Patience obtains everything

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

The recent news from Malaysia is that Anwar Ibrahim, who spent almost ten years in jail for sodomy and corruption charges that he says were both politically motivated, is now the prime minister after a narrow election victory over a conservative Malay Muslim Alliance.

Leading a coalition that included ethnic Chinese members, his call for reformasi, or reforms that included an overhaul of the political system of the country, provided the basis for victory in Malaysia’s closest election. Although he won the most seats in parliament, it was short of a majority. The King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, chose Anwar to be prime minister and to form the nation’s new government.

Anwar Ibrahim was born in August 1947 to a middle class Malay family in the predominantly Chinese state of Penang. He graduated from the University of Malaya with an AB in Malay Studies. During his student days, he was president of the Malayan Language Society, which he used as a platform for his pro-Malay views.

As a student leader, he was at the forefront of demonstrations protesting government farm policies in the state of Kedah. He was imprisoned under Malaysia’s draconian Internal Security Act that allowed indefinite detention without the filing of charges. He would also lead demonstrations against the Soviet embassy in Kuala Lumpur, following the invasion of Afghanistan.

It was around this time that a rising young politician named Mahathir Mohammed was expelled from the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) by Tungku Abdul Rahman for a controversial book titled “The Malay Dilemma.” In the book, Mahathir stressed the need for new laws that would permit Malays to better compete against the Chinese. One of the few defenders of Mahathir was Anwar and this would be the start of what has been more of a father-son relationship that would bring both men to the heights of power in Malaysian politics.

When Mahathir became prime minister in 1981, he brought Anwar in as a deputy minister in his office. This was followed by several Cabinet appointments that culminated as finance head. In 1993, Anwar assumed the post of deputy prime minister, making him next in line for the position held by his mentor.

Sometime in 1994, the late Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. invited me to dinner at his home in Ayala Heights in Quezon City. The guest of honor was the visiting Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. He was accompanied by his wife Dr. Wan Azizah, an ophthalmologist. They were among friends enjoying the company and feeling very much at home.

How could anyone at this gathering predict that four years later, Anwar would be stripped of his positions as deputy prime minister and finance minister, arrested on five charges of sodomy and corruption, thrown in jail and subjected to police brutality, resulting in a badly-bruised left eye?

In 1995, Malaysia hosted a regional conference on the life of our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. Anwar was the moving spirit behind the unprecedented tribute to Rizal. In his remarks at the Kuala Lumpur meeting, Anwar’s subject was “Jose Rizal and the Asian Renaissance.”

He declared that “only a vibrant and functioning civil society can minimize, if not totally eliminate, excesses related to power and wealth. Only a vibrant and functioning society can provide the framework for a continuous battle against abuse of power, corruption and moral decay. The social cancer, as diagnosed by Rizal, is still very much with us, albeit different in form and gravity. What Rizal meant in the political and economic domains is that the exercise of power must be guided by moral ideals.”

As financial turmoil swept the region, relations between Mahathir and his deputy began to deteriorate. Anwar wanted a tight monetary policy as espoused by the International Monetary Fund, while Mahathir preferred the opposite, including fiscal pump-priming by way of increased spending on public works. Anwar’s frequent calls for an end to corruption and cronyism raised the level of conflict between the two until finally, he was sacked from both positions in government and later arrested in a lightning raid on his residence.

After almost 30 up-and-down years in politics, Anwar has finally won the job he persistently fought for – that of prime minister of his country. When asked what was the lesson learned, he replied, “Patience, wait a long time, patience.”

Notes on some Asian leaders

Deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim went to jail in 1998 on sodomy and corruption charges. At that time, he was the highest official to be imprisoned in Malaysia. After many years in detention, a royal pardon granted by the King restarted his political life.

Last August, former prime minister Najib Razak began serving a 12-year prison sentence in Kajang Prison, south of Kuala Lumpur. He was convicted for money laundering and abuse of power.

The following month in September, his wife Rosmah Mansor was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a fine of US$216 million for seeking and receiving bribes in exchange for government contracts. She was widely unpopular due to an extravagant lifestyle that included “a penchant for Hermes Birkin bags.”

In South Korea, in 2018 former president Park Geun-Hye, eldest daughter of General Park Chung Hee, the army officer who seized power in a military coup in 1961 and was the first woman to be elected president of South Korea, was sentenced to 24 years in prison for corruption and abuse of power. After four years in prison, President Moon Jae-In granted her a presidential pardon, citing “deteriorating health” and the need “to promote national unity.”

A prayer of St. Theresa of Avila has these lines: “Patience obtains everything. God alone suffices.”


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