A symbolism in Anwar’s release

A PROMISING and dynamic opposition politician in Malaysia, who was once believed to be the future leader of the country, is finally freed from jail after a long court battle. There is a symbolism in the freedom that the promising politician has finally won. How the cases against Anwar Ibrahim came up is not fully clear yet, as it happened in unusual situations. There were many who saw the hands of the then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad behind his deputy’s plight, though it is often difficult to verify such charges.

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Published: Fri 3 Sep 2004, 10:43 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:47 AM

Mahathir Mohamad, no doubt, was an able administrator who zealously worked for its betterment, but all his good works and all the good name he earned were affected by talks about his designs against the Number Two in the cabinet. If there was any grain of truth in the allegations, it must be stated that he should not have played around with the life of a politician as prominent as Anwar, who was the most promising politician from the younger generation, next to Mahathir, in Malaysia. Have we ever, ever heard of such incarcerations in the advanced West? Did America or Britain, or even Germany or France, resort to such action against a prominent person in the opposition, or in public life for that matter?

It was not simply a question of imprisonment, but also of the mental trauma that had been caused to an individual, he having been segregated from his family and others, and having been branded as a morally not upright - which is the worst stigma for a man in public life. No matter whatever excuses one gives, this was an unjustifiable act. It also gave a bad name to democracy, because such was the system of governance that is in existence in the country.

Democracy has different manifestations; and all its defining principles or articles of faith are not being practised in many countries that claim to be democratic. In true democracies, it is not easy for a government to set itself against its opponents, unless there are valid reasons. If all the tenets of democracy are not adhered to in letter and spirit, it is as good as not practising it. This is what I say about some Muslim countries of Arab republics, where the opposition does not enjoy the freedom to perform its role, namely to oppose it on issues that trouble the minds of the people. Many of these part-democracies are not giving due respect to the concepts of tolerance; nor are they amenable to criticism. There has to be an attitudinal change. Criticism is an accepted part of a democracy. That keeps a government on its toes, and on the right track as well. Those who claim to practise democracy, like Malaysia, will have to ensure that it followed all the tenets of the system.

Anwar’s release, following an order by the apex court, reversing the conviction against him, comes after the once-heir apparent to Mahathir spent six years behind the bars - and this past his age of 50. He has thanked Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi for not interfering with the judicial process, which "would not have been the case had Mahathir been at the helm". Anwar insists that his case was a frame-up, and that it was "politically motivated". Now that his conviction has been overturned, can all the damage that the case has caused to his image - that of an unblemished record in public life - be compensated? Life is precious for all, and more so for those in the limelight and in a developed world, but see how a promising politician had to suffer indignities. Developed world has its charms, whether one is tall or short, abled or disabled, he or she will have more passion for life. They earn on an average of 2000 dollars a month that should take care of their comforts. Even at less than half that amount, people can have a feel for life.

As a politician, he was at his prime when the cases against him came up. He was 52, which is a young age for a politician of his stature; and he was widely seen as the man who would replace Mahathir one day, as a leader who would vibe more with the aspirations of the native Malays. If it was a frame-up against him, as he says, it is one of the worst crimes.

The world is opening up. And we know what the super powers are bent on doing. The slogan for the US for the next five years is to spread the ideals of freedom and liberty to continents that are far removed from it. It means opening up of the societies in a way that their future is made brighter, their hopes raised and their life witnessed dramatic improvements. It encompasses the Muslim world as well. They have to adapt to the new mood, and strengthen their systems, and encourage reforms in a way they benefited to the maximum in the world’s forward march. We cannot afford to miss the bus, or lose out in this century’s race for quality life.

The US had one of its agenda fulfilled when former president Ronald Reagan masterminded the dismantlement of the USSR, and effectively ended the Cold War era. Warsaw Pact lay in tatters and some of those countries are now part of the capitalist bandwagon. What we see today of Russia is a far cry from those days when, in the early 80s, it pursued the agenda of conquests and took Afghanistan in its arms. I remember my late father used to tell me, at my age 18 or so, how they might one day even reach up to the Red Sea hold the region in its arms. But, then the fuse went off. It took only six years for Reagan to turn an American dream into reality. If it could happen then, what could happen now? George Bush says he needs four more years to make America safe and do it in a way that he spread the American ideals of freedom and liberty to far-flung continents and regions.

Anwar regaining his freedom in Malaysia is a symbolic act. It fits into a general pattern. It would not have happened had the Badawi government not woken up to the realities of our times.

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