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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


Part 2:

By Santha Oorjitham

more stories
Part 1 Up close and personal with Nurul Izzah, who has proved tougher than anyone expected

IN LATE AUGUST, her father's calls became more sporadic. Rumors were circulating on campus that he was in trouble. But Nurul Izzah, the good student, had no time to read the newspapers and, besides, she was busy studying for her exams. On Sept. 2, 1998, Nurul Izzah was preparing for the mathematics final, to be held the following day. On her way home from college, she caught sad looks from fellow students, but no one said anything. She wondered: Why are they looking at me like that? At about 7:30 p.m., her best friend called and said: "I'm so sorry." Nurul Izzah asked why. "Haven't you heard?" the friend replied. "The PM has sacked your father." Nurul Izzah broke down in tears. Finally, at midnight, she managed to get her father on the phone. "He said: 'Izzah, be brave. I will fight on. Take your exam and don't worry about me.'" The next day at school, no one seemed to know what to say. "I think they were scared," Nurul Izzah says. "I didn't really get to know everyone because I was new there." But she recalls close friends rallying around her.

Nurul Izzah wrote her math exam and returned to Kuala Lumpur. By then the electricity and the water to the official residence had been cut off. The family moved back to their home in Damansara Heights. For the next three weeks, crowds poured into the house, churning the garden into a sea of mud. Outside, vendors set up stalls selling food, drinks, tapes of Anwar's speeches and bumper stickers calling for "Reformasi." Then, on Sept. 20, balaclava-clad members of the Special Action Forces smashed their way into the house, as police helicopters swept the grounds with blinding searchlights. The authorities bundled into a van Anwar, his wife, Nurul Izzah and the rest of the family - except for one daughter who was left behind in the chaos. Later, her father was transferred to a police car and taken to prison. He was charged with five counts of corruption and five of sexual misconduct. Nurul Izzah's life had changed forever.

Over the next few months she would watch her father fight for his political life. She would endure the seedy allegations of his alleged affairs with his private secretary's wife. She would listen to even more sordid testimony about her father's alleged homosexual dalliances with her mother's former driver Azizan Abu Bakar, and Anwar's adopted brother, Sukma Darmawan Saasmitaat Madja, a man Nurul Izzah has known since childhood. She watched as the police dragged into court the mattress her father allegedly used for his trysts. For her, the 77-day trial was a "test of patience." Now, she is attending Anwar's trial on charges of sodomy (illegal in Malaysia), which she characterizes as "tougher." Never does a day go by when she is not worrying about "the verdict, about my father." She looks sadder in court these days.

In the aftermath of Anwar's sacking, arrest and conviction, many of Nurul Izzah's friends abandoned her, says Rozela Mohamad Dahlan, 19, a former schoolmate who lives near the family. "That shouldn't happen to her," says Rozela. "Maybe they were afraid and their parents didn't allow them to see her." Farang says: "That was the sad part. It really disturbed her. Now, she's seeing who are her true friends." But Nurul Izzah is empathetic. "My friends were quite supportive, but they're scared. They are well-to-do and busy getting their degrees."

Either way, the sleepovers and movies with Farang and Rozela are over. Nurul Izzah is all politics these days. Rozela professes amazement at her friend's sudden transformation. She recently accompanied Nurul Izzah to a political event, where she wore a sash that read: "Puteri Reformasi" - or Princess of Reformation. "She talked about reformasi, the struggle," says Rozela. "I was quite surprised; she's changed a lot." Nurul Izzah, adds Rozela, is still the same person on the phone - "very talkative. But her thinking is getting more mature. If I make stupid jokes, she advises me like a sister."

Nurul Izzah is a poignant symbol for both her father and the reformasi cause, partly because many of the people who support Anwar are young like she is. Nurul Izzah has yet to address a hostile crowd - and given her age and experience most people are going to give her a break. In speeches, she tends to focus on her father's situation and the need for young Malaysians to be more forthcoming about their views. When audience members ask questions about politics, one of her mother's aides sometimes assists. And she has received more than one nasty e-mail to her father's website. At other times she has played to sympathetic ears, including those of Presidents B. J. Habibie of Indonesia and Joseph Ejercito Estrada of the Philippines. In Manila, Nurul Izzah also met Kris Aquino, TV host and daughter of ex-president Corazon Aquino. The two young women had much to talk about, specifically what it is like to be thrust into the political limelight when your mother takes up the father's mantle.

There are those who consider Nurul Izzah's teenage politicking unseemly, not to mention the fact that a young Muslim woman is hobnobbing with elderly gentlemen, however eminent. "She has been made use of by certain parties to give speeches, to condemn the Malaysian government and Dr. Mahathir Mohamad," says Ibrahim Ali, deputy minister in the PM's department. "When a daughter speaks of her father, she will say he is correct. It takes a third party, rather than the wife or daughter, not to be emotional." Nurul Izzah denies she is being manipulated for political purposes. "I have to clear [my father's] name and the family honor. How can I just sit there and do nothing?"

Nonetheless, there is much speculation that Nurul Izzah will follow Anwar and one day run for public office. She was supposed to return to university in June, but has taken another six months off. Anwar's lawyers and her mother's doctor friends are urging Nurul Izzah to ditch chemical engineering for political science; she is resisting the notion. When she was on a speaking engagement in Wales recently, Malaysian students asked her if she wanted to become a politician. "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," she says. And she has become notably more concerned with her public appearance. In the past, even when she started wearing the tudung, Nurul Izzah favored casual attire. These days, when she goes out, she is wearing the baju kurung, the traditional Malay tunic and long skirt.

Typically, Nurul Izzah leaves the house before nine a.m., accompanied by one or more of her sisters. Traffic willing they spend half-an-hour with their father at the court lockup before he heads to court. If the session is open to the public - sometimes the judge holds an in-camera session - Nurul Izzah watches the defense and prosecution tussle over procedure and legal technicalities. Later, Anwar's daughter attends to her political obligations. Usually she speaks to students, but more recently she has been heading into the kampungs to address ordinary people.

At the family home on Jalan Setiamurni 1, much has returned to normal - and much hasn't. The grass has grown back, but the broken panels in the front door and window are boarded up - a deliberate reminder, perhaps, of the state's heavy-handedness. The dining room has become a meeting room, and the corridor leading to the library (now an office) has been blocked off with a sign that reads: "Only workers allowed entry." Today, Nurul Izzah shares a room with her mother. Her four sisters also share a bedroom. They are too scared to sleep alone. To her younger siblings, Nurul Izzah is no politician, no Princess of Reform. She is still the big sister that she has always been.

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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