FORUM: ANWAR IBRAHIM "The Challenges of Islam and Democracy"
Deputy Prime Minister, Malaysia (1993- 1998); Finance Minister, Malaysia (1991 - 1998)
Kennedy School's South East Asia Caucus and Muslim Caucus
John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum
November 7, 2005 , 6:00 PM
Anwar was born in Penang, Malaysia, in 1947. Both his parents were founding members of UMNO, the anchor party of the ruling coalition since the country gained independence from Britain in 1957.
He is the fourth in a family of nine siblings. While living in the hospital quarters where his father was serving as a medical assistant, he witnessed the political struggle for independence.
He received his early education in his hometown before gaining admission to the prestigious Malay College at Kuala Kangsar, Perak. His talent as a debater and a leader was already noticed at school.
Anwar entered the University of Malaya in the aftermath of the 1969 race riots and at a time when the country was in deep political crisis. He graduated in Malay Studies (Sociology and Anthropology). There he emerged as the most forceful and talented student leader the country had ever known, leading protests against the Vietnam War as well as on domestic social issues such as corruption, poverty and plight of the marginalised. In recognition of his leadership and intellectual abilities, the then Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, asked Anwar to attend the United Nation?s Youth General Assembly and he was then appointed as a member to the adhoc advisory group to the Secretary General on Youth Affairs in 1973. This recognition was even more meaningful as he stood against the ruling National Front coalition at the time.
He also helped form the PKPIM (Persatuan Kebangsaan Pelajar Islam Malaysia), the National Association of Islamic Students Malaysia and spoke often at the Speaker?s Corner in University of Malaya. The students? success in drawing thousands of people led to the subsequent banning of the said corner and the eventual creation of AUKU (University and University Colleges Act) to silence the awakening vocal student movement in Malaysia.
By the time he graduated from university he was already a national figure. He formed the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (Abim) to promote and uphold the principles of moderate Islam and to campaign for moral upliftment and social justice.? The depressed economic situation in 1974 caused great hardship among some sectors of the rural population. Anwar, who was at that time president of the multi-ethnic National Youth Council, was detained without trial for 22 months for championing the cause of hard-pressed poor farmers in a northern Malaysian village. He was detained in Kamunting, Perak under the draconian Internal Security Act, ISA.
He also served as the executive committee of the World Assembly of Youth, (WAY) based in Leige, Belgium. He subsequently resigned from the committee as a protest to attempts by the US administration to interfere in the running of WAY.
Anwar represented Asia and the Pacific region in the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) which had its headquarters in Riyadh.
After his release he continued his social and educational activities. In his capacity as president of Abim he was also active in promoting inter-faith dialogue to promote inter-religious tolerance and understanding, working among others, the World Council of Churches and the East Asia Christian conference.
At the invitation of the then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar joined Umno and the government in 1982. His rise in the party as well as in the government was meteoric. During his 17 years of service in the government he served as minister of youth and sports, agriculture, education and finance.
Meanwhile, he was also elected in 1984, as Leader of UMNO Youth and in 1986, became a Vice-President of UMNO. Before his sacking he was also deputy prime minister and finance minister. He earned much respect overseas and counted many eminent people from around the world as his friends.
In 1993, Euromoney named him as one of the top four finance ministers. In 1996, Asiamoney named him Finance Minister of the Year.
He was unrelenting in his campaign against corruption and introduced the controversial but effective Anti Corruption Legislation when he was Acting Prime Minister. His emphasis on social justice, poverty eradication, education and civil society has guided his government involvement to the end.
He stressed the need for internal reform to reinforce civil and democratic institutions and to expand democratic space. Some of these themes, later articulated in his book The Asian Renaissance, were seen to be departing from the authoritarian ideas of Mahathir Mohamad, and sowed the seeds that eventually led to their final confrontation.
Anwar was sacked from the government on 2nd September 1998 and later detained, over differences in policy on how to address the impact of the Asian financial crisis.
Anwar called for internal reform and transparency and openly criticised Mahathir's policy of bailing out his badly-hit cronies with the rallying cry of 'Reformasi'(reform). As his call for reform gained support from the people, Mahathir resorted to a smear campaign to morally embarrass and politically discredit his former deputy.
He was initially detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and subsequently assaulted while being handcuffed and blindfolded by none other than the Inspector General of Police himself, and left unconscious and bloodied without any medical attention for several days. His appearance in public with a black eye became the icon for all the injustices done to the people at that time.
Eventually Anwar was charged in a Mahathir-controlled court with fabricated charges. After being subjected to sham trials, Anwar was found guilty and sentenced to a total of 15 years' jail. He was held in solitary confinement throughout his imprisonment and without proper medical care for his back spinal injuries received in the earlier infamous assault by the Inspector General of Police.
After years of long and laborious court proceedings, interspersed with controversial and erroneous rulings, the highest court of Malaysia, the Federal Court, which is the highest court in the hierarchy of the Malaysian judiciary, allowed Anwar's appeal against his sodomy conviction.
World leaders, political observers and international bodies like Amnesty International welcomed the decision by Malaysia's highest court to uphold the final appeals of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his adopted brother, Sukma Darmawan.
The Deputy Asia director at Amnesty International said in a statement regarding the entire trial proceedings," It exposed a pattern of political manipulation of key state institutions including the police, public prosecutor's office and the judiciary, all of which are crucial in safeguarding the human rights of Malaysians,".
Unfortunately, the Federal Court rejected a review of its decision to uphold Anwar's conviction for corruption, which therefore results in him not being able to hold political office until 2008. This is despite the fact that the so-called corruption charge is closely related to the overturned sodomy convictions and that the "corruption" was not monetary in any form.
Two days after his release, Anwar left for Germany. On the 6th of September 2004 he underwent a complicated, 1 hour and 45 minutes spine operation at the Alpha Klinik in Munich. He had suffered a slipped disc and subsequent spinal stenosis for more than 3 years