From the Kajang by-election to the bigger picture, Anwar tells allPKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is no stranger to controversy. This time, it concerns his party’s attempts to get him elected as a state lawmaker in Selangor by triggering a by-election in the Kajang state seat. Anwar sat down with The Malaysian Insider to reply to criticisms the plan has generated and to tell the public why PKR feels it is justified, despite spending public funds on another electoral exercise.
Q: Let’s start with the background on the Kajang by-election. What was the motive behind this? It was a big surprise to your allies in Pakatan, even people in PKR did not know about it. Is it worth all this negative publicity?
A: It has been brewing for some time and we have to take into consideration the importance of Selangor, despite the fact that it was well managed and it was given a good and impressive mandate in the last general election.
As a major strategic consideration, we see that Selangor is under tremendous pressure and incessant attack by Umno and BN, including exploiting race and religious sentiments. We therefore feel, together with economic management, that there needs to be political leadership that is effective enough to mobilise and stop these excesses on behalf of the Malays and non-Malays in the state. Enough is enough.
This requires additional force and political clout, and a very strong message. To us it’s consistent with our statement on the national consensus that we cannot allow a small minority to hijack the national agenda and carry out threats to any citizen or group in the name of religion and race.
They are not nationalists; they don’t protect the interest of poor Malays, who are the vast majority of Malays, just the rich cronies. Or portray Islamic ethics well. Look at the manner it is played up and the character of those who profess to have religious leanings. No consideration of basic ethics or morality in the manner they display their arrogance and high handedness in dealing with issues.
We have a major problem in Selangor. This issue of race and religion shows the abdication of the Prime Minister and the government. They are either ignoring this or dismissing this or passing the buck to the state.
Second, economic problems. Inflation and spiralling prices are having a major impact and ramification to the state. It is close to Kuala Lumpur. Folks face hardship.
I think it is time we move to make Selangor a model and convey this strong message of how you govern politically and economically, and this will play when we wrest control of Putrajaya.
Q: You mention these incessant attacks. Over the past five years there have been even more attacks by Umno to take over from Pakatan during the first term, and that was adequately dealt with by the Selangor administration at that time. Why do you think you feel that you have to step in?
A: I don’t worry about normal political battles. For elections you have campaigns and programmes and ceramahs and handouts. That we can deal with. But here it has transgressed beyond that. They are using the race card and the religious card, even subtle threats. And we see this as something that must be dealt with all firmness to say that Selangor as a state will not accept all these threats and these ultimatums.
Q: So you feel that the current Pakatan state administration and its political structure are unable to deal with these threats adequately?
A: They have been able to contain these threats for more than six years and that is commendable. But we anticipate and see that this is a trend, and at the behest of the national (BN) leadership (and so) has to be handled likewise by the Pakatan leadership.
Q: In a way the “Kajang move” seems to be a very PKR-driven initiative and within your allies in Pakatan there was wide divergence on whether they agree with it. You have DAP agreeing with you, but PAS only agreeing to the extent of the by-election and some have even criticised it.
A: I would not comment on the discipline of each party. They were informed but on hindsight more elaborate discussions should have taken place.
But in any by-election, if it is a PAS seat, it is PAS who decides; if it is DAP, it is DAP who decides. It is only at final stage where you inform the leadership who the candidate is. That has always been the practice.
I concede that when it happens to be Anwar they would want to know what next. Publicly I should have personally informed (DAP secretary-general) Lim Guan Eng and (DAP parliamentary leader) Lim Kit Siang, and (PAS president Datuk Seri) Abdul Hadi Awang. Under normal circumstances it would suffice, but I have a personal working relationship with Guan Eng and I think that he would have expected me to inform him as a friend and as a close colleague.
Q: There is this feeling that Anwar is not satisfied with just wanting to be a state lawmaker. There must be something else to this.
A: Most of them know the large agenda but I think there are two issues.
First, the focus should be the by-election; we have to cross that bridge.
Then, in any talk of the change of leadership, you must also know the constitution, the sensitivities, and the need for consensus. And when you accept the role of a constitutional monarch, it is not just a constitutional or legal interpretation. It is a deference, and respect is due to the sultan.
Which means you should not prejudge him as some have done or put it as fait acompli. Even in the event there is a consensus to submit one’s name, then submitting a name for the consideration and assent of his highness is not to be dictated upon but to give him in that space, because that is deference as a Malaysian who understands the role of the monarch.
Probably legal experts will give their constitutional view. But I am seeing this both in the legal and constitutional aspects, and also in the cultural context of deference. Because the sultan comes with the institution and paraphernalia and trappings of power of a royal institution.
Q: Have you made contact with the royal palace?
A: Again this is of course not something we share with the public out of deference and respect. There are things you cannot discuss in public. People say you must be transparent but I have discussed this with (PKR president Datuk Seri) Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and I do not necessarily have to share it.
Q: When you do win the by-election, are you going to replace Khalid or work with him?
A: We will deal with it after the election. Khalid’s role is critical and important based on his track record in economic management, whether in the same position or a different position we’ll see at that point in time.
But I certainly share the view that he must continue to play one role or another to assist the state.
Q: If it is Umno you are afraid of, whether it is Selangor or national Umno, you as a federal opposition leader would be better to fight off Umno. Then you can fight Umno in Selangor and in Penang. In Penang, Umno’s racial incitement is even more than in Selangor.
A: Not necessarily more but it is there because the Chief Minister is Chinese so they are using that (race) card. In Selangor, it is more a religious issue, like we are not defending the position of Islam. So the Selangor leadership, other than economic management, must do everything possible to ensure that Islam is the religion of the state that the propagation of Islam must be enhanced that we must give all the support necessary.
At the same time, we must also protect the right of non-Muslims to practice their religion and should in no way convey a signal that we are intolerant or discourage their activities. This must be done.
Q: So how do you see the Bible raid then? That has made it seem that Pakatan or the Selangor
government is not going to go out there and protect the way non-Muslims worship?
A: It is more complicated than that. Because we find Najib after abandoning responsibility is putting the blame on Selangor, insisting that Selangor take the necessary position or measure.
I would say that the position and Pakatan Rakyat has not changed on the ‘Allah’ issue. We tabled a statement by Hadi Awang that there was some concerns on words and phrases. But I appealed to non-Muslims in PKR and DAP to go along with the PAS position as Pakatan allows the word ‘Allah’ to be used with some concerns.
Our position has not changed. I think that while promoting Islam we must not convey the message to be seen to be trying to frustrate activities of other religions. This Bible issue is very specific.
Q: How would you deal with it then? When you come into the Selangor government.
A: I would say that firstly the menteri besar and state government must be fully apprised prior to any case that has religious ramifications. Number two, if this is under the discretion of the sultan, then it is the responsibility of the state to advise and keep the ruler fully apprised of the situation.
The bottom line is that we must not allow action that could be interpreted as something done to sow dissension among communities and religious groups.
I strongly believe that you do not need to distribute the BM version of the bible to Muslim students. You must impose conditions that you must not proselytise, but you must also not give an impression that you do not tolerate their activities. This seems to be the perception and this needs to be rejected.
Q: So what should Pakatan Rakyat do with enactments such as Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988, which seems to be the core problem in this issue?
A: The enactment has an attachment and the problem is with that. The enactment is for the protection of Muslims from efforts to proselytise but the attachment in terms of the words is generally excessive. I was in Penang speaking to religious scholars when I told them how do you explain a resident on Jalan Masjid who uses Jalan Masjid on his or her address?
So they immediately know the problem. I think this must be addressed. Unlike immediately responding to demands of non-Muslims groups, you must also know about the incessant propaganda among Muslims that has led to some of them to believe that they are under siege.
So we have to address this. Like I told the religious scholars, they say the law is to protect Muslims, but you put there ‘masjid’ for a resident on Jalan Masjid. What is he supposed to do about it? Of course he can’t imagine the government taking action against him. Having said that the law is very clear and you cannot use, you cannot use.
Q: Like in the Selangor case, the Selangor state anthem has the word ‘Allah’... so does that mean that non-Muslims should not sing the anthem?
A: That is what has been raised. The point taken or the position of the Selangor religious department that is the law as it stands. But then the appendix to the law and manner of action is missing. So you have to see whether you should prosecute a person who puts down his address as Jalan Masjid. So far that has not happened. But that is the flaw in the legislation.
Q: Since we are on the issue of state leadership how would you respond to the perception that this whole move is to solve a feud between Selangor PKR chief Azmin Ali and Abdul Khalid?
A: All parties have their own problems. Like Umno also has problems in its own party with (former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahatir Mohamad) Mahathir and (Former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin) Daim lashing out at Najib and two ex-umno editors.
We know that but it is not highlighted because the media is controlled by them. But here, yes, there is a problem but they are working together. I get full briefings about the election machinery led by Azmin, and Abdul Khalid is keen to be involved in the election, to be part of the process.
Which means that this by itself proves that the dissension is exaggerated, but that cannot be a pretext to going in because going in has a larger agenda – making Selangor as the bastion of Pakatan Rakyat in its campaign for Putrajaya.
Q: The thing about this ‘larger bastion’ argument is that in the past five years, Azmin and Khalid have weathered so many attacks from Umno such as water shortages and the cow’s head protest and pigs heads being thrown into suraus. If the past six years they can handle all this, why can’t they handle it now?
A: The question is would you allow this protracted battle to continue or should we just respond, or should we give a strong message that this is wrong. Whether it is against the Muslims, the Hindus and the Christians, we will not tolerate and we will give strong sounding call to end this.
Otherwise you always have problems every few weeks. Even the negotiations over the state water industry are going on for so long that they are not resolved. Then you have the cow incident, then the Molotov cocktails and now the bible. This is a major distraction from the work we are doing. We have a strategy to say look we are not going to respond or held captive by this sort of insane propaganda.
Q: So what can you bring, what difference can you make here?
A: With the huge resources and a track record, we move to enhance the capability, particularly in ensuring a cohesive political force in Pakatan Rakyat, where we are able to mobilise the people of Selangor.
Q: Specifically are you going to have more interfaith meetings?
A: I won’t go into the details. The focus is on Kajang by-election. But what I mean is that we must move aggressively in this field.
Q: Speaking of the by-election, BN has said they are going to attack you personally and the sodomy cases will be an issue.
A: It is nothing different since 1998. Has anything changed?
Q: Is this going to affect you?
A: In 1999, in 2004, in every by-election, whether by DAP or PAS or PKR, or whether I contest or do not contest, the same faces will appear on TV3, probably now with additional allowance. So should we be intimidated by them? This game of politics? I mean where are the Islamic ethics? Where are the Umno ustads or the muftis who have been pronounced in their call for ethics?
They say they are going to deflect from the court cases since when have I entertained this? We must remain focused, what is it to the people? It is economic hardship. It is the abuse of power and corruption. I have refrained in going on personal vendetta. I am focused on the policy issues, on the election commission, on the issue of price, monopoly, GST.
But you have Umno ministers and Umno leaders who are doing this.
Q: What about them using PKR vice president Nurul Izzah Anwar’s problems as an issue?
A: Is this something new? Of course, for it is quite settled and resolved. It is between her and her husband. But no one is asking is divorce among the Prime Minister or leaders new or odd? Is it something to be debated?
I will not be tempted to be dragged into this... People are not that ignorant. People know. If they open this up, they are opening their books. I will not want to win the Kajang by-election by talking about juicy details of private lives of leaders.
I will focus on development, economic problems, the wastage and welfare of the Kajang people and what the future entails for Selangor. And our commitment to wrest control of Putrajaya.
Q: Because you will have all these extra responsibilities as MB, what will happen to your role as Pakatan Rakyat leader?
A: I am surprised at this question. Najib is Pekan MP, chairman of BN, president of Umno, chairman of Umno Selangor… why is that not a problem? He can manage all that, if he does. I am sure I can.
Q: But he is not a menteri besar at the same time.
A: But he is prime minister and chairman of Umno Selangor and president of Umno and MP for Pekan. Why when it comes to Anwar, the Anwar equation is treated differently. Like I put on a Selangor jersey it becomes a problem. You put on a Manchester United jersey or Chelsea one, must you be from Manchester?
Q: When you become Menteri Besar, many of your programmes will be concentrated in Selangor… so how are you going to get votes for Pakatan from Johor, Sabah and Sarawak?
A: of course I will go to Johor. I am MP for Permatang Pauh and opposition leader… I travel. Yes I have an added responsibility. It is how you can effectively delegate your responsibility and manage your affairs efficiently. We have a team of young capable leaders at the state and within Pakatan and the national level.
Q: So this is where Khalid will come in to be part of your team?
A: Khalid and also some other younger leaders. We have to prepare the state with PKR, PAS and DAP. Naturally I chair press conferences but many do not realise there are secretary-generals of parties, director of elections, strategy team. All delegated to work and some of the campaigns are delegated to them.
Q: How you are going to deal with different views like Selangor PAS who wants their own MB?
A: It is ok. We are not Umno that millstone of greatness. I am sure there are different views but I say ok, so long as we reach a consensus. But there were some statements here and there. But in the by-election we are all committed and gung-ho.
I was in Kajang on Friday with Khalid and Azmin and the entire machinery of PAS was there at the mosque contrary to all media concerns I was pleasantly surprised the entire PKR and PAS machinery was there. They said the DAP was not there but this was inside the mosque during prayers.
Q: So if we see this cohesive team with Khalid and Azmin, is this a reflection of the team that is going to lead Selangor – Azmin, Khalid and Anwar?
A: We cross this bridge first. In that team, Anwar has to win first and you know me. My experience in politics is I do not take chances. I do not think take things for granted. I am going to work hard to appeal to the people of Kajang. I am just a humble servant and I need their help and support.
And I say, if you read Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian or watch TV3 , then I am in dire straits.
Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Ghandi, once told me that Indian politics is quite dirty. But when he saw Malaysian politics he was sorry to say that it is dirtier. Because of what the Malaysian media portrays. In India the media does not operate that way. They still have some ethical standards because there the media is free. Here there is control, there are instructions.
So although Najib responded to the national consensus, there were instructions to demonise and attack my character.
Q: Does being an MB, in your opinion, help train you and position you in that path towards becoming prime minister?
A: It is not personal. It is about making Selangor evolve as a moderate state and to put a stop to these excessive attacks by Umno and ready to mobilise Selangor and its hinterlands. After all they call it the Klang valley, it is not the Kuala Lumpur valley.
Q: That is what people are saying if you want to make Putrajaya a base, then you need votes from Johor, Sabah and Sarawak. All the votes in Selangor are basically in Pakatan’s hands.
A: It is not just the votes of Selangor. But by delivering and getting people to see that livelihoods, transportation, education and to put a check that it is not a state that you can bully. – February 4, 2014.