Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim champions private sector, ‘needs-based’ affirmative action ahead of crucial by-election test
Prospective PM says country’s positive discrimination policy must be based on ‘freedom, justice, and equity’
The private sector is key to boosting Malaysia’s economy, believes democracy icon Anwar Ibrahim, and the politics of patronage that permeated Malaysian governance are coming to an end.
In a speech delivered at the Ministry of Finance’s ‘Malaysia: A New Dawn’ conference in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, Anwar said the economy should be driven by the private sector while maintaining needs-based affirmative action.
“Affirmative action must be vigorously promoted based on need … The approach has got to be courageous because this is a clear departure from the policies crafted in the past, which may be true and relevant in the context of the past,” he said, discussing the country’s policy of affirmative action for historically disadvantaged Malays. “But I don’t think in this age we need to pursue a policy which is not defensible in terms of freedom, justice, and equity.”
Anwar touched on the importance of renewing partnerships, making special mention of China and India as key economic powerhouses.
“We are an open economy,” he said. “We have a long history of trade relationships with China and India and must ensure this economic trading investment relationship with them be further enhanced.”
Anwar qualified these remarks as “general views – I am not in cabinet nor am I holding any position in the government.”
Anwar made his comments just days ahead of the Port Dickson by-election in the state of Negeri Sembilan. The outcome of the vote will decide whether former deputy prime minister Anwar will re-enter politics as a member of parliament following his release from prison and royal pardon in May. He intends to become prime minister in 2020, an agreement that the heads of the Pakatan Harapan coalition parties reached before May’s general election, and the upcoming by-election is hoped to pave the way for his eventually assuming power.
His remarks about renewing partnerships could also have referred to current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who led the Pakatan Harapan coalition to an unprecedented victory in the May 9 poll.
Mahathir, who sacked Anwar as deputy prime minister during his first round as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, took to the stump for his former protégé in Port Dickson on Monday – the first time in two decades the two shared a stage for the same cause. Their bitter feud – which saw Anwar imprisoned on sodomy and corruption charges – was set aside for the sake of a political opposition alliance, although critics believe that Anwar setting his sights on the premiership could signal a growing rift between the two and see Mahathir’s campaigning for Anwar as an attempt to quash related rumours.
Mahathir, 93, initially told media he would not campaign for Anwar in the small-scale by-election. However, he changed his mind and in a speech to several thousand people said he hoped Anwar would be given a mandate to bring the nation forward.
He said that the past was no longer a topic of discussion, and that if they wanted to keep talking about it, “we would have not worked together.”
“I hope that we can continue to work together … Not for Anwar, not for Dr Mahathir, or Mat Sabu or Guan Eng, but to work together for our beloved country, and for the Malaysians who entrusted us with this opportunity to rebuild the nation,” he said, referring to other government leaders.
He also underlined the need to tackle the national debt as the country’s economy recovers from the massive 1Malaysia Development Berhad corruption scandal that saw billions of dollars siphoned out of a state investment fund.
Anwar, too, expressed positive sentiment towards the man who torpedoed his high-flying political career in an earlier government.
“I love him as a father and a leader. I fought against him, but now I accept he is the best man to lead Malaysia,” he said.
The Port Dickson by-election takes place on Saturday, October 13. Anwar will face down six other candidates for the parliamentary seat.