Malaysian Former Deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim TalkAsia Interview Transcript
Airdate: September 25th 2004
LH: Lorraine Hahn
AI: Anwar Ibrahim
This week on TalkAsia: We're in Munich for a special, in-depth interview with Malaysia's former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. This is Talkasia.
Welcome to Talkasia. I'm Lorraine Hahn. On September 20th, 1998, the former deputy prime minister was arrested under the Internal Security Act after leading one of Malaysia's largest anti-government protest. Since then, he's been tried and found guilty for corruption and sodomy. Been imprisoned and beatened. Lost loved ones. And this, to a man who was once former Malaysian Prime Minister's Mahathir's protégé and heir apparent. Earlier this month, his sodomy charges were unexpectedly overturned, allowing Anwar to become a free man overnight. But the federal court's decision to reject his corruption appeal bars him from holding political office, until 2008.
We're in Munich now at the clinic where he's recuperating from back surgery. Six years to the day he was arrested, we're going to hear in detail what life was like behind bars. What are his political ambitions. And much more.
Datuk Ser Anwar thank you very much for joining us. I wanted to ask you --the only avenue you have now to get into political office is get a royal pardon. Will you be doing this?
AH: I will be discussing with my counsels what is the implication. I have consistently stated that I am innocent. I will act accordingly. But the judgment does not preclude my ability to participate in politics or active social life. What it disallows is only holding political positions or contesting in elections and I think I have to think and go beyond that. It should transcend pure partisan politics and that is why it does not concern or worry me in the least.
LH: The reaction in terms of you yourself when they overturned the sodomy charge-five times you tried. Why do you think this was the time they changed heir minds?
AI: There was a change in leadership-PM Abdullah had made it categorically clear that he wanted an independent judiciary so there is a possibility of a changing climate. Some judges are quite credible and they want to assert their independence. But this is initial change we have seen taking place. I think all this practice to contribute to and allow the judges to come up with this decision.
LH: Now despite the 2-1 ruling some continue to question the truth and this includes the judges themselves-and I would like to quote you something that I read "we find evidence to confirm the appellants, Anwar and Sukma, were involved in homosexual activity and we are more inclined to believe that the alleged incident at Tivoli villas -- Sukma's apartment -- some time -- did happen." I have to ask you-what do you say to that?
AI: They allowed the appeal and freed me based on substantive legal arguments and facts. They then proceeded to affirming an innuendo, which was politically expedient. So there is therefore a substantive legal decision coupled with a political compromise, which was clearly seen. Because that innuendo was unprecedented in legal history. You either deal with the facts and the law and you lave the innuendo's aside.
LH: So what you're really saying is they let you go-but they're still leaving a seed of doubt in people's minds?
AI: I don't think it's a matter of a seed of doubt because I think a large part of Malaysians understand that Tivoli Villa was not there-they amended the charge-there was this conspiracy involving the judiciary --the police, the attorney general-
-this was clear. It was all exposed. And this was confirmed by the international commission of juries, Amnesty international, the Malaysian Bar Association. What they wanted to do as a compromise was to allow for the executive to use this argument in case I decide to participate in politics. But to me it's quite irrelevant not withstanding what they say-I will proceed with my belief and call for reform,
LH: Datuk Seri there's also speculation that a deal was struck between you and the PM...
AI: I must affirm what the PM said-that there's absolutely no pact or deal. Of course there were discussions about facilitating my departure-because I have no passport-I can't leave the country without him or the authorities helping or assisting in facilitating the arrangements. But of course I look forward to meeting him and discussing with him and I believe that is the new sort of approach towards a more civil relationship in politics.
LH: Which is what Badawi comes across as...the softer face of Malaysia-pushing for reforms / anti --corruption quite vehemently...? Is that how you see the PM?
AI: I see a departure from the past. But I want to see more action. Because if you say vehemently in terms of anti-corruption measures certainly it is not. A lot of ministers surrounding him are involved in serious corruption. Many have --we have produced evidence to that effect. Probably he should be given some time and the necessary support. But he must be encouraged to move on. We have wasted too much time. Investors are not coming in precisely because of the image and credibility of the judiciary. Or the perceived corruption, which is quite endemic. So we remove this and therefore restore confidence in Malaysian public and the international community among the foreign investors. And we need it critically in this country. In Malaysia I mean.
LH: Datuk Sri we're going to take a short break-Up next on TalkAsia- Life in prison, for Anwar Ibrahim.
LH: Welcome back to TalkAsia. For six years, Malaysia's former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim spent life in prison under solitary confinement. Under 24 hour surveillance. With little access to media, and the outside world.
Datuk Seri I wanted to ask you-six years-that is a long time. How did you cope? You were the man who was in control. And now there were people controlling you?
AI: It was tough-very difficult. But we have to deal with it-we have to be realistic. I kept very rigid regime of my life-I slept at 12:30 - wake up at 5:30 without fail. And entered into very serious prayers and meditation --and read voraciously all the classics and novels. But of course I can't help but thinking of Azizah and the children-the 6 years were difficult. Particularly when I hear about the deteriorating condition of my mother-she died when I was in prison. Two of my elder brothers died when I was in prison-and there was so much difficulty in getting access to visit them. But it's over. And we have to move on.
LH: How do you handle such moments when it comes to somebody like your mother-you must have wanted to be by her bed side...
AI: I was devastated. Here was just waiting-just knowing that it was just a matter of time before my mother ends her life. Just struggling ...waiting whether I could have just had the chance to see her. And after much difficulty Azizah managed to get the permission and I went-but just to see her-in her last minute of her life.
LH: Did she say anything to you?
AI: No she was already unconscious...then. And I was unable to converse with her anymore.
LH: What was your treatment like both mentally and physically while you were in prison?
AI: I was treated as a common criminal-but more so because the conditions and the additional rules only applied to me. Which means I am considered a political prisoner. Other than the initial assault-on the day I was arrested-which is severe beating by Tan Sri Rahim Noor -I was left unconscious-when I regained consciousness I thought
they will just let me die-or cripple because the beating was targeted mainly on the face and the head. But other than that the police personnel and later prison guards were exceedingly kind. They treat me as a part of the family. In fact many of them showed so much kindness. You know many of them after I was released-that night they came back in plain clothes and shed tears and said you know we miss you. I said I miss you too but not in prison!
LH: There was little conversation though right? I mean some people go crazy not being able to talk to anybody...
AI: Well I sing a lot in the morning-well so all the 60's songs from Elvis-, Paul Anka, Cliff Richard you keep on singing but of course in he bathroom. So you spend more time in the bathroom singing... And of course some Malay songs. You just keep yourself deeply occupied. To the extent that when I was released I realized oh my god-I didn't-I have not finished reading that... - or written some reviews. So you have to keep a very tight regime. And accept the fact that you are in for some time. You are fighting for a cause - and it's not only you but your family-close friends are being harassed and are in difficulty
LH: What has this experience done to you as a human being? Has it changed you? What has the impact been?
AI: You mature in the process. You realize what is the meaning of freedom in human dignity, And I feel - what Azizah says you know - the resolve is greater. The struggle-the principles are more clear and profound. You talk about democracy and freedom. I mean from a life of ease. But if you talk about democracy and freedom from prison life-so you know how much you value the rule of law.
LH: So the man who went to jail 6 years ago-and the man who's recently come out-are two different people?
AI: The same principles-but better comprehension of the issues-better understanding. And no malice towards anyone. But very determined to ensure that justice is done and applied for all.
LH: Datuk Sri Anwar we're going to take another very short break. Just ahead on TalkAsia- What is Anwar Ibrahim's ultimate political ambition?
LH: Welcome back to TalkAsia. From Malaysia's deputy prime minister, to prisoner, to a free man. At 57-Anwar Ibrahim now has the future before him. But what of the past?
Datuk Sri I must ask you...Tun Dr Mahathir groomed you to be his heir...you were very close-that even family I'm told couldn't come between you. How did this happen? How?
AI: I think a lot of factors. The region was quite turbulent then-the way we manage it: the economy, corruption, transparency, interest of cronies and family came into play.
LH: What do you mean by that?
AI: Well-Mahathir in the 80's and early 90's didn't have a problem with children being actively involved in business. By the 90's they were involved in practically every major industries in the country-by '96-97 they were in great difficulty. And he wanted to salvage and build out one of the children. I was not unsympathetic to the son's particular predicament. But I did caution that you cannot use public funds because I have as a matter of procedure calls to table it to parliament. I can't go and use public funds. Finally he resorted to Petronas. I mean that is one instance. And there's the issue of corruption and then of course the IMF and the WorldBank. We were not Indonesia, or Thailand, or South Korea - to be subjected to conditionalities and prescription of IMF because we did not seek IMF funds But some prescriptions like slowing down the mega projects-or taking a bolder action against corrupt elements within the political elite and also civil service. These are examples. Which I endorse. And he thought these are moves to embarrass him-and therefore I was planning to unseat him. Naturally this excited a number of colleagues in the party who used this opportunity to finish me off.
LH: But being so close to ...the then PM-you would obviously have an open door policy where you could explained yourself-couldn't you? Directly to him?
AI: I did try-but when it comes to Anwar and the son-I lost. When it comes to action against his pet project the Pruwaja, I lost. When it comes to 30-40 billion ringgitt to Putrajaya which I did not oppose-but advised him strongly to do it in phases so that it is not a drain to the economy so the fundamentals remain strong.-I lost. But that was not enough-because he thought that given half a chance-I would then assert my authority or influence,
LH: Would you have?
AI: I would because if it means you're going to destroy and squander the nation's funds I would have little option. But I was patient enough to say you deal with it-but I cannot be part of it. But with the fall of Suharto I think he saw the signals and there were lots of demands among the UMNO party leaders and the youth and he took it a s clearly as a signal that would encourage me to challenge him. Which I was not in the position or willing to do.
LH: What are your feelings towards him now?
AI: Well it's done. I mean I have no malice towards him: he has his strength. He has done certainly well in many reaches of the country. The only unfortunate thing about Dr. Mahathir is that he has destroyed the institutions of civil society because he represents the old --obsolete views about Asian values and the need for authoritarian rule in many Asian countries. To him the destruction of the democratic process is nothing. It's nothing to be considered. It's quite irrelevant. Because those who call or clamor for reforms are only seen to be tools of the west. On the contrary I see it as very much Asian value. Very much as Islamic position to respect human dignity freedom and justice.
LH: After all that's happened-no anger-no sense of betrayal?
AI: Yes uh...there is of course a sense of betrayal but why do I need to continue deliberate-on the same subject. Why not call on Malaysians to move on? That is in the past. Mahathir represents the past. We move on. Of course I will not forget. Malaysians must not forget. But we must forgive.
LH: Would you like to one day become PM of Malaysia?
AI: I've only been out for a few weeks and I think I will have to consider all the options. My immediate preoccupation now is to transcend partisan politics. My major priority now is to help support this process. This building bridges and engaging with all cultures and religions. That to me is more urgent than this issue you're considering.
LH: But you're not ruling it out.
AI: I wouldn't rule out anything. But right now-and even in the foreseeable future my immediate priority has been clear.
LH: Datuk Sri thank you very much.
AI: Thank you.
LH: And that is our very special TalkAsia this week, with Malaysia's former deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim. Goodbye, from Munich. I'm Lorraine Hahn. Let's talk again next week.