Contradictions of Anwar

Anwar is seen to be more inclined towards “creating a multi-faceted personality with wide appeal than with being simply Anwar” [Stewart 17].

Upon his dismissal as Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar resumed his political approach during his student days. Anwar who has continuously maintained his goal is to reform Malaysian society, to eliminate corruption, injustice and cronyism, wrote about the idealistic characterization of the renaissance of Asia. But this is contradicted by the fact that even being in the government office for 16 years, he did not change the systems of UMNO and 16 years is a pretty long time to allow systems that one opposes to continue taking place. “He argues that he was destroyed because he wanted to change the system” [Stewart 18]. This remains to be questioned, as during the years when he was supported as an authority by the system that he claims corrupted, his family, like the relatives of other UMNO officials, “acquired significant wealth through the allocation of shares to bumiputeras (indigenous Malaysians) and privatization projects favoring Malays [Stewart 19].

Anwar and Wan Azizah

Anwar’s contradictions also lie in his representation as an advocate of the ‘middle path’ for Southeast-Asian Muslims [Stewart 19]. The opposition Islamic fundamentalist party - Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) which he was once expected to join and which is a current ally of his own party - the National Justice Party (Keadilan), implements the hudud laws. Anwar constantly receives support from the ulamas (religious leaders).
As for Mahathir, who called for the reformation of the syariah courts is “berated by ulamas in mosques as an apostate” [Stewart 20].

It is noticeable that Anwar shows an implicit

support for rigid Muslim practices which can be viewed as the wearing of the tudung (head scarf for women). Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah and their daughters are never seen in public without their head scarf, whereas Mahathir’s wife, Dr. Siti Hasmah and their daughters seldom wear head scarves. In addition, Mahathir’s eldest daughter – Marina is a prominent advocate of women’s rights and spokesperson for AIDS. She has also criticized religious clerics for demanding women to be ‘at home having babies endlessly and covered head to toe’ [Stewart 21].

Furthermore, when Anwar was acting Prime Minister in June 1997 as Mahathir was overseas, the Selangor state religious authorities arrested and prosecuted three Malay Muslim beauty pageant contestants for indecent exposure, who were eventually convicted and fined. This incident resulted in the protest of women’s groups and Anwar who initially remained silent, only demanded that the “religious authorities to adopt a moderate approach in implementing Islamic law and to be sensitive in matters affecting youth, culture and the arts.” This produced no effect and it was only until Mahathir’s return to the country that the problem was dealt with. Mahathir ordered the temporary freezing of all “enforcement of existing religious rulings that reflected ‘negatively’ on Islam and refrained from implementing any new rulings until a study of the system was completed by the Prime Minister’s Department” [Stewart 20-21]. Mahathir even suggested that the state religious department should instead direct their attention towards more pressing matters like drug addiction and AIDS.

In another incident, Anwar who was the Education Minister in 1987 announced the promotion of about ninety teachers who were not educated in Chinese-language schools to senior positions in government Chinese vernacular primary schools [Brown]. This led to an uproar from the Chinese community, and Anwar backed down soon enough.

In November 2000, suffering from a severe back pain, Anwar was transferred from prison to hospital and his family requested permission to send him all the way to Germany for operation.
Mahathir on the other hand, who suffered a heart attack in 1989, was advised to undergo an open heart surgery. Instead of obliging to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s suggestion of seeking a renowned Australian heart surgeon – Victor Chang’s consultation, Mahathir chose to consult local doctors. These situations questions Anwar’s nationalism who either had more confidence in foreign doctors or wanted to delay his return to prison by going overseas.

Anwar also presents himself as a moderate Muslim to the Western World, as he wrote in his book “The Asian Renaissance”, he criticized Westerners in reprimanding Asian countries for being slow at implementing societal reforms but he goes on to say that Asians should not deny the fact that they too are guilty for the accusations that the West has labeled them with. He also wrote that democracy is a “basic necessity for responsible and ethical governance” which made him more likeable in the West compared to the outspoken Mahathir who has never uttered that. [Stewart 19]

After Anwar’s dismissal, Mahathir, who co-wrote an article with a Japanese newspaper Mainichi Daily News representative, wrote that Anwar was ‘a populist’ who enjoyed praises, specifically from foreign VIPS. Mahathir further stated, “He is especially liked by his US counterparts because he always agrees with them. I am afraid I like to speak my mind and some of my views are not popular with foreigners. This is something that I cannot help.”[Stewart 17]


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Last Updated Wednesday, April 13, 2009   Contact me at teh20y@mtholyoke.edu
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