For almost two decades, Anwar Ibrahim has been the opposition’s bedrock, a political titan who had cast a long shadow over those opposed to BN.
It is a shadow that his party PKR has struggled to step out of, even in his long absence due to imprisonment over sodomy charges.
Reverence for Anwar had even stymied Pakatan Harapan at one point, with PKR’s insistence on giving him a top position and delaying the formation of the coalition’s leadership lineup for weeks.
Still, he remains highly regarded, with many still deferring to his judgement or invoking his name in their struggles.
But as the 14th general election (GE14) looms, Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah feels that it is time for the opposition to step into the light.
“At the end of the day I think even Anwar himself wants us to move beyond his shadow,” the PKR vice-president told Malaysiakini in an interview on Thursday.
Praising Anwar’s commitment and willingness to sacrifice personal freedoms for a better Malaysia, Nurul Izzah said the former deputy prime minister’s ideals and struggles are embodied by PKR, and is what drives the party forward.
However, she said PKR was not a personality based movement.
Her remarks echo that of Anwar’s symbolic statement in June this year, that he would not be seeking a position as Harapan’s candidate for prime minister.
His statement came amid long, drawn-out arguments between Harapan and its then-newest member Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia on who should head the new government.
Many in PKR, DAP and Amanah insisted that Anwar was the only choice, but the former opposition leader said such arguments were distracting the coalition from more important matters, such as preparing for GE14.
GE14 will likely be the first time since 2008 that Anwar has not been on the ground campaigning for the opposition.
He is currently serving a five-year jail term, but is expected to be freed by the middle of 2018 on good behaviour.
Women not given enough priority
Nurul Izzah indicated that his absence will be felt on the campaign circuit, but said many leaders, especially women, have stepped up to the plate.
“We should focus on our core strengths. PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, and (Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s wife) Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, they have their own followers.
“The womenfolk are always, always not given enough priority. I feel that it is a Zeitgeist for female empowerment. It is our moment to seize the future of Malaysia,” the Lembah Pantai MP said.
But to truly step out of Anwar’s shadow, she said, one thing must be done by the opposition, which is to achieve critical mass among all walks of society in order to enact reforms.
“If you want to step out of the shadow, we should harness everyone’s strength… Even harnessing the strength and support of PAS members.
“If we can harness a former dictator (Mahathir) who has embraced reformasi, don’t tell me that you can’t harness everyone else.”
In the following excerpt from Malaysiakini‘s interview, Nurul Izzah addresses speculation that she will be defending Anwar’s traditional seat Permatang Pauh, as well as whether her siblings will be contesting in GE14.
The interview has been edited for language and brevity:
Will you defend Lembah Pantai? There are rumours that you will move to Permatang Pauh.
I love rumours, Malaysia is built on rumours, at least because we don’t have access to mainstream media. Thankfully, we have Malaysiakini, which can allay some rumours
It has been such an honour (being Lembah Pantai MP) because I contested in 2008 and it was Bangsar, it was Lembah Pantai, it was Kerinchi.
Lembah Pantai is a microcosm of Malaysia, and that’s where I got the chance to represent them
I was humbled by the experience, especially more so winning for a second term the most hotly contested seat (in the Federal Territories) previously held by (Umno Wanita chief) Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, and then the new minister (Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin), who controlled the coffers of Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), and who defined the name of the game in terms of political patronage. So, it was so monumental for me.
I’ve learned so much. I would love to serve them (Lembah Pantai constituents) again. But we are all tied to the decisions made by the political bureau. This is exactly my same answer in 2008 when people asked me, “Are you going to contest Lembah Pantai?”.
Now we are making our rounds visiting the constituencies especially where people are in need of help, and we are planning a huge Deepavali get together.
So, for me until D-Day, which is election day, it’s going to be a battle in Lembah Pantai, that is how I look at it.
If PKR’s political bureau decides that you have to go to Permatang Pauh, would you go?
Yes. Of course
As a soldier of the party, I would expect every candidate that hasn’t been dropped to follow the instructions of the party.
There is a certain degree of freedom allocated to you as an individual, but there’s also the responsibility you have towards the organisation, and that’s community responsibility at work.
Assuming you stay in Lembah Pantai, your vote majority fell by over 1,000 votes in GE13. Can you survive?
I was really humbled by that win. It was extremely challenging. You aren’t taking into account the exact number of votes and the exact degree of manipulation.
Who knows exactly how many votes were cast for us?
At the same time, you also have the transfer of voters that took place quite alarmingly in the last election, and because of that, I don’t really place much of an issue in terms of numbers.
It’s more of whether the seats are marginal or whether it’s supposed to be a safe cushion for us in the government.
We have to ensure there is a high degree of voter awareness. We have to utilise technology whether it is cell phone cameras etcetera, to guard against vote tampering.
We do hope this time around with all this preparation and investment in poll monitors, legal support, there will be a reduction in terms of BN getting fewer opportunities to get away with fraud.
But we have to be realistic. It is life or death for (Prime Minister) Najib (Abdul Razak). It is life or death for his government. They won’t stop at anything.
That is something we have to be prepared for.
You have to understand that we used to win due to protest votes. We used to win due to people genuinely giving a chance to the opposition. But this time around, it’s going to be a clear headcount war.
Every person has to be engaged.
The approach by Harapan’s secretariat is canvassing, getting out to the voters like never before utilising sentiment analysis, which is what (PKR vice-president) Rafizi Ramli has been mentioning, also Institut Darul Ehsan has been , targeting people’s sentiments.
These must all coalesce into a targeted smart and sophisticated campaign. Every message counts. We can’t make a mistake because BN will be watching and of course, their mistakes can be managed very well through a controlled media, but not ours.
So yeah, I think because of that, marginal seats are not just ours for winning but also theirs for losing.
Will your siblings be contesting in GE14?
(Laughs). You have to ask them. I think that’s quite a funny question you know… all of us have the Anwar DNA
I grew up very much in my formative years with reformasi. He was in prison for a long time
I can’t change the fact that I’m very much his daughter. But in terms of learning about human rights, civil rights, that is from (my time in) Abim, Suaram. That formed me into the person I am today.
We (my siblings and I) are all of different cohorts. I’m building a future for Malaysia. I want to represent my generation, and that’s the generation born from 1980, 85, to 1999. That’s my generation. So I represent them.
I think my sisters and my brothers represent their generation. You don’t need to be a politician to enact change
You have to give them the right to choose. So you have to ask my siblings (whether they want to contest in GE14). For now, they are quite happy in their own chosen vocations.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I want to continue fighting for the ideals I believe in. I want to be proud of the fact that I am a living testament to my children as someone who will do everything I can to secure a better future for them.
And of course, I’d like to always be there as their mother. Supporting them, empowering them. Since they’re the biggest joys for me.