A long and winding road to the top


Woman behind the man: Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail leaving Istana Negara with her husband. — KAMARUL ARIFFIN/The Star

PETALING JAYA: It has been a 24-year wait, an arduous journey that saw him sacked as deputy prime minister, defeated several times, jailed twice and pardoned.

Now, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has finally achieved his long-held ambition and clinched the country’s top job at the age of 75.

Anwar, who was born in Cherok Tok Kun in Bukit Mertajam, Penang, in 1947, started out as a young firebrand in the 1970s.

He founded the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (Abim) in 1971 and served as its president until 1982.

He became famed as a student leader when he headed the Baling demonstration of 1974.

The demonstration, which broke out on Nov 19 of that year, saw some 30,000 people gather to protest the drop in the price of rubber.

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Anwar is reported to have said that the demonstration was to voice the sufferings of rural folk and farmers.

With Abim becoming a growing force, then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad quickly recruited him into Umno to counter PAS, which was rising as an Islamist party.

Anwar’s rise in Umno was meteoric, to say the least.

He held various Cabinet positions in the Barisan Nasional administration, including portfolios such as agriculture, education, and youth and sports.

In 1993, just 11 years after he had joined Umno, another drama began to unfold.

Anwar’s ambition was clear for all to see.

He challenged Dr Mahathir’s deputy (Tun) Ghafar Baba for the Umno No. 2 post with a show of force, as he was backed by many of the party’s ministers.

Ghafar withdrew from the contest, and Anwar was on the cusp of the top job.

Then, things fell apart.

During the Asian financial crisis of 1997, he had a falling out with Dr Mahathir.

On Sept 2 of that year, Anwar was sacked from his positions as deputy prime minister and finance minister after being accused of “inappropriate behaviour”.

On Sept 20, he was arrested under the Internal Security Act, and the Reformasi movement began with massive street protests.

On Sept 29, Anwar appeared in court with a black eye to plead not guilty to charges of corruption and sodomy.

The image of Anwar with a swollen eye caused by a beating by then inspector-general of police Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Noor drew international attention.

To this day, the eye remains PKR’s symbol.

Anwar was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption in April 1999 and another nine years in August 2000 for sodomy.

His supporters have always maintained that the charges were politically motivated and aimed at ending his career.

Anwar was freed in 2004 after his sodomy conviction was overturned.

His corruption conviction, however, meant he had a criminal record, which barred him from holding party or political office until April 2008.

After the 12th General Election (GE12) in 2008, the Anwar-inspired opposition had become a major political force capable of depriving Barisan of its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament.

In February 2015, Anwar was jailed again, this time over a second sodomy case.

While in prison, Anwar made up with his nemesis, Dr Mahathir, who led Pakatan Harapan to victory in the 2018 elections, after which Anwar received a royal pardon.

He stood for election in Port Dickson on Oct 13, 2018, and was finally back in the Dewan Rakyat after 21 years.

It was not for long.

The Pakatan administration fell in February 2020, just 22 months after the Sheraton Move, which saw Mahathir resign as prime minister and his party, Bersatu, pull out of the Pakatan government.

Bersatu’s Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin took over, but his government fell in August 2021.

Umno’s Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob took over until he dissolved Parliament on Oct 10 this year.

In GE15, no party could secure a simple majority with the three main coalitions – Pakatan, Perikatan Nasional and Barisan – having 82, 73 and 30 seats, respectively, resulting in a hung Parliament.

The King had to step in, and after five days of wrangling, Anwar finally clinched the job he always wanted.

He was sworn in as the 10th Prime Minister and the head of a unity government after a special meeting of the Malay Rulers yesterday.

Analysts were glad the impasse was over and Anwar had been sworn in.

The Pakatan chairman had gone through the most unusual journey, said Assoc Prof Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi of Universiti Malaya.

“For more than 20 years, he had many struggles. His political career was once in doubt after being almost destroyed.

“He was tested on many aspects and faced many twists and turns.

“He has gone through all these challenges and tests successfully, and this makes him suitable for the top job,” he said.

To ensure a more stable government, he said parties that refused to be part of the unity government should be given a Confidence and Supply (CSA) agreement.

The new Cabinet should also be lean and effective, he said.

“The Prime Minister has to look at many issues, such as the worsening economy, the rising national debt, the high unemployment rate and the cost of living. All of these will necessitate new approaches,” he added.

To tackle the challenges, Anwar has to first bring everyone together, including his political foes, said Prof Sivamurugan Pandian.

“The winner didn’t win everything, and the loser didn’t lose everything. Stability comes from within and outside and can be achieved by having everyone on board,” said the professor of political sociology at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

“His main focus would be to address the cost of living, social security and the economy.

“He also has to maintain good governance to avoid malpractices,” he said.

On the new Cabinet, Prof Sivamurugan said it should be small but of high quality, with one team and one leader – the new Prime Minister Anwar himself.

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