His clean image and service to society at last won


The rise and fall, rather falls and rises, of Anwar Ibrahim has been both meteoritic and sluggish at times. It makes an interesting story. He was Deputy Prime Minister once and Prime Minister-in-waiting at other time. Both times he was ditched by his political mentor, Mahathir Mohamad, who himself went into political oblivion through an unbecoming loss in election from his stronghold constituency of Langkawi, losing his deposits.

Anwar Ibrahim started his political career as one of the founding fathers of youth organisation Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM), which aimed at promoting Islam through educational and charitable activities. Anwar joined hands with the ruling Party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), with the aim of bringing ‘reforms from within’ and became a deputy to then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. At that time, it was understood that he ditched the parent Islamic party, PAS, which was in opposition. Finally, Mahathir ditched him and was sent to jail twice on sodomy related charges. Mahathir later joined hands with him, arranging his release from jail and arranging Royal pardon from the King, then ditching him once again when his term to became Prime Minister came closer. 


The recent election-results led to a hung parliament. However, new alliances developed and a new government under Anwar was sworn in. As against 221 seats declared the alliances that got elected were as under:

Pakatan Harapan (PH), to which Anwar Ibrahim belonged, won in 82 places; Perikatan Nasional (PN), a Malay-based party, won in 73 places; Barisan Nasional (BN), dominated by UMNO, won in 30 places; Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), a Sarawak state-based alliance of political parties, won in 23 places; and Others won in 13 places. Sarawak is the largest among the 13 states of Malaysia comprising almost half of the size of the nation.

BN, GPS and some smaller groups joined hands with PH to form the government.

The names in Malay language of the parties and their coalitions and their respective abbreviations may not make sense to those who are not familiar with politics and related issues of Malaysia. Some description may be useful.

PH, to which Anwar Ibrahim belongs, is a multi-ethnic group and attracted support from Chinese and Indians. The predominantly ethnic Chinese Democratic Action Party is a key component of Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan coalition. UMNO, which has been the established Malay party based on Malay nationalism, ruled from 1957 to 2018, provided support to PH to form the government. It was unthinkable before election that this party will provide the much-needed support for formation of the government.

PN, on the other hand, is mostly Malay-based. The Islamic Party PAS is a key component of this coalition.


This election witnessed an unexpected rise of PAS, becoming the single largest party with 49 seats. It is the foremost Islamic party of Malaysia, calling for increasing application of Shari’ah. Its score card is more than double as in previous election it had only 18 Members of Parliament.  This party has been ruling in three states: Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah. Its presence in four Malay-majority states of Malaysia has been formidable. Now it has made its presence felt on national level.

One remarkable contribution of this party was in defeating Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar in the family’s long-time stronghold in Penang state. The importance of this defeat is that Nurul Izzah is a prominent politician on her own rights, like her both parents. She had played a significant role internationally in mobilising support for release of her father, while her mother had been active on national level. Her electoral defeat by a PAS candidate does not speak of her lesser influence, rather it is a proof of increasing influence of PAS.

The improved performance is being discussed in the media and a number of factors are being mentioned.

The age bar for casting votes was lowered from 21 to 18 years. This resulted in significant increase of first-time voters. It appears that these new voters preferred PAS for voting. This may be a result of corruption and infighting in UMNO and other parties. PAS has a clean image despite continuously ruling one or more states for a long time.

As far as corruption is concerned, Anwar too has a clean image. It is popularly believed that the sodomy charge, for which he was jailed for a long period, was politically motivated sans any merit. It is said that no charge of any financial irregularity was levelled against him despite the fact that he was holding finance portfolio at the time of his first sacking from the government. Charges and counter-charges of financial irregularities abound in Malaysia. An earlier prime minister is serving a long period in jail on such allegations. Anwar Ibrahim, personally and PAS, collectively, are hailed for their respective clean public images.

PAS has a good record of social service, particularly in the fields of education. It has a network of childcare centres and kindergartens and has developed grassroots organisation with committed team of cadres. Its grassroots presence socially makes it strong politically. It has channelled support of all sections of the society, particularly women and youth.


On the national front, PAS faced a severe challenge from the ethnic divide of Malaysia. With about 30 per cent population of non-Muslims, particularly Chinese who have significant concentration in many rural centres, this Islamic party has the formidable task of making inroad in them, socially and politically. Some years ago, they had decided to make non-Muslim members of the party. Further, they have to maintain non-partisan attitude whenever issues that attract ethnic sensitivities arise. 

Anwar Ibrahim has an edge in this area of multi-ethnic support. He raises the issue of all-Malaysians without any bias and calls this Islamic democracy. It is obvious that the days of Malay nationality, which was the rallying point of UMNO, has gone and all groups shall have to rise to the occasion. What counts in the long run is service to everyone. Lip-service do not go far.

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