KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 — Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s emphatic victory in yesterday’s Port Dickson by-election has set him firmly on the path to becoming the eighth prime minister, but what type of administration can Malaysians expect in two years’ time?
While there are clues from his previous stint in government — when he had reached the post of deputy prime minister before his falling out with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad — analysts told Malay Mail that the PKR president-elect is now a much different leader.
Although Anwar had been known previously for his affiliation with the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (Abim), Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Professor Sivamurugan Pandian said he did not see the PM-in-waiting revisiting the ideals he had espoused at the time.
Instead, he expected the man who inspired the Reformasi movement to raise the banner for reforms, minus the racial and religious baggage.
“Anwar’s background as a Malay-Muslim reformist comes naturally to him and there is nothing wrong with that. He cannot remove that from himself, but all that is history.
“We can see that he has adapted to changes and when he takes over from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, I am certain there will be continuity to those changes,” Sivamurugan said.
He pointed out that Anwar took a clear multicultural approach to the PD campaign, eschewing the usual race and religion cards usually trotted out in such contests.
Sivamurugan also predicted that Anwar will continue championing the centrist politics that had allowed him to serve as the proverbial glue that bound the previous Pakatan Rakyat.
The pact collapsed within months of Anwar’s imprisonment for his second sodomy conviction and was eventually replaced by the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH), where Sivamurugan said Anwar would be expected to continue in the same role.
“If he was such a radical Malay-Muslim leader, he would not have been able to gel with other parties. He knows that if he wants to be a popular prime minister among the people, he has to move out from that mindset and think of how to nurture ‘Bangsa Malaysia’,” he said.
Geopolitical expert Azmi Hassan said Anwar’s vast political experience will direct him to continue with the ideology and policies that propelled PH to unexpected victory rather than be tempted to return to his former ways.
He anticipated that Anwar as the next prime minister will usher in a new era that will see an even more inclusive Malaysia.
While he foresaw a smooth transition from Dr Mahathir to Anwar, he said Cabinet members now should not presume they will keep their positions once the latter comes to power.
Among others, he said some in the present Cabinet were not a good fit with Anwar’s style of governance, especially his demand for high performance that Azmi said certain ministers have shown they will not be able to deliver.
“Anwar, as I observed, is a strong believer in merit and capability. In this respect, his style of governance is merit-based. I am sure he wants ministers who can produce results that are beneficial to the nation,” he said.
Also known for his skills in navigating complex foreign relations, Azmi said Anwar will be able to foster stronger ties between Malaysia and the world’s major powers.
Prior to his ouster from the government in 1998, Anwar had built up firm relationships with many world leaders, some of which have lasted to this day.
With the world about to plunge headlong into a worrying US-China trade war, Malaysia will need a deft operator such as Anwar to avoid being caught in the middle.
“I think Anwar will be very friendly towards Beijing even though he is very close to Washington. He is well received and respected in foreign diplomatic circles, so I think this is good for Malaysia, both economically and geopolitically,” Azmi offered.
At home, he noted that Anwar was a respected leader within the Malay community and maintained warm ties with the individual state Rulers, which Azmi said will be a boon when dealing with the country’s royalty.
Anwar made a point of touring the country and visiting the various Malay Rulers upon his release from prison after he was granted a royal pardon.
“It is always beneficial for the government to have a cordial relationship with the Rulers,” he said.
Anwar won the Port Dickson by-election by a landslide last night, vindicating PKR’s decision to controversially force a poll expressly for him to contest.
He won with a majority of 23,635 votes, easily eclipsing the 17,710 majority that Datuk Danyal Balagopal Abdullah secured in the 14th general election and cornering 71 per cent of the popular vote.
Anwar’s feat was made more impressive as he recorded the bigger margin despite a significantly lower turnout of just 58.3 per cent yesterday versus the 83.6 per cent on May 9.
With Parliament resuming tomorrow, Anwar will be sworn in and back in active politics by then.
PH has repeatedly positioned Anwar as Dr Mahathir’s immediate successor, with the latter expected to hand over power in two years as part of the succession plan agreed by the component parties.