(Sloonepix: Anwar Ibrahim at the Foreign Correspondence Club of Thailand last night)
… and what kind of Muslim was he?
Anwar Ibrahim arrived early at the Foreign Correspondence Club of Thailand in Bangkok last night, in a simple white and black suit. As he walked in, he was swarmed by journalists wanting to interview him. His purpose here was to re-introduce his entry into politics, in view of the recent political developments and impending general elections in Malaysia.
By 8.00pm, the room was packed with foreign journalists, activists and business officials. Anwar then gave a brief 20 minute talk on “The state of democracy in Southeast Asia”. He ended it quickly as he was told the Q&A will be a “no holds barred” session.
During the session, about 20-odd journalists and interested individuals fielded questions which Anwar treated with his polished political skills.
Many questions on economy and politics were asked and you would probably read about them in the newspapers. Here, this blog wish to highlight some colourful but controversial questions which “entertained” the crowd and put Anwar “on the spot”.
Since Anwar Ibrahim had consistently expresed his support for a free press if he were Prime Minister, he was asked point blank what he really meant by “a free press”.
“Are you really prepared for a free media, considering what happenned to you in 1998? What do you mean when you say the press must be free? Do you mean you will dismantle the Printing Presses and Publication Act currently existing in the country?”
He replied that all draconian laws, including the Internal Security Act must be repealed as they were created only to protect the corrupt and robbers.
“I am not encouraging disorder but if you have these laws, there will be no discussions, no reports,” he told the attentive crowd.
He referred to several reports which had been ‘covered up” by the media, for example, the recent murder case of Altantuya, the suspicious mega-million dollar submarine deal and purchase of 18 Sukhoi Su-30MK fighter aircraft by the defense ministry.
He added that situation now has degenerated from the time he was finance minister and that when money is spent, there are no protests since the government had complete control, in what he termed as “modern banditry”.
Humoring the crowd as he went along, he was asked by a former journalist in the crowd: What kind of Muslim are you? Do you consider yourself a liberal or progressive Muslim and if you are, and if you are PM, what do you think of the issue of homosexuality? Will you decriminalise homosexuality in Malaysia?
The crowd actually clapped when these questions were asked and Anwar shook his head.
“What kind of Muslim am I? I am a Muslim”.
He refused to be dragged into the language of discourse dictated by the west.
He emphasised that there were no compulsion in Islam.
“If Ian (Williams – FCCT past president, who was the MC) wants to drink (achohol), he can drink, but I won’t pay for his drink,” he remarked, drawing laughter from the crowd.
But I cannot compel him not to drink, nor can he compel me to drink, Anwar added.
Anwar said it was pointless being a liberal if one were not tolerant (of others) because true liberals were actually “very tolerant’.
However, later in the night, while replying to one of the questions from the floor, Anwar said he was a “liberal-democrat”.
He also said he refused to be drawn into the discourse of secularism as it could reflect an anti-religious stance, while he can accept some form of separation between government and religion, it should not be to the extend that it is anti-religion.
On the issue of homosexuality, Anwar was cautious.
“If I were to show a bit of tolerance, you will say…there…got you”.
So, Anwar was not clear on his stand, though he said, 95 percent of Malaysians do not accept gay marriages.
“The law is there…what do you expect me to do?”
However, he said four witnesses were needed to implicate individual(s) of wrong doings, for example, adultery.
And that “It is not our business to probe people’s personal lives”.
“You can’t just attack people, beat them up and force him to admit that he was a homosexual,” he added, reminding others of his own crisis during his downfall when his adopted brother and speech writer was abused and forced to admit that they were gay.
Meanwhile, to test his “liberal-democratism” further, Anwar was asked about his thoughts on the Communist Party of Malaya.
“If you were PM, will you allow Chin Peng to return to Malaysia? Will you allow them to set up a political party?”
WHY NOT? said Anwar, though Malaysia had banned communist activities since the 60s.
“There were not many communists around the world these days,” he quipped.
He added: Even Fidel Castro is “dying” – to which he drew some disapproving responses from the audience. He apologised and felt compelled to change his remarks to “Castro is sick”.
“Chin Peng has been in exiled for decades. If we want to talk about crimes by communist insurgencies, how about access done by others too?”
“I will say let’s move on”.
However, he could not say whether the CPM would be allowed to organise a political party under his premiership.
“Let them apply and we’ll see”.
(Sloonepixs: Present also were some Malaysian NGO activists in Bangkok (L-R) Lee Siew Hwa (Committee for Asian Women), Tad (Forum-Asia), Cythia Gabriel (Caram-Asia), Roderick Chia (Forum-Asia)
(Sloonepixs: Anwar’s entourage – Penang Keadilan members)