Anwar should derive political strength from spiritual truths, grassroots support

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It is important to critically evaluate the leadership of Anwar Ibrahim now that Malaysians have cemented a two-coalition system in this country, says Ronald Benjamin.

Photograph: themalaysianinsider.com
Photograph: themalaysianinsider.com

The 13th general election is over and it is time to reflect on the achievements and weaknesses of our political leaders. While there have been many critical comments on the leadership of the Barisan National, it is also important to critically evaluate the leadership of Anwar Ibrahim as Malaysians have cemented a two coalition system in this country.

Anwar has made a significant contribution to multiethnic politics of substance that deals with real issues such as corruption, institutional injustice and the gap between the rich and the poor. Never in the previous years of Barisan National rule were the opposition parties able to put up a united front on these issues.

The credit goes to Anwar’s ability to create a common bond of purpose among the Pakatan partners – even though there are salient flaws such as ideological contradictions that have not been genuinely resolved. While he has shown his ability to create new politics based on issues, there are glaring weaknesses in his leadership that need to be addressed.

In his political speeches and action, he has the tendency to refer to the opinions of foreign leaders that he agrees with – and this has made him vulnerable to attacks by his detractors. His constant mentioning of the Prime Minister of Turkey, the influential ulamas, and just lately the President of Indonesia suggests that he relies on international opinion to support his political cause – in the same manner that Najib seems to be doing.

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This dependence on external opinions could have long-term implications: domestic policies could also be influenced by these same external forces.

This weakness has to be rectified. Observing countries like Syria, we can see how issues which could be resolved through honest dialogue and national reconciliation have been hijacked by foreign powers that have their own imperial and regional agenda. For example the opposition parties in Syria are basically beholden to foreign powers as they depend on military and financial aid from these powers. This has created a dent on Syrian national integrity and dignity.

Political leaders should always derive their political strength from spiritual and moral truths and support from people at the grassroots, where political power is derived from the bottom up instead of top down. The nation’s strength and sovereignty resides in foundational truths from God (according to the Rukun Negara) and should be aligned to the struggles of the common people for justice and solidarity and it does not need external the interference of foreign forces.

One such leader who has shown character is the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela who internalised Christian values in his perseverance and belief in the strength of ordinary Venezuelans to overturn the American-inspired coup in that country. His leadership was built on genuine social solidarity with the common people without recourse to the powerful.

Therefore it is hoped that for Malaysia to progress as a democratic country that is independent, leaders like Anwar should derive political strength from moral truths and independent grassroots movements that would multiply and strengthen every institution of the country so that they are not beholden to domestic elites as well as foreign powers.

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Such a balanced understanding of democracy is vital because democratic values are not merely an internal state matter, they are equally applicable in dealings with other countries based on fair play, so that the common good takes precedence over geopolitical and economic hegemony. Foreign powers should not in any way be given the leverage to dictate the policies of our beloved country.

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