Post reporter Adrian Wan interviewed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in the week it emerged that the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was a staunch supporter of the politician. Here is the full interview.
Do you know the captain?
I don’t recollect the name, but when the photographs of him were shown, I remember I have met him in some party meetings.
Was he an active member in the party?
He doesn’t hold positions in the party, but is active in the sense that he’s been seen to be with the party’s parliamentary leaders – taking photographs with them.
When was the last time you saw him?
I think it was one of the functions our party held in a nearby constituency. But he’s known to our members of parliament because he’s a senior captain. As I recall it, probably one or two years back.
Just to have a full disclosure: do you know any other people on the plane?
Most of them are foreign nationals, so I’m not aware I know any, except for captain Zaharie.
Some people are linking the plane’s disappearance with the captain’s political affiliation to your People’s Justice Party. What is your reaction to that?
It’s grossly unfair. First, there’s simply no evidence that shows any he’s responsible for it. And he’s only a member of my party, nothing else.
Other than coming quickly to this sort of conclusion, the government should find out who were on the plane, who used the forged passports – the issues that wonder many people. But what they are doing is to make it rather political and blame Anwar. I mean, that’s their whole game.
I have suffered immensely in my political career, but I consistently oppose any kind of violence of terrorist act.
I have read your 2001 article “Who hijacked Islam?”, which you opened with a quotation from the Qur’an: “Let not your hatred of others cause you to act unjustly against them.”
But do you think the government is trying to associate you with the plane’s disappearance?
Yes. I think what they don’t realise now is that the entire issue of governance and the manner they managed the media were all under international spotlight. They want to deflect questions away to the pilot and me, without addressing the many real issues, like why they give contradictory facts. I mean, even the stolen passports – the police said four, and then two. And what’s wrong with the security breach?
I mean, I have enough problems in my political career. (laughs) I have got this five-year sentence hanging, and I have just two to three months of space for an appeal.
You see, I was finance minister before, Adrian. And at that time they procured the Marconi radar system in the east coast - decided by then defence minister Najib Razak. They is supposed to be a radar that has the capacity to identify all flying objects from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. Now how is it that they can’t? They have to explain these things.
It’s understandable for the Chinese to express disgust or anger. Why for one week we have to spend millions of dollars when you know that the plane has been diverted? You see? So what they are trying to do now is to try and cover all these and say “look, look. Maybe this is a hijacking involving this fanatic Anwar supporter”. That does not absolve them from the manner they manage the crisis. Or, mismanaged it.
But there’s a long running joke here that goes: “Anything goes wrong, it’s Anwar.” So when Manchester United lost to Real Madrid and the referee was Turkish, it must be Anwar, because he’s a friend of Turkey.
A parliamentary member was having tea with me and said: “my province has no rain for three days. I think Anwar must explain.” (laughs)
How long have you been in KL?
About a week – but I rarely left the airport because most work was there. But this morning the hotel told me they’re full so I had to move. There’s this Grand Prix next weekend I was told, so rooms are in short supply.
Mahathir’s son is handling this. Welcome to the real world.
[Mokhzani Mahathir, the second son of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, is chairman of Sepang International Circuit, home to the Malaysian Grand Prix.]
You know many people in high places – do you know better than most of us as to where the plane is?
I was in communication with some friends including Al Gore and several others. They all are baffled. I mean, it does not make sense how the plane cannot be identified.
China has become quite strongly and openly critical of how Malaysia has been handling this crisis. Is it justified?
You see, my understanding is, apart from issues like disputed territories, China is exceedingly polite and careful in bilateral relations. But in this case, they came out and put out a statement after they lost their patience. Obviously, there is a lot to be said about the manner in which we managed our crisis.
Chinese foreign diplomats are very careful, even when I was in government. At that time, I was in close communication with Zhu Rongji. In private we were close. He visited my house, which was rare, and we would have tea. He event sent me the entire translated collection of Confuscius. He went into my library and saw some of them, and he went back and sent all known English translations. So I’ve got a good collection now.
So I know they are careful. But they are prepared to do this now because this is just clear utter incompetence of the authorities.
I want to ask some questions on you and Malaysia in general. How did you feel when the acquittal was overturned?
None of us anticipated an immediate judgment, particularly when you want to overturn a high court ruling. Normally it would take time. So I was not disappointed but disgusted by the extent they were prepared to go to and their complete disregard for basic rules and decency.
Did you say earlier you’ll only have two to three months only for the appeal?
Yea – because I think they will fast track it. They did it in the last trial. It was supposed to be April, and there was this by-election so they advanced it by one month. And, Adrian, what is shocking is for a major trial with all the experts coming to court, they could decide in one hour. So…it’s very efficient. Super efficient. (laughs)
What is your plan now until the appeal?
The focus is the by-election on the 23rd that my wife is contesting. On the 21st we will have a “black rally” in the constituency as the start of this protest against the injustice. And I think that will continue nationwide. I don’t think we should just sit and accept this reality. We must mobilize public support. People must express themselves.
Yesterday in parliament I gave a clear indication, saying: “You in the government think you can just treat the people like pariahs and bully them as you want. I want to give a signal: I’m not going to take these hands down. We’re going to protest against the media control, the judicial misconduct.
My lead counsel is also convicted. MPs from all the coalition party are taking turns to be convicted. Do we then just leave it as it is? The lies, and the contradictions.
I’m not young like you, but what is there for the young in this country now? But things can change. I mean, look at the racist slurs. I’m a Malay but I’ve seen the minorities feel, after being here third, fourth generation. I can’t take it. And people like me have to stand up. We don’t have a choice. We have to reform.
How much do we have to suffer because of the plain incompetence of the leadership? Who can trust the media now? After a week you realise it. We have it endure it every day.
I can’t say it’s a blessing that the plane’s gone missing – we pray for their safety - but it certainly is a major eye-opener for the world as to how this country is governed.
You seemed to take issue with the prime minister giving announcement without taking questions too.
(Laughs) It was a PR disaster. Nowhere in the world do we have that. If you don’t want to take questions, you get your press secretary to read out the statement. I mean, first, you disappeared in the first days and emerged late. Now you came out and refused to answer questions.
First you came out and said you would not take questions in the first press conference but would do that in a later one on the same day, but then the second one was cancelled.
If the prime minister cannot deal with such situation, who else can you expect to do it? The DCA chief? The head of the police? This reflects the utter lack of sensitivity and confidence.
What is your relationship with the local media?
I don’t get any air time. Not at all. If I invite them over, they come, but they ask some very nasty questions and would never use them. So now I don’t even entertain them.
They have asked: “But then I’m sure you know the pilot. I’m sure you have talked to him. I’m sure you instigated him to do this.” I told them: “Let me get some time alone to figure out the logic behind your argument.”
But despite that, our party still got the majority of votes in the last general election. That means people are not stupid.
Politics aside, I am a sentimental person. I remember this Chinese woman in a Penang village where I was campaigning. She grabbed my hand suddenly, crying, and said: “please take care of my children.” I don’t know her, but her trust in me and the hope she had for me was very touching.
You may have to go back to jail, and that won’t help the country’s democracy progress either, will it?
We believe in the cause and have hope and remain optimist that the country will be able to transform. Look at Indonesia, whose elections are giving so much hope.
What do we do then in the quest for democracy in front of absolute power?
We tell the ministers in the parliament openly we are against what they are doing with reasons. But now, I am very strongly against violence and I draw the line there. Because I think you are fighting the entire army and the police. And I still believe that when people rise, they can still impact changes. I was a supporter of the Arab Spring, although I think it derailed somewhat. It’s important for the country in transition to do the right things.
You may have to go back in jail. Is it a horrible prospect for you? I don’t see anything negative with your air.
Yeah. I’m incorrigible. My wife says to me “You’re too confident outside” because it’s tough for her and the children too. Of course I don’t want to, but then you have to overcome fear. I don’t want my supporters to suffer. Why do I have them to endure?
Sixteen years ago, I was much younger and much healthier. Now, it’s much tougher.
I have talked to Estrada, and even Aung San Suu Kyi, who were in house arrest most of the time. In my case, it was tight security prison. Solitary confinement. It’s a torture by itself. Oh my god. (laughs)
But you have to believe the cause, and I think they’re making big mistakes if they think they can go scot-free doing this.