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14th General Election of Malaysia held on 9th May 2018 gave birth to three exciting scenarios to be enjoyed and shared by all. This could happen not just because  the 61 year old ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, BN was defeated by a newly formed opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan, PH, but because of a historical reapproachment among the top trio-leaders of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Dato’ Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismaiel. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who was sent to prison twenty years before by Dr. Mahathir Mohammad and Dato’ Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismaiel, wife of Anwar Ibrahim who suffered a turbulent life due to Anwar’s imprisonment with her small children, aged 17 to 6 felt that they should leave their personal grievances aside and move forward with Dr. Mahathir who has anyways resolved to end the stigma of corruption that is growing badly in Malaysia. Thus these three trio-leaders of Malaysia along with the other Pakatan Harapan leaders did a commendable job of getting united with a common target – defeating corruption and other socio-economic and political evils of the country turning ballots into bullets. This reminds what once El-Hajj Malik El- Shabazz, popularly known as Malcolm X, an African-American Muslim human rights activist said: “Ballot is like a bullet. You don’t throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket.”

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Malcolm_X

In this small article we are not discussing corruption in Malaysia, but only giving a passing reference to it. Our main purpose here is to highlight how the top three leaders of Malaysia, the leadership of the current ruling coalition, Pakatan Harapan HP, en-livened and invigorated Malaysia with three interesting scenarios which would remain ever memorable in the history of Malaysia.

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious country of South-East Asia, which attained its independence on 31st August 1957. Malaysia is regarded as one of the most developed countries in Southeast Asia, outranked in GDP only by Singapore and Brunei. http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/malaysia.htm

Malaysia being an upper middle-income country has transformed itself from a producer of raw materials into a multi-sector economy. But it is well-known fact that many countries across the world are found to be corruption-ridden which badly affect their economies. According to the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index, (CPI 2017), hardly any progress is made in ending corruption in majority of the countries. Below is the list excerpted from the index report which shows rankings of each Southeast Asian country in terms of corruption based on CPI 2017 report:

Listed below, excerpted from the index report, herewith are the rankings of each Southeast Asian nation in CPI 2017:

World Rank Country Score 2017 Score 2016
6 Singapore 84 84
32 Brunei 62 58
62 Malaysia 47 49
91 Timor Leste 38 35
96 Indonesia 37 37
96 Thailand 37 35
107 Vietnam 35 33
111 Philippines 34 35
130 Myanmar 30 28
135 Laos 29 30
161 Cambodia 21 21

See: Adelaida Salikha, Southeast Asian’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index and Why We Should Know, February 22, 2018.

https://seasia.co/2018/02/22/southeast-asian-s-2017-corruption-perceptions-index-and-why-we-should-know

This can be further supported by the statements and the following chart from another source:

Malaysia is the 62 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries, according to the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Rank in Malaysia averaged 43.30 from 1995 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 62 in 2017 and a record low of 23 in 1995.

https://tradingeconomics.com/malaysia/corruption-rank

Source: TradingEconomics.Com: Transparency International

One of the important reasons behind this worsened position of Malaysia from 55 in the previous year to 62 at present in terms of corruption is mainly attributed to the state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, 1MDB. It was in July 2015, 1MDB was spotlighted when the Wall Street Journal reported that ‘up to US $700 million was wired to Najib’s (then PM of Malaysia) personal account’.   Since then this major scandal of 1MBD has been a target of criticism from people in Malaysia in general and also the international community, particularly the United States. This has also been one of the crucial topics among the people during the 14th General Election of Malaysia who wanted to clean, bersih corruption from Malaysia. In fact as mentioned above the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan HP, and its trio-leaders joined with all unity, solidarity and integrity making corruption their target to be cleaned up from the country. After they gained a glorious victory at the ballots, they have already expressed their commitments that they would free the country from this big corruption scandal, 1MBD and from other kinds of corruption as well.

So coming to the main story — there are three exciting scenarios that emerged after the 2018 General Election and it marked a new chapter in the history of Malaysia.

Firstly, the appointment of the first female Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Wan Azizah binti Wan Ismail, practically manifested women’s political empowerment at the higher leadership level which can be reckoned as the stepping ground for women to reach the highest political leadership position in the near future.  So far, Malaysia saw 11 female cabinet ministers, 25 female deputy ministers and 14 female parliamentary secretaries. Now for the first time, in its more than sixty years of history, the position of the Deputy Prime Minister is enjoyed by a woman in Malaysia which   deserves applause and appreciation.

Secondly, the longest –serving Fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir Mohammad who served the country from 1981 to 2003 re-emerged as the seventh Prime Minister of the country at the age of 92, as the oldest head of the government in the world.

Thirdly, the ex – Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who was jailed by the then PM of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad received royal pardon which was facilitated by Tun Dr. Mahathir himself and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim finally released from the prison on 16th May as a waiting Prime Minister.

Let us see how these top three leaders emerged as rising stars of the country.

Wan Azizah is born on 3rd December 1952 in Singapore which was then a British colony from 1946-1963. Wan Azizah’s grandfather and ancestors were Peranakan Chinese, descendents of Chinese immigrants who came and settled in Malay Archipelago including British Malaya (now Malaysia and Singapore) between the 15th and 17th centuries. She is raised up in Malaysia as a Malay Muslim and received her early education in St. Nicholas Convent School, Alor Star and continued her education at Tunku Kurshia College in Seremban. She then went to Ireland and studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons where she received a gold medal in obstetrics and gynaecology and then later she also studied ophthalmology and became a well qualified ophthalmologist. Dr. Wan Azizah returned back from Dublin, Ireland in 1978 with a gold medal at the age of 25. After two years, in 1980 she got married to Anwar Ibrahim. Anwar Ibrahim, then 32 was a very vocal, fiery and young Islamic speaker and an emerging politician who was even interned for nearly two years in 1974 anti-poverty riot. Anwar Ibrahim, born on April 20, in 1947 in Bukit Maertajam in Penang is the son of Ibrahim Abdul Rahman who earlier worked in a hospital, and later joined politics and retired as the parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of health. His mother Che Yan was the member of UMNO. Anwar Ibrahim completed his high school in Bukit Mertajam in Penang. He showed his leadership skills from his student age itself. He joined the University of Malaya, UM in 1968 and elected as the President of the National Union of Malaysian Muslim Students. He also co-founded Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, ABIM and served as its second President. He was the representative of the Asia-Pacific from 1975-1982 for the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, WAMY. He is also the co-founder of International Institute of Islamic Thought, IIIT in Virginia, United States which was founded in 1981 and was the Second President of the International Islamic University, Malaysia, IIUM. In 1982 Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim joined UMNO led by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad. (We shall continue the remaining story of Anwar  a little later.)

Mahathir Mohammad is born in Alor Star, the capital of Kedah, British Malaya on July 10th 1925. His grandfather Iskandar who was brought to Malaya by the East India Company was attached to the Kedah Royal palace where he taught English and was married to a Malay lady from Johor, Siti Hawa. His father Mohammad bin Iskandar, the first headmaster of an English School in Alor Star, (presently named as Maktab Sultan Abdul Hamid) was originally an Indian who traced his ancestry from South India, Kerala. Mahathir Mohammad excelled in his studies in school as well as college and studied medicine at the King Edward VII College of Medicine, now part of Singapore National University and became a medical doctor and practiced medicine and worked as a government doctor for quite some time. He married Siti Hasmah Mohammad Ali, a medical doctor and they have four children of their own and they also adopted three more. Mahathir Mohammad was politically active ever since the end of the Japanese occupation of Malaya. Even while working as a doctor in Alor Star, he was active in UMNO party and by the first General Election of Malaysia in 1959, he was appointed the head of the party   at state level in Kedah. He was elected to the Parliament in 1964 but was expelled in 1969 due to some clash of opinions with some other party leaders on his full support of the ethnic Malay Nationalism. However, very soon he re-entered UMNO in 1970 and the Parliament in 1974 and the same year he was appointed Minister of Education. In 1976 he became the Deputy Prime Minister and in July 1981 he became the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia and served the country with this position till 2003. During his long period of Premiership, he took all measures to maintain political stability and good economic growth and tried to achieve his futuristic vision, Vision 2020.

During the Premiership of Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, Anwar Ibrahim rose to several ministerial positions due to his outstanding calibre, and impressive leadership qualities — Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports in 1983; Minister of Education in 1986; Minister of Finance in 1991 and in 1993 he became the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia while still holding the position of the Finance Minister. However, during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, a deadly clash appeared between the top two leaders, Tun Dr. Mahathir and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on the policies and mechanisms responding to the financial crisis. Meanwhile Anwar Ibrahim was also very much critical of the nepotism and cronyism growing within UMNO and wanted to stop it to save the country from economic crisis and moral decline. However, Dr. Mahathir used the Internal Security Laws and detained him on charges of corruption and sodomy. He was arrested on 20th September 1998, sent to prison in 1999 and was released in 2004 after six years but was still banned to take any public office till 2008. Hence Anwar Ibrahim took some teaching positions outside Malaysia in Oxford, Washington D.C. and other places for some time.  In 2008, his ban on public office was expired and he re-entered the political field as a strong opposition leader. But very soon in June 2008, he was arrested again on the allegation of sodomy and later released in 2012 based on the DNA report, but again the case was re-evaluated and he was jailed again in 2014. By the way, all kinds of allegations against him, prison sentences and long imprisonment are described by various Human rights NGOs and foreign governments, Amnesty International, International Jurists Commission as political persecution and politically motivated plots and conspiracies to defame him and oust him from gaining prominent position in Malaysian politics.

Throughout this painful period of Anwar’s life, starting from 1998 to early 2018 with some short intervals of release in-between, Wan Azizah and her 6 children went through the toughest times of their life.  It was under such calamitous political background Wan Azizah entered the world of politics. Before Anwar Ibrahim’s arrest and imprisonment on 20th September 1998, Wan Azizah gave her medical services for 14 years as a government doctor and she also offered voluntary services to several health related centres and also became a patron of National Cancer Council.

However, after Anwar’s arrest, Wan Azizah shifted her focus from medical services to political services to bring reform in the country through removing corruption, fraud, nepotism, cronyism and such other social evils. It is important to note here that it was Anwar Ibrahim who declared the need for Reformasi in September 1998, but he was sacked on 2nd September 1998 and was expelled from UMNO on 3rd September the same year and was arrested on 20th September, 1998.  Then from 27th September to 30th September a big number of Anwar’s supporters were arrested. On 29th September 1998, when Anwar Ibrahim appeared in the court, his left eye appeared ‘black’ due to the injuries since he was brutally beaten up by the then chief of the police. This ‘black eye’ became the symbol of the Parti Kaedilan as it adopted it as an oval shape logo on an azure background in its flag as a reminder of the pain and sufferings Anwar faced in the prison to stop corruption and cronyism and to bring reform in the country. While Anwar was facing humiliation in the prison, his wife wan Azizah, a woman with a lion’s heart continued the Reformasi movement, launched by Anwar. Soon the Reformasi movement was organised as an NGO and a movement, the Movement for Social Justice, Pergerakan Keadilan Sosial) (Adil) to bring political, economic and social reform through peaceful and democratic means. Referring to it, Wan Azizah said: “It will serve as a bond to unite all justice-loving Malaysians against the arrogance and oppression of the powerful.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/232513.stm

When the 1999 General Election approached, the Reformasi Movement, Adil decided to contest in the elections and for that purpose established the National Justice Party, Parti Keadilan Nasional on 4th April, 1999, the product of the Reformasi movement.  Parti Kaedilan joined the other opposition parties like Democratic Action Party, DAP, the Malaysian People’s Party (PRM) and the Malaysian Islamic Party, PAS and thus these parties formed electoral alliance as Barisan Alternatif (Alternative Front). But several leaders of Kaedilan were arrested under the Internal Security Act and were thus prevented from contesting elections. Parti Kaedilan gained 5 parliamentary seats; PAS gained 27 seats and DAP gained 10 seats. The 1999 General Election was the first General Election for Wan Azizah in which she led the party and contested the election. She was elected as the Member of Parliament for Permatang Pauh with a majority seats. During the post-election period, some negotiations and understanding took place between Parti Kaedilan and Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) and they merged into one entity and emerged with the name People’s Justice Party, Parti Kaedilan Rakyat, Kaedilan or PKR on 3rd August 2003. The party participated in the 2004 General Elections and retained only one seat of Wan Azizah and this poor result was generally attributed to gerrymandering etc.

Meanwhile Anwar Ibrahim was released from the prison on 2nd September 2004, but he was banned to join any public office till 2008. In the 2008 General Elections, People’s Justice Party, PKR , Kaedilan won 31 seats, and DAP 28 seats and PAS won 23 seats. Thus 82 seats were taken by the opposition which denied Barisan Nasional two-thirds majority. Hence 2008 General Election was recorded as the best performance of the opposition coalition in Malaysian history of elections. Wan Azizah again retained her seat in the Parliament with majority votes and the opposition coalition made her the Leader of the opposition in the Parliament. Thus Wan Azizah enjoyed the opportunity of becoming the first female opposition leader in the history of Parliament in Malaysia, from March 2008 to 31 july 2008 and later from may 2015 to May 2018. During such momentous time, another unique thing happened – the return of Anwar Ibrahim to the political world on 14th April 2008 since his ten years long official ban from public office was expired. Wan Azizah took a very apt, prompt and strategic action immediately. She resigned from her parliamentary seat of Permatang Pauh on 31st July 2008 so that a by-election is declared and Anwar Ibrahim could contest the election and the same thing happened. Anwar Ibrahim contested in the by-election and won on 26th August 2008 with an overwhelming majority. Thus, Wan Azizah and the opposition coalition became successful in welcoming back Anwar Ibrahim after ten years of absence in the Parliament. His supporters welcomed him in thousands number in various rallies wherever he spoke after his return to political platform as the strong opposition leader. But in July 2008 Anwar Ibrahim was again arrested on allegation of sodomy, and then released from the charge in 2012, and again on 4th March 2014, his acquittal was overturned and finally on 10th February 2014 the Federal Court of Malaysia gave him the five-year imprisonment.  It seems important to mention here that according to several Human Rights NGOs, foreign governments, International Commission of Jurists and others all the allegations against Anwar Ibrahim were politically motivated. However, again under the leadership of Wan Azizah, Kaedilan through the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat contested in the 2013 General Election which was held on 5th May 2013 for the 13th Parliament. Barisan Nasional won 133 seats out of 222 seats in the Parliament and the Opposition Alliance, Pakatan Rakyat won 89 seats in which Kaedilan won 30 seats. Over-all the performance of the Pakatan Rakyat was good and this time it won more popular votes than the Barisan Nasional, BN.  Furthermore, on 9th March 2014, Wan Azizah contested as a candidate for the Kajang by-election and on 23rd March 2014, she was elected member of the state legislative assembly for Kajang. Furthermore, when Anwar Ibrahim was accused and imprisoned as mentioned above on allegation of sodomy, he was made disqualified to continue his seat in the Parliament for Permatang Pauh. Hence, a by-election was held on 7th May 2015 in which Wan Azizah contested for the seat and won it with a good majority of votes.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the scenario, a change took place in the leadership of the country twice. Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad after serving the country from 1981 to 2003 stepped down and Tun Dato Haji Abdullah bin Ahmed Badawi took over the position as the Prime Minister from 2003-2009, followed by Tun Najib Razak from 2009 to 2018.  However, the premiership of Tun Najib Razak was marked for a number of corruption  charges including the big scandal of 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) against him. Tun Dr.  Mahathir Mohammad bitterly criticized Najib Razak for this corruption. In an interview with Mehdi Hassan of Al Jazeera in 2016, Mahathir said Najib has ‘gone off track’ and he should be stopped. On Malaysia’s future, Mahathir said: “If Najib is there, this country will go to the dogs.”

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/mahathir-mohamad-stunning-comeback-malaysia-leader-180509165147895.html

Hence the supporters of Najib forced Mukhriz Mahathir, son of Mahathir Mohammad to step down from the position of the Chief Minister of Kedah and also suspended Muhyuddin Yassin, the deputy President of UMNO linking him as an ally of Dr. Mahathir Mohammad.  Finally Mahathir Mohammad resigned from UMNO on 26th February 2016. He gave his reason of resignation to a reporter in these words: “I won’t call it UMNO anymore, this is Najib’s party. I feel embarrassed that I am associated with a party that is seen as supporting corruption – it had caused me to feel ashamed.”

(See: Rozanna Latiff, Mahathir quits Malaysia’s ruling UMNO party, protesting corruption.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-malaysia-politics-mahathir-idUSKCN0W20X8)

Then in September 2016 a rapprochement took place between the two dead enemies, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. It is said that the trio-leaders of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Dato’ Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismaeil dissolved their mutual enmity against each other for the sake of saving the nation from falling into the sea of corruption to be lost forever. Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad also talked to the leaders of the other opposition parties and gained full confidence from them which eventually strengthened the Opposition Coalition, Pakatan Harapan, HP. Pakatan Harapan, HP as discussed above won the stunning victory at the 14th General Election and ousted the 61 years leadership of Barisan Nasional, BN and successfully took over the government. Pakatan Harapan, PH won 113 seats in the Dewan Rakyat, the Lower House of the Malaysian Parliament, and a regional Sabah-based party, Saba Heritage Party, (Warisan) which won 8 seats informally aligned with Pakatan Harapan, thus giving this coalition a total of 121 seats in the Parliament, good enough to form the government. Mahathir was sworn – in as Prime Minister of Malaysia on 10th May 2018.  It is also important to note that before the election Dr. Mahathir Mohammad told that he would hand over the power to Anwar Ibrahim after he would get the royal pardon for him. After Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad sworn in as the seventh PM of Malaysia, he appointed Dato’ Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismaeil as the first Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia and she was sworn in for that position on May 21st, 2018 and was also made the Minister of Women and Family Development. Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad then facilitated the royal pardon of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on 16th May 2018 on the basis of a ‘miscarriage of justice’ which totally freed him from the prison sentence as well the five year ban on him from the public office.   Anwar Ibrahim, ‘a man with three prison sentences and 11 years in jail,’ walked out of the Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, where he was under treatment on 16th May at 11.30 am, as crowds of supporters cheered and shouted chants of “Reformasi !” and followed his car till a long distance.

Thus a series of these three interesting scenarios coincided with each other which are imprinted in the history of Malaysia. Now much depends on how the rapprochement of these trio-leaders of Malaysia – Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Dato’ Seri Dr. Wan Azizah would remain strong and solid  to play a dynamic role in Malaysian politics through their anti-corruption and pro-reformasi Alliance, Pakatan Harapan. Coming years would show how this reform team would clean the country from corruption and such other evils and would not only regain the social, economic and political stability of their country, rather would bring Malaysia in a showcase of one of the cleanest countries in the world.  Once, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the ex-President of India said: “If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, the mother and the teacher”.

https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/corruption

In the trio-leadership of Malaysia, all the three are present – Anwar Ibrahim, the father and the leader; Wan Azizah the mother and the leader; Mahathir Mohammad, the father, the teacher and the leader! Let us pray that these trio- leaders with their quadruple characters – father, mother, teacher and leader, remain united to keep Malaysia green and clean bulleting corruption and other evils under their leadership.

Dr Zeenath Kausar Former Teaching Staff of International Islamic University Malaysia, IIUM.  If you like this article, drop two lines at this email of the author: zeenathk2010@yahoo.com

2 Comments

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    There are many positives in Malaysia elections. But, had Mahathir invited a younger leader to lead and had he assumed the role of a guide in nourishing young leadership, it would have been even better

    • Zeenath Kausar says:

      Mr. K. Sheshu Babu
      Thank you very much for reading my article. I agree with your opinion that we need the young generation to be guided as the future leaders by the veteran politicians. However, in the present situation in Malaysia, due to the biggest corruption scandal, perhaps there is a need for a very well experienced and a senior person like Dr. Mahathir to settle the urgent issues. He already stated that after two years, he would shift the position to Anwar Ibrahim. Let us now how things go. Thanks again
      Dr. Zeenath Kausar