visit to Malaysia by President Barack Obama, the first by an American president in over 40 years, Anwar played down expectations of any speeches like the one then vice-president Al Gore made in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, that praised the “brave people of Malaysia” supporting political reform soon after Anwar’s sacking as deputy prime minister and his jailing that September.
“I’ve seen The United States, like the previous administration in Australia, having a clear reluctance because of business deals - in the case of the US to sell arms to Malaysia - and this over-riding all these gimmicks about the promotion of democracy, hectoring the world about freedom,” the opposition leader said.
“Notwithstanding that, we hope Obama will be true to his mission of giving this message of reform and democracy, and rejecting corruption and abuses.
“We’ve not made any overtures and I’m not overly concerned, but if President Obama is true to his word, he must be prepared to meet opposition leaders - which he has done even in the Arab world.”
Anwar also tackled the concerns raised by the Sunday event’s co-chair Yvonne Tew over the constitutionality of Malaysia’s prospects as an “Islamic state”. Dr Tew, a Columbia University constitutional scholar and law lecturer, sought to clarify Anwar’s position on Malaysia as an Islamic state.
The opposition leader seemed used to countering such questions in public debates, immediately warning against applying the narrow, originally Christian-derived models of secularism against an equally restricted idea of Islamism and the state.
“There is this apparent disease in the West wanting to promote these slogans of ‘secularism’ and ‘Islamic state’… My position in Pakatan Rakyat is clear and these are our programmes. With political Islam, as far as I’m concerned, I’m not prepared to present policies that run contrary to Islamic principles such as economic justice and freedom of expression - that is my faith,” he said.
The day before, on the other side of America in San Francisco, Prime Minister Najib had warned a dinner gathering of Malaysians against believing those abroad, including Malaysians, who are criticising his government and Malaysia. Najib asserted that “these people will criticise the country, but they do not have any idea on how to contribute to the country”.
At a lunch yesterday hosted by the US-Asean Business Council and New York’s Chamber of Commerce, Najib presented himself as the "CEO of Malaysia" and promised American investors in Malaysia “stability and growth”.
He will address the UN General Assembly tomorrow, where he is expected to declare Malaysia’s intention to run for a coveted two-year spot on the UN’s Security Council. Malaysia is expected to be backed by the nine other Asean members and in the beginning of a year-long shadow play of a campaign, key Western nations which are permanent members on this top UN decision-making body, such as the US and Britain, have apparently already indicated some early encouragement. - September 27, 2013.