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COMMENT | Anwar Ibrahim’s comeback and Malaysia’s good fortune

M Bakri Musa

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COMMENT | What next week will bring to Malaysia politics-wise, Allahu A’alam! (Only Allah knows!) And He is not telling anyone. We all just have to wait.

Nonetheless, it is not difficult to judge and surmise from the respective speeches and body languages of the two protagonists–current Prime Minister Muhyiddin and reformasi leader Anwar Ibrahim – who has the upper hand. In his press conference yesterday, Anwar projected an image of a take-charge leader. He was poised, articulate and confident, at ease with reporters’ questions. Muhyiddin, on the other had, to remind everyone that he is still in charge.

Let us pray for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to have a speedy recovery. He should afford Anwar the same reception he gave to Muhyiddin back in February 2020. That is, if Anwar can bring documented evidence of support by the majority of members of Parliament that he should be the prime minister.

Should the Agong be incapacitated and his deputy, Perak Sultan Raja Nazrin Shah, were to take over, he, too, should do likewise. For him, there is also the additional precedent set by his father (with Raja Nazrin as crown prince) back in 2009 when he accepted the statutory declarations of the three political "frogs", thus enabling the erstwhile opposition BN to take over the state government from Pakatan Rakyat.

It would be serve the nation ill if the Agong were to take a different tack with Anwar and dissolve Parliament instead. That would forever destroy the precious neutrality of that institution. It would also be inexcusable to expose the public to unnecessary risks were there to be a general election during this Covid-19 pandemic. 

Yes, Singapore did it, but that state is known for doing many things right. Malaysians have yet to know and reckon with the possible public health and other consequences of the Sabah state election this Saturday in the midst of this epidemic.

I expect Anwar to be prime minister next week. Malaysia is more than ready and in desperate need of a new leader and administration.

Anwar and his team should focus on only three objectives. Manage this Covid-19 pandemic, deal with corruption and enhance education. Everything else including reviving the economy should be secondary. As one wise African leader pointed out, you can revive the economy but not a dead citizen. If Malaysia were free of corruption, investments would flow in; likewise, if you have well trained and educated citizens.

There is no need for a ministry for sports, tourism, Islam, women’s issues, or entrepreneur development. Get rid of them and their massive bureaucracies.

For Covid-19, listen to your professionals. You have in the director-general of health Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah an exceptionally capable man. Give him and his agency all the support. For education, increase the number of hours devoted to science, mathematics, and English in schools. Teach those subjects daily. Make that a condition for any school to receive state funding, including and especially religious schools. Beyond those four subjects and Malay, each school would be free to fill the rest of the school day as they see fit.

Recruit from abroad

As for tackling corruption, focus on three key personnel - chief of police, anti-corruption chief, and the attorney-general. While there are many competent Malaysians to occupy these positions, we must recognise that citizens are now deeply polarised. It would be difficult to get a local candidate who would be viewed as impartial. 

The former attorney-general Tommy Thomas was competent. However, being a non-Malay, he was the target of unjustified racist motives what with most of his targets being longstanding corrupt Malay leaders. As for former MACC chief Latheefa Koya, she, too, was effective but her being active in opposition party politics before the 2018 elections fueled her detractors.

Imagine the impact if all three were instead foreign professionals recruited from such agencies as the FBI or Scotland Yard. At the very least they would be viewed as impartial with respect to race and local politics. For those same reasons, I would not recruit from India, Singapore or Hong Kong. The impact of such appointments would be immediate and dramatic.

These appointments require the Conference of Rulers’ consent. Lobby them on the wisdom of the proposal. Foreign chiefs would be able to groom capable local subordinates and change the culture and integrity of those institutions. With time, the scourge of racism and mistrust in those institutions will subside.

Yeo Bee Hin

Anwar pointed out that his government would be Malay-majority. I understand his rationale for doing that, to reassure the restless natives. However, I would not emphasise that fact; it would be obvious soon enough. Besides, Malaysians are now more interested in a clean, competent and efficient government. 

There is no joy, much less reflected glory, in having a Malay government but made up of the corrupt and incompetent. In fact, that would only bring shame to our race and culture.

Anwar aspires to have an inclusive cabinet. So co-opt a few competent non-Malays from the previous Pakatan Harapan administration. Two names pop up right away - former transport minister Anthony Loke and science and environment minister Yeo Bee Hin. Yeo would bring both racial and gender inclusiveness. She would also raise the average IQ of the cabinet.

Both are from DAP, a party not in the proposed coalition. Anwar should learn from his good friend, former US State Secretary William Cohen, a Republican who was appointed by Democrat Bill Clinton.

A final piece of unsolicited advice for Anwar - don’t bother giving interviews to the BBC and Al Jazeera or address august foreign audiences. You have your work cut out at home. There will be plenty of time for that once you are successful. 

Besides, at our age, those jet lags could be quite devastating and take precious time away from attending pressing domestic issues.


M BAKRI MUSA is a Malaysian-born and Canadian-trained surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He writes at bakrimusa.blogspot.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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