From The Australian:
The story of Anwar’s near candidacy for the UN is fascinating. I must confess to having played a tiny role in it myself, purely as a reporter, but the story was never quite there.
The new Secretary-General of the UN is Ban Ki-moon, a former foreign minister of South Korea.
It was Asia’s turn to get the post and Ban was the best-qualified candidate.
But there was always a chance that the Russians or even the French might veto him because he was seen as too close to Washington. But the other Asian candidates were frankly not all that appealing. A number of international heavyweights canvassed an Anwar candidacy.
Anwar is a moderate Muslim, no one could seriously accuse him of being too pro-American, he is charismatic and learned.
Of course, his candidacy would have caused some acute dilemmas.
Malaysia’s Government, for example, would have been very unhappy and it would be unusual, to say the least, to have a secretary-general nominated against the wishes of his own national government.
But it was not inconceivable. I believe Al Gore, Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke and other senior US Democrats canvassed the idea very seriously. Although out of office, these people were all immensely influential.
I believe also that the Bush administration’s view was that they were supporting Ban, but if Ban’s candidacy should fall over they would not necessarily oppose Anwar.
I believe Anwar’s old friend, Paul Wolfowitz, was at least aware of these manoeuvrings.
My own tiny role in what turned out to be a non-existent candidacy came about when one of the people most encouraging Anwar asked me if I would interview him simultaneously for The Australian and a big American newspaper. In the interview, Anwar would declare his interest in the job and I would write an evaluation of this. None of this came about because Anwar decided not to do the interview and not to seek the job.
One very perverse consequence of Anwar’s wide range of friendships is that there are posters, so Anwar tells me, of Wolfowitz and him together being distributed to Malay villages.
And the accusation against Anwar, which these photographs are meant to support, is that he is pro-Jew.
Wolfowitz is not even identified as a neo-conservative or anything so esoteric as that. Rather it is plain, good, old fashioned anti-Semitism at work.
Anwar meets the accusation head on. Yes indeed Wolfowitz is a friend of his, and an old and good friend. He disagrees with Wolfowitz’s policies on Iraq but agrees with him on a number of other issues. And in any event Wolfowitz’s Jewishness should have nothing to do with anything.
Anwar’s political challenge within Malaysia is very great, in trying to overturn a long established government with a heavy influence on the media. He believes the opposition, running not as a coalition but in broad co-operation with each other, could do well next time. Last time, he says, the opposition got strong support among the majority Malays but almost no support among the minority Chinese and Indians, because the opposition includes PAS, an avowedly Islamic party.
Anwar believes that PAS in government would observe all the constitutional guarantees for all Malaysia’s citizens, would be constrained in any event by the other parties in government, and has not behaved badly on communal issues when it has periodically controlled some state governments, although its rhetoric has at times been inflammatory. This claim of PAS moderation is one many other Malaysians would contest with extreme vigour.
Anwar believes he can attract Chinese support next time, especially in his home state of Penang. Anwar’s own position on communal and religious issues is more liberal than that of the Malaysian Government, which has in recent years moved to outflank PAS by – to some extent – overtly courting Islamist sentiment.
I don’t know if Anwar offers a solution for Malaysia or not. I do know it’s enormously interesting to hear him argue his case. And where better to hear it than Indonesia?