May 18, 2016
Anwar Ibrahim’s Letter from Prison
Jailed former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has purportedly penned a letter to PKR leaders in which he describes the Citizens’ Declaration as flawed and inconsistent with reform perspectives. In other words, the letter states that the declaration, which seeks to remove Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, remains, in principle, Mahathir’s document.
The Target –Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak
The letter also warned PKR leaders about the pitfalls and dangers of working with the former Prime Minister (Dr Mahathir Mohamad) and former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, and expressed concern that PKR leaders and party apparatuses might be used to serve their agenda.
Below is the English translation of the eight-page handwritten bi-lingual letter:
Friends, President, Deputy President and fellow beloved leaders –
Assalamualaikum warahmatullah hiwabarakatuh and salam sejahtera
The issue that I am bringing up here must be reviewed calmly. The content of it does not stray from the core of our struggle and is consistent with what was sketched out before. But my concern is that you will only listen to me out of respect but not take it to heart.
Throughout our struggles, we have gone through challenging episodes which required thought and enlightenment. Our latest issue is with the Citizens’ Declaration which has dragged our leaders and apparatuses to be in cahoots with Tun M and Daim.
My view might be in contradiction with the stand of the majority of leaders. I am apprehensive, assuming that this strategy is a little overboard and threatens our struggle.
We must steer clear of the danger of falling into the games of the power elites and their skilful trickery to maintain an outdated system.Even so, many of our friends believe the new strategy is more rewarding and is the best way to go. They say it can give us a new boost, as we will be combining our strengths to topple Najib Abdul Razak as Prime Minister, and bring about change.
They are certain that they can keep things in control and avoid any divergence in the mission.This clash of ideas between us is a tangle we must unravel, but it is not something which should lead to personal conflicts or disputes.
My stand is the same as when there was the initiative by (Gua Musang MP) Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to collect signed statutory declarations (of retraction of support for Najib). This initiative is now buried. The other leaders and I had then agreed with this, but I had urged that we remain close to our policies and the aims of our struggles.
In looking at this current conundrum, we must not question the wisdom of those who have decided to take part and sign the Citizens’ Declaration. In my previous letters, I urged leaders to act cautiously when dealing with the ruling elite and to defend the principles of our struggle. The question now is, what next?
I am more inclined not to be seen to be uniting with the Citizens’ Declaration group, and to start to set a distance. Instead, we must strengthen and advance our campaign for change, to defend the people who are oppressed due to economic mismanagement, in keeping with the principles that we have carried with us all this while.
The Citizens’ Declaration group, including Mahathir, can be part of our struggle, but our agenda must be for change, not to advance the Citizens’ Declaration. Allow me to explain.
I did ask incredulously – during our brief exchanges in court as to the reason for an enthusiastic campaign to endorse a Declaration bereft of a moral imperative of reform towards democratic accountability? Thanks for the prompt response and explanatory notes. The unveiling of the Citizens’ Declaration was almost as fait accompli. Only at the insistence of civil society leaders at the last hours, some of our concerns were incorporated, clearly as embellishments.
Essentially it remains Tun M’s document, defective and incoherent viewed in the context of reform. Its only focus is the removal of Najib as PM due to the 1MDB fiasco. This is obviously a departure from the raison d’etre of our struggle: for freedom and justice, rule of law, combating abuse of power and corruption and distributive justice!
Leaders seem impressed and satisfied with the assurances that all concerns will be addressed once we cross the bridge, i.e. dismissal of Najib. This is reminiscent of the machinations of ‘establishment elites’ that I had alluded to previously. It is effectively the concern of the rich and powerful and the masses will continue to be marginalized. We had only recently experienced the ‘Statutory Declaration – SD fiasco’. Similar guarantees were made in confidence.
And in our eagerness or desperation to affect leadership change, we gave our commitment. It has now become a mockery and an embarrassment, particularly when Ku Li himself denied being ever involved and deemed it farcical. He mischievously exploited it to place him as the compromise candidate in the event of a stalemate between Zahid and Hisham. I’m baffled why some of us in Pakatan Harapan continue to harbor hopes of ‘change’ through such trickery.
And now, continuing the saga, led by the same establishment/ruling clique, we eagerly lent our support to this new arrangement, euphemistically referred to as the inclusive strategy – rakyat. The only plausible explanation is nomological desperation. We are desperate for numbers – which is incidentally expedient in politics without scruples.
Let us be clear. We did endorse both initiatives and agreed that Johari Abdul represent us in the SD initiative whilst (PKR deputy president) Azmin Ali, (PKR vice president) Tian (Chua) and (PKR secretary-general) Rafizi (Ramli) participate in the Citizens’ Declaration initiative.
But I’ve always refrained from using the terms ‘support’ and ‘commitment’. It’s disconcerting to observe our leaders immersed in one organic team with the most ruthless leader and the most corrupt ex-finance minister! A senior counsel observed the awe and timidity of leaders in the presence of the ex-autocrat in public functions as remnant of a feudalism culture. Notwithstanding the formidable and persuasive eloquence of Azmin, (activist) Ambiga (Sreenevasan) and (Amanah President) Mohamad Sabu, the articulation on the reform agenda remains a side issue.
Do not be deluded into thinking that the disparaging remarks regarding the gross injustices during Tun M’s reign will endear him to systemic change. He is known for his indomitable spirit, very focused on his agenda and not easily distracted. The lingering fear of all dictators and autocrats is the unraveling of crimes committed and billions of dollars squandered.
My kind and generous disposition towards Tun M was not reciprocated. Far from being remorseful he displayed the contemptible aspect of his character by repeating the scurrilous attacks. The humiliation, sadly did not elicit any response from my trusted colleagues. Presumably you may consider it critical to protect this cohabitation. Unfortunately this will only embolden him to justify his past excesses. The trend seems to move from past repudiation to redemption! Azizah and I felt compelled to rebut as a matter of principle and to protect our honour.
The statement referred to autocratic rule, the need for vibrant discourse unlike his dictatorial methods. To us the declaration failed to articulate the concerns of the masses, particularly economic hardship and institutional reform. For those who consider such a declaration almost sacrosanct, the criticism is uncalled for. I beg to differ and have offered an explanation in that regard. Subsequently civil society leaders did make strong representation to Tun M; albeit in private as opposed to his public outburst. A clarification was then made on a matter which is inconsequential; that the majority of MPs will determine the candidate as a new PM.
In my previous letter to the political bureau, I expressed my reservations – that the declaration and the new arrangement is antithetical to meaningful change or reform. I implored leaders not to underestimate their machinations. Do not be over confident in assuming that you can outmaneuver them. Do not throw caution to the wind:
‘The best lack of all conviction,
whilst the worse
Are full of passionate intensity’ [William Butler Yeats]
Be wary of the Machiavellians in finally arrogating power to their clique.We pride ourselves being perceived as magnanimous, motivated purely by national interest. What is erased in our subconscious mind is the stark reality that the institutions of governance were effectively destroyed and subjugated to the whims and fancies of an ex-autocrat.
What is disturbing is the absence of remorse and no unequivocal support for reform. Both Tun M and Daim were the architect and aggressive exponent of crony capitalism. Through a flawed and corrupt process independent power producers were awarded; highway projects privatized; monopoly of essential goods to cronies. It’s clearly exploitative and burdensome to the rakyat. It did not end with their rule and the ramifications continue to be felt.
You naturally sense my hardened position after being magnanimous and conciliatory approach earlier. Like most of you, I mainly anticipated Tun M to be more accommodative to change. The series of exchanges with Pakatan Harapan and civil society leaders did not manage to sway or deter him from the obsession and vendetta against Najib personally but not the corrupt and decadent system.
It’s baffling to note that after working with Pakatan Harapan civil society and my trusted colleagues, he continued to pour scorn and venom against me! The outburst preclude any possibility of any meeting with my family members. The kindest remark by a colleague is not to expect a man at the ripe age of 92 (sic) to change. This will only give credence to my believe (sic) that the establishment clique will endeavor to resuscitate Umno and ensure the reemergence of the Old Order:
‘The serpent that did sting…
Now wears the crown.’ [Shakespeare]
Masses remain steadfast, as a true voice of conscience, the rakyat’s hope for a principled stance. We must not be perceived as stalling or equivocating the reform agenda; or callous indifference towards the rakyat’s predicament. We demand freedom, economic justice, reduce inequality, combat corruption and corporate hijacking. Trust is in the wisdom of the masses; and reign in activists, reformists and reenergize the party machinery.
Let me now comment to your other responses. My apologies – but I can’t help feeling flabbergasted by the simplistic assertions that with Najib’s removal we will be able to usher change towards democratic accountability. I’ve asserted to the contrary and no evidence is adduced to suggest otherwise. I’ve also been urged to show clarity and not ambivalence in regard to the declaration; and I’ve done precisely that.
But I resent the insensitivity in pressuring the president and in particular Nurul Izzah to pay respects to Tun M or attend his functions. You may want to appease him, but to demand such a sacrifice from my family, particularly after the recent scorn is the unkindest cut of all!
And please do not entertain the so-called ‘trusted, reliable source’ that Najib did send an emissary to meet me and there was a meeting with Zahid at HKL last week. It’s frivolous and unmistakenly with the intent of sowing distrust and discord. The trust have somewhat dissipated.
I would have safely assumed that even had the so-called meeting taken place, my credibility remains unimpaired. On the other hand, I would have confronted colleagues if I find must in any such deals or allegations against them. It is mortifying to have to point this out; but we must rebuild the trust and show compassion.
Before I end – I am now dejected. I don’t mean to burden you with the sufferings of loneliness in prison. Such a test, although hard for me, Azizah and my family to bear, is not as complicated as handling the party’s recent developments.
After Reformasi 1998, I feel that the idealism with regard to fighting for a cause started to erode, tested by the lustre of power and funds. My strength is spurring the awareness towards change. And so we struggled for nearly two decades facing life’s cruelty. We destroyed the walls of fear, communalism; rigid religious definition to rahmatan lil alamin (blessings for the whole world).
But my concern is due to the latest developments that place us at the crossroads. The question of pure ambition. Idealism is no longer the fundamental question but (merely) political talk to come into power. Or otherwise, am I afflicted with ill fortune because I find it hard to accept the reality?
It is sufficient for me to conclude that my weakness is that I cannot handle the new understanding in the form of the Citizens’ Declaration. I have no qualms if our ceramah sessions are continued by stressing on PKR’s agenda; rejecting the greed for power and exploitation of the rakyat. Other groups may come (to the ceramah), just to explain the declaration; but do not shift from our approach
Obviously, the veteran leader who does not support the concept of the rakyat should not come into prominence because it will confuse the rakyat; obscure the reform agenda and even betray the trust for reform. In the discourse about the matter, that is the only limit that I can admit. If the majority chooses to support the declaration fully, I will abide by it but I will retreat and only repeat the desire for an intact form of change.
My subsequent disappointment will be due to the weakness and failure to assemble a solid line of leadership. The ability and role as the glue to the leadership will further erode. And so there will be lamentations with the elements of accusations that I too was involved with several crises before this. I tried to do my best but alas I have limits.
Rivalry has gone beyond the boundaries of ethics that it seems to be better to deal with political enemies rather than comrades. All my pleas no longer have an effect. The views and comments of friends are full of prejudice. The question of values and morals, as well as the danger of slander, must be avoided. Therefore, my abilities are stunted here.
I sincerely hope that this letter will not be spun and interpreted according to the different palates. This letter is a will and a form of trust for all friends in the line of leadership. Use it as well as you can. I ask for forgiveness if it offends.
In my loneliness and depression, I had gone through poems which include the ‘Best Poems of the English language: from Chaucer to Proust’ by Harold Bloom. Before this I was entertained by Pablo Neruda; Anna Akhmatova (Tsarina of Poetry); WS Rendra and A Samad Said. My friend, the poet Tawfiq Ismail, once bloomed in his youth – a poem which I memorised and once recited in Bandung around the year 2005. The title: ‘Memang Selalu Demikian, Hadi (1966) during the time when varsity students went against PKI and Sukarno. I ask for permission that Hadi be changed to Saudaraku: Memang Selalu Demikian Saudaraku’.
Setiap perjuangan selalu melahirkan
Sejumlah pengkhianat dan para penjilat
Jangan kau gusar, saudaraku.
Setiap perjuangan selalu menghadapkan kita
Pada kaum yang bimbang menghadapi gelombang
Jangan kau kecewa, saudaraku.
Setiap perjuangan yang akan menang
Selalu mendatangkan pahlawan jadi-jadian
Dan para jagoan kesiangan.
Memang demikianlah halnya, saudaraku