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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Anwar Ibrahim's Classy First Press Conference

 Anwar Ibrahim’s Classy First Press Conference

M. Bakri Musa



Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s first press conference shortly after being sworn in was a class act, bar none. He weaved the substantive with the symbolic in an elegant seamless whole. He even handled with remarkable aplomb the congratulatory phone call from Turkey’s President Erdogan that had interrupted the beginning of the press conference and threatened to drag on and on.


            In that press appearance Anwar first spoke in crisp Malay, followed by his equally flawless English. He had none of the exasperating local habit of jumbling even the simplest sentence in both English and Malay, the latter often the “modern” variety with its glut of bastardized English words. This rojak rambling in bazaar Malay and pidgin English reflects a cluttered undisciplined mind.


            I would have to go back to the 1970s in Canada during Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s era to see a comparable polished performance by a bilingual national leader. With Trudeau it was French and English, during a time like Malaysia today, of peak rivalry if not outright hostility between the speakers of the two languages.


            Referring to the symbolic, Anwar again reemphasized his central mission. That is, Malay as the national language and Islam the state religion notwithstanding, Malaysia is for all Malaysians regardless of race, region, or religion. That went beyond being symbolic; it was a much needed balm and necessary reminder following what had been a divisive and polarizing election campaign. Anwar’s enlightened message of inclusiveness was in stark contrast to the dark insularity of the other contenders, in particular Muhyiddin Yassin and Hadi Awang.


            I was less enamored with Anwar declaring the following Monday a national holiday. The disruption aside, it is expensive, and not just in lost productivity. That gesture is far more expensive than renovating ministers’ offices or issuing them with new cars. Anwar rightly rejected those.


            Anwar reiterated his campaign promise of not accepting a salary. A big deal, symbolically and substantively. The loud applause affirmed that. Previous leaders had treated the national treasury as their private bank, and state assets as theirs. Fiscally and operationally however, Anwar not drawing a salary is less significant than his other campaign promise of a smaller cabinet. Think of the savings with not just ministerial salaries and perks but also the associated highly-paid KSUs (Chief Secretaries) and their myriad deputies and assistants.


            Anwar reiterated his commitment to tackling corruption and reviving the economy, specifically the escalating cost of living. It spoke volumes that both the ringgit and Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Index rebounded on news of Anwar’s becoming Prime Minister. I hope he would also commit to a third and equally crucial crusade–repairing the rotting education system. The three are interrelated. You cannot have a robust economy without a well-educated populace, or with corruption corroding the system.


            Anwar should not even consider those with pending criminal trials or tainted backgrounds to be in his cabinet. To be specific, I refer to Ahmad Zahid because he is head of Barisan (now part of the governing coalition) as well as his close relationship with Anwar. Zahid is responsible for Barisan’s post-election support of Anwar, thus enabling him to form the new government. That deed is not to be underestimated, and Zahid should be commended for that, but nothing beyond. Anwar should also avoid retreads from the outgoing cabinet; they were part of the problem and thus cannot now be part of the solution.


            Bring back Latheefa Koya to head the Anti-Corruption Agency, and appoint a Special Prosecutor. A Special Prosecutor would be far more effective than forming a Royal Commission, quite apart from pre-empting charges of political reprisals.


            Reform education so future Malaysians would be more like Anwar, fluent in Malay and English, of deep faith but not wearing it on the sleeve or hijab, and be comfortable with the local ambience as well as on the global stage. In short, glokal Malaysians.


            It reflects Anwar Ibrahim’s supreme confidence that his first order of business when the new Parliament convenes on December 19 would be to introduce a vote of confidence on his government.


            Back to that press conference, I was gratified by the ensuing questions–probing, pertinent, and perceptive, free from the usual toadying groveling types. It is amazing that when the right signals come from the very top, Malaysian journalists respond.


            Anwar can credibly claim aspiring to be Prime Minister not for personal gains but to execute his mission for a better Malaysia. No amount of wealth, glory, or adulation could ever compensate for or be worth the physical and other pains he and his family had endured.


            As a coda, since being sworn in as Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim has given a number of sermons. It is heartening to see so many non-Muslims listening outside mosques to his message of an inclusive and tolerant Islam, a reassuring as well as refreshing contrast to the divisive venomous variety spouted by the likes of Hadi Awang. That might well be Anwar’s most important and enduring contribution.




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