COMMENTARY, Dec 14 — There is a meme which made its rounds on social media right after news broke that 34-year-old Sanna Marin was sworn in as Finland’s prime minister, making history as the world’s youngest-serving state leader.
In this meme, an image of Marin is placed right next to 94-year-old Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the world’s “oldest-serving prime minister”, Silvio Berlusconi, the “richest-ever prime minister”, Cambodia’s Hun Sen, the “longest-serving prime minister”, and Frank Forde, the “shortest-serving prime minister.”
In the sixth column, alongside these past and present prime ministers, is Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, dubbed as the “longest prime minister-in-waiting.”
My best friend shared this meme/image with me, and while I was trying to come up with a witty reply, he summed everything up by saying, “It’s funny because it’s true.”
He certainly has a point. Anwar is undoubtedly the quintessential comeback kid in politics. He’s had so many near “political deaths”, but has time and time again proven his doggone determination to stay, much to the dismay of his opponents and would-be political “assassins.”
I would even go so far as to say he’s probably the only politician in Malaysian history whose character and influence rivals Dr Mahathir’s, and that is also probably why he not only survived his sacking in 1998, but almost managed to turn that around and channel that public rage back then into what is now known as the Reformasi movement.
Were it not for Anwar as a symbol for the Opposition back then, we may not have seen the birth of PKR, Barisan Alternatif, Pakatan Rakyat... or even Pakatan Harapan.
Anwar’s resolve and determination to remain in active politics is undoubtedly fuelled by his ambition to become prime minister, a prized position which has evaded his grasp for decades.
And it also must undoubtedly have been difficult to work alongside Dr Mahathir after GE14, the very person who had blocked his previous plan of becoming PM; and who now seems (at the very least) to be delaying the “agreed” handover of the prime minister’s post to Anwar.
It must be very frustrating for Anwar. After that, this is a man who has gone to prison twice; having had resurrected his political career more than once and is currently so close to achieving his goal.
Which is why perhaps this unfulfilled prophecy to become Malaysia’s next prime minister loomed large during the debate speeches at the recent PKR convention.
For Anwar and the party formed to fight the injustice done to him, this is personal.
Time is not on his side, and as he gets on with age, he has to face the reality of an evolving (and younger) electorate who may not have the same historical or political appreciation of who he is, and the context that comes with Anwar’s journey to become PM.
But herein lies the problem.
You have a ruling coalition that won on a mandate of reforms and pledges to do away with the decades of problems created by Barisan Nasional.
But more than a year has passed by, and the former’s supporters are growing restless as they are faced with a government unsure of a clear path forward and what they want to do in the five-year term they have, and end up just doing copious amounts of damage-control to whatever hot button issue that enters the public sphere.
While Umno and by extension, Muafakat Nasional or whatever incarnation there is left of BN sits by, watching attentively while sipping their teh tarik, ready to pick up whatever is left behind in the aftermath.
PH is also hamstrung by the fact that almost every day, there is the unanswered question of who will be the next PM... to a point where ordinary Malaysians are just fed up with it.
Well, if they aren’t... I most certainly am.
The PH coalition won based on an agreement that while Dr Mahathir is the PM post-GE14, Anwar is his successor. With that out of the way, the party’s leaders need to sit both of them down and get them to agree on a specific date, no caveats, buts or ifs.
That finality between the two leaders should also contain a decision on whether Anwar inherits Dr Mahathir’s administration or calls for fresh elections.
And what should Anwar’s legacy be, when he finally takes over from Dr Mahathir? What will his gift to Malaysia Baharu be? What will he be remembered for?
I certainly hope it is not just PKR’s (disastrous) 20-year-celebration-cum annual congress.
No, future PM Anwar has a crucial role to play but it possibly is not what he envisioned for himself.
I agree with his concerns that PH should focus on the economy, balancing the urban-rural divide, and delivering reforms that have been promised.
But perhaps Anwar’s greatest contribution as PM will be to identify his successor the moment he takes over from Dr Mahathir.
When Anwar becomes PM, that should be among the top ten “must do” things on his list, and it is something which should be sorted out quickly and as painlessly as possible.
If Anwar identifies a successor early on, he can avoid a repeat of his ongoing troubles with Dr Mahathir, and in doing so, position PH as a coalition that gives a flying toss about the future of the country, and not just the future of one man.
Identifying a successor will accord Anwar the two terms he needs as PM to set out what he intends to achieve, and then hand over the reins to someone else who can “continue the good fight.”
Fewer squabbles, more focus. A ship with a captain whose hands are firmly on the wheel brings about much needed confidence for a coalition that has barely had much experience being in power.
And if Anwar knows who his replacement is, he can start testing the waters and gauge how receptive the public is towards this person.
Knowing what to do, and when to step down will make Anwar a visionary — something Malaysia has not seen in a leader for some time.
Looking at his own party, there are already some who come to mind. Nurul Izzah Anwar and Fahmi Fadzil are ideal candidates who should have already been prepped for higher positions within the coalition.
Nurul Izzah is a leader who has shown time and time again that she understands the bread-and-butter issues faced by both rural and urban voters.
She is someone who is professional, intelligent and is able to get along with political leaders she may not personally like for the sake of getting the job done.
Back in 2014, she aligned herself with Azmin in the PKR elections, and she is also the person responsible for managing to convince Dr Mahathir not to leave PH just before GE14 last year.
And the Permatang Pauh MP is someone who is unafraid to walk the talk. In December last year, she resigned as PKR vice-president, state Penang chief and chair of the special task force on the Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) as a form of protest against the current PH government.
If there is a person who has the experience and know-how to lead, it would be Nurul Izzah, and I believe at this point the thing stopping her from doing so is political will.
And Fahmi has shown to be an effective MP to his Lembah Pantai constituency, and he has also managed (to a very large extent) to remain as neutral as possible in the ongoing PKR civil war between Anwar and deputy Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali.
Beyond them, there are other younger leaders within the coalition who should be given a chance to shine, and Anwar (and PH) has a chance to lead the way for the future.
But it boils down to Anwar, and what his plans are. And given the current political landscape, I sincerely hope he sets out to become the futurist we need.
It also ultimately boils down to voters, and whether they have the stomach or patience to vote this government in for another term.
Quite simply, shape up or ship out, PH.