De facto president of Malaysia’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR – People’s Justice Party) and Prime Minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim revealed that watching Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s inauguration as Prime Minister on television in May made him think that he should have been sworn in instead of his former political rival.

Speaking in response to a Raffles Institution student’s query as to what he felt about the swearing in, the dialogue with hundreds of students, academics, and government officials at the Singapore Management University on Thursday (20 Sep) marked the 71-year-old’s second public appearance in Singapore after his release from prison.

Mr Anwar said: “Look, [with] Mahathir swearing in, [it was a] new era for Malaysia.

“He came up with a statement saying that once Pakatan Harapan wins, they will then submit an application to the king for immediate pardon [for Anwar].

“But I also feel I should have been there. I do not want to lie to you, I did think about this – it should be me not you [Dr Mahathir],” he added, to which the audience responded with laughter.

At the time of Dr Mahathir’s inauguration, Anwar was still serving a prison sentence for sodomy charges. However, as he had just undergone surgery, he was placed in a hospital ward.

He also spoke about improving bilateral relations between Malaysia and Singapore, adding that he would make Singapore a top priority in the list of countries he plans to hold official visits to upon becoming prime minister.

He said that contentious issues such as the water deals are “not a problem that should cause tensions between two states” and should be resolved as “friends and good neighbours” do, in response to dialogue moderator and SMU chairman Ho Kwon Ping’s question regarding thorny issues between Malaysia and Singapore.

When asked by a student from Temasek Junior College if Singapore is ready for a political upheaval such as the one undergone by Malaysia after the 9 May General Elections, Anwar replied: “I think to be fair and more objective, the Singapore issue or problem certainly cannot be compared to the fiasco in Malaysia. Nobody talks about endemic corruption or discrimination as you see it here.

“But whether they should move on to a more vibrant, democratic reform, that’s for the Singaporeans to decide. But to compare with Malaysia, I think it is not right because we were at the stage where if … change was not affected at the last election, Malaysia would certainly go down the drain,” he said.

Activism amongst the youth was also an agenda during the question-and-answer session, as Anwar advised young students to not “be inhibited by boundaries,” and that fighting for the rights of marginalised people necessitates undeterred “conviction.”

“Of course you don’t go and kill people, but express your views. You must have the courage to express your views in an open forum… You must know that you study not just to become successful professionals; you must aim to serve,” he said, drawing experience from his experience as a student leader of the Islamic youth movement ABIM (Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia – the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia) prior to entering mainstream politics.

“The majority of the young support me and (my) cause,” he said. “It is because of my trust in the spirit of the young Malaysians that compelled me to return to Malaysia, back to jail for three-and-a-half years.”

His statement came fresh on the heels of the Malaysian Cabinet’s announcement to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.

Anwar supports the Cabinet’s announcement, as he believes that “[students who are around 18] are more idealistic in principle. 

“They hate corruption […] Certainly, I have more trust in the aptitude and capacity of the young to be fair.”

Last Saturday (15 Sep), he attended the Singapore Summit 2018, in which business leaders and think tanks discuss global affairs and business-related issues.

Anwar will be contesting in a by-election in the Port Dickson constituency on the 13th next month, marking his return to the Parliament. 

When asked as to what his plans are upon becoming the next Prime Minister, Anwar said, drawing another chorus of laughter from the audience: “Make me PM first, lah. We settle one at a time.”

Anwar’s statements have appeared to solicit the impression that strong undercurrents of political rift in Malaysia are beginning to surface despite the change of government.

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