Sunday, March 21, 2010

Anwar's talk at London : Convincing discerning doubters

The faces in the crowd were Malaysian, the panel of speakers also comprised Malaysian. But such an assembly of people discussing intolerant views in a public institution, would not have happened in present-day Malaysia.

This was in the United Kingdom where freedom of expression is upheld. Anwar Ibrahim's whirlwind tour of London continued. Day 2 was a three- hour session at the Hogg Lecture Theatre, University of Westminster on March 19.


Last Thursday's session was a walkover. He came, they heard, he conquered.

The 20-30 year olds with ripe fertile minds were impressionable. They are idealistic and full of hope and may even possess the firebrand qualities exhibited by a once youthful Anwar. It is equally possible that Malaysia's future leaders might have been sitting in the hall. After all, these students represent some of our nation's best brains.

But it was a different story the next day. The crowd was vastly different and a real eye-opener. Just as before, the crowd had assembled early. An hour before the event, the queue had spilled into the pavement along Marylebone Road (for those who are familiar with London, this is opposite Madame Tussaud's waxworks musuem).

An unscientific composition of the crowd would be a ratio of 35:35:20:10 of Malays:Chinese:Indians:others. This time the distinguishing feature was that it comprised the older set; people mainly in their 30s and 40s, most of whom have lived and worked in the UK, some for 30 years or more. It was about 50:50 students to working people.

anwar ibrahim drums support from london 210310 02This lot is not as gullible. They are hardened and wizened professionals from diverse backgrounds - accountants, doctors, lawyers, city traders, bankers and businessmen. They are more discerning and certainly would not allow the wool to be pulled over their eyes by sweet-talk.

Stories of personal struggles and hardship are commonplace among these Malaysians. The UK may be where they earn their livelihood, but Malaysia is where their hearts lies. They contend that if conditions are right, they might return. Anwar's rhetoric may act like a soothing massage but the reality of his principles may be another story. So did he deliver?

There was a full house for the lecture. If cinemas could fill up like this, their operators would never complain. There were four guest lecturers. The first was London-based lawyer Jay Sharma who spoke about the need to build a better Malaysia. Second was Yolanda Augustin sharing with us the horrors and trauma of the families of those held under the Internal Security Act.

dap cc meeting 220107 teng chang khimSelangor assembly speaker Teng Chang Khim (right), who was in London for Commonwealth-related meetings, spoke about the advances and reforms that Selangor had initiated since taking power in March 2008.

And finally, Abdul Malik Kassim, a member of the Penang exco ,spoke about how the state government under Lim Guan Eng has managed to turn the island-state around by inculcating good work practices.

If there was any criticism of the session, it had to be that these guest lecturers went on for too long and the initial problems with the PA system were unsettling.

'Trust me'

While waiting for his turn to speak, Anwar did not look as fresh as he had on the first day. Had jet lag crept up on him? Or was the grueling round of lectures, meetings with politicians and press conferences finally taking its toll on him?

The brief mask of tiredness soon evaporated and he was once more his bright and bubbly self, when he stepped up to the lectern. He did not disappoint the crowd, which hung onto his every word.

Anwar began by saying how Malaysians have been denied alternative views and how outrageous it is that personal liberties have been eroded so much that even expressing an opinion is disallowed.

Going on to discuss Malaysia's lack of economic competitiveness, and how little confidence this has inspired in investors, he expressed the belief that the NEP should be dismantled as it is abused and exploited by the rich elite.

NONEAnwar further expressed sadness that university rankings had plummeted in the global perspective; how academic freedom is curtailed; and incompetence is rampant. He bemoaned the fact that Perakians have been denied justice, and ended his talk with the Pakatan Rakyat commitment to govern justly if elected to form the federal government.

The question and answer session was lively and at times contentious. A lesser man would have had great difficulty keeping up, but Anwar's energy was boundless. The queries ranged from Thaksin's Thailand to trust issues; BN outmanoeuvering to BTN; the judiciary to the 1Malaysia 'connection' with the One Israel policy; and arsenic poisoning to abuse of religion.

But one of the most challenging questions must have been the one fielded by a professional who demanded of Anwar: “What do you expect of us (assuming Pakatan forms the next federal government)?”

malaysians 050905His reply was simple, and along the lines of: 'I need your help and you need mine and together we can put Malaysia back on its feet again'.

He stressed the fact that this will take team effort and asked that Malaysians place their trust in him.

When the lecture ended, many participants were not fully satisfied with the answers that he gave because these had not gone into great detail. But to be fair to the man, there was insufficient time and he was trying his best to fit as many programmes as possible into his tight schedule.

Anwar might want to reflect that trust, like reputation, is very difficult to earn, and extremely easy to lose. Yes, we will give him our trust but will he perform?

This assembled lot was a discerning crowd and not as trusting as the youth at the previous day's lecture. And older doubters have been let down by over 40 years of BN misrule.

My guess is that if Anwar loses their trust, there will be no going back, either for him or them.


comments by MARIAM MOKHTAR, who is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In 'real-speak', this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist. Courtesy of Malaysiakini

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