Anwar Ibrahim is in London on a working visit and the de facto PKR leader managed to catch up with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
“We had a fruitful discussion pertaining bilateral cooperations [sic],” Anwar tweeted. “The UK government has provided its assurance to support investigations pertaining to the 1MDB corruptio(n) scandals, including repatriation of assets seized in the UK.”
Pleased to meet Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. We had a fruitful discussion pertaining bilateral cooperations.— Anwar Ibrahim (@anwaribrahim) June 12, 2018
The UK government has provided its assurance to support investigations pertaining to the 1MDB corruptio scandal, including repatriation of assets seized in the UK. pic.twitter.com/v3JxctK40D
Anwar also met a few other prominent figures such as long-time friend and former US vice-president Al Gore, as well as sat down with the media to talk about developments back home.
In an interview with The Guardian on June 12, he said the Pakatan Harapan government will investigate all dubious investments under the previous administration, including the multi-billion ringgit rejuvenation of the Battersea Power Station.
The project is undertaken by three Malaysian entities: Sime Darby Property, SP Setia Bhd, and the Employees Provident Fund.
The review was necessary as the project used state funds, said Anwar. “We have to be convinced that it was the right investment decisions and that there was no political influence,” he told The Guardian.
Great – points for transparency. But in what capacity did he say these things?
Since his release from prison on May 16, Anwar has been making up for lost time albeit with questionable manoeuvres.
He mooted using the official residence of the deputy prime minister for a PKR meeting; negotiated with the King on the appointment of Tommy Thomas as attorney-general; and engaged in bilateral talks with British politicians, among others.
An impressive feat for a man who is not a member of parliament nor a public official.
But his actions resemble those of a few unsavoury characters. First, Ivanka Trump, the daughter of US President Donald Trump. Last year, she and her husband Jared Kushner visited China to lay the groundwork for a subsequent visit by the president himself. Ivanka and Kushner are not public officials.
Second, Rosmah Mansor, the wife of former prime minister Najib Razak. It seems like yesterday – or 2010, to be accurate – that Rosmah made headlines for having a two-page spread with her face being plastered on the New York Times. The ad was placed on behalf of the Malaysian government and cost thousands of US dollars, according to defunct news portal The Nut Graph.
But she has always been in the limelight, seen next to Najib on government business. On the eve of the general election, she claimed to not interfere in Najib’s affairs as prime minister but in the same breath went on to make politically charged speeches. Rosmah is not a public official.
Rosmah and Najib are currently being investigated for their involvement in troubled state investment vehicle 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
Anwar’s role in public affairs deserves more clarity. Until he is given a political post, he should do what he told hundreds of Malaysians just hours after his release: take a break from politics, spend time with his family and catch up with friends.
But that is not happening. Instead, he is leaving a trail of contradictory messages. He said he doesn’t want to turn government in to a “family business” but has no qualms leveraging on his wife’s role as deputy prime minister to interfere with government business.
Also, bilateral talks are usually the purview of the foreign affairs minister. If The Malaysian Insight report on the cabinet line-up is to be believed, that person is Mujahid Rawa; not Anwar.
Anwar has expressed interest in an early return to Parliament. So there goes his plans for a hiatus. He has no qualms about the country’s top two public posts – prime minister and deputy – being held by politicians of the same party.
Unless Anwar and Wan Azizah are deft at handling matters professionally, a husband-wife tag team for prime minister and deputy guarantees more entertainment than mature politics.
This is about bureaucracy and protocol. The cracks in the Pakatan government are showing. The Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) is a good example. Recently the CEP called for the resignation of the chief justice and president of the court of appeal to which Mahathir had no problems with it.
Lawyer and Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh, however, criticised the council for demanding the resignations of the country’s top judges.
“It is a basic hallmark of any democracy that the executive does not interfere in the affairs of the judiciary,” he said in a June 13 statement.
If these developments seem like a blast from the past, it might just be the case. In an interview on the general election, scholar Bridget Welsh observed the contest between Mahathir and Najib was a contest of historical narratives.
“It’s a question of which versions of history will dominate and whether or not people will see their future in those respective histories. This is an election about different versions of the past as opposed to fundamental shifts and changes,” she said in the interview last December.
History is what is unravelling with Anwar, Mahathir, and Daim Zainuddin taking centre stage. The only consolation here is the assurance of DAP parliamentary leader Lit Kit Siang that there will not be a repeat of 1998, where Mahathir and Anwar clashed.
Times have changed. But attitudes?
Here's hoping “Malaysia Baru” will not just be mere optics in the long run. Pakatan has injected new life into the country’s politics just by sheer fact Malaysians no longer have to contend with one-party rule i.e. Barisan Nasional.
But for mature politics to fully materialise, Anwar has to step away from public duty and wait his turn. That, too, has to be contingent on the will of the Malaysian polity and not because a group of politicians decided to make him prime minister-designate.