After a year in prison, is Anwar still relevant to Malaysian politics?

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim supporters hold banners during the ‘Himpunan 365’ gathering outside the Sungai Buloh Prison on February 9, 2016. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim supporters hold banners during the ‘Himpunan 365’ gathering outside the Sungai Buloh Prison on February 9, 2016. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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SUNGAI BULOH, Feb 10 — After serving the first of his five-year prison sentence for sodomy, questions remain over Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s continued importance to local politics.

Although no longer able to play an active role in the arena, Anwar’s supporters argue that his relevance has not waned, but instead has taken another form as a symbol for change.

A gathering yesterday across the street from Sungai Buloh Prison to mark the one year anniversary of his imprisonment saw a mixed crowd of long-time supporters who were part of the initial “reformasi” movement as well as youths who were looking to carry on the wave started by Anwar.

Business owner Abu Aziz Mohd Nordin, 50, from Shah Alam said he attended the gathering dubbed “Himpunan 365” to show solidarity with Anwar’s family, which he said he has been doing since 1998.

“Even though he is in prison, his struggle has never been clouded. It was a seed for the youth. My son who is only 20 years’ old is familiar with Anwar’s stories because he has become an example and an idol for the next generation,” he said.

Construction consultant Mohd Dhiya Eddin, 50, said he believed Anwar would only continue to be popular as long as economic issues in the country were not resolved by the ruling government.

“The youth are looking for a credible leader for a future Malaysia they can believe in. You will see that many young people are here tonight because they are looking for a solution to unemployment issues, and as long as the economic problems are not solved, he remains relevant as people look for ways to pressure the government,” he said.

A 27-year-old school teacher, Farah Afzan from Ampang, said that though Anwar may not be engaging the youth personally, she saw his imprisonment as a symbol of a broken system.

“He is the one who opened the eyes of the people and he is still creating change,” she said.

“Anwar Ibrahim himself may not be influencing the young people personally, but they support him for the change he brought forward. This wave that he started is what the youth find relevant.”

Coffee shop worker Abdul Qayyum Mazelan, 25, said the struggle for change had become synonymous with Anwar’s name, so much so that as long as Anwar was alive, people would push for his leadership as he had reached the level of icon.

“He created this fight, and so long there is Anwar Ibrahim, there will be support for him as the face of this change,” he said.

“I was only in Standard Two in 1998, but I was exposed enough to his impact. There is no question about his relevance. Who else deserves the backing to lead?”

On February 10, 2015, the Federal Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s conviction of Anwar for sodomising his former political aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan in 2008.

The conviction meant Anwar was disqualified as MP and will be barred from contesting in an election for five years after his release.

Anwar, a former deputy prime minister and also former Permatang Pauh MP who previously spent six years in prison between 1999 and 2004, is currently serving the five-year jail term. 

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