Will Anwar become the next victim of the ‘messiah effect?’
I'm by no means a "Malaysian expert". Nor do I profess to be one. But the days of empathizing with Anwar over his sacking when he was deputy to the untrustworthy Mahathir Mohamad and his jailing the first time by Mahathir and the second time by Malaysia's famous criminal for embezzlement and political fraud, Najib Razak, is wearing much too thin. Now that Anwar has finally come into his own, as prime minister, he has to exhibit every bit of gumption against his many enemies to railroad his again, and to seize the mantle to show leadership for all "Malaysians" on the basis of equality, fairness and truth. Given the hideous nature of Malaysia's racist politics and big snouts in the economic trough, it'll take some doing. One thing's for sure: five years of his first term is nowhere near enough to wipe the slate clean and start all over again when Malaysia at various times has shown itself to approximating the pariah state with a near-first world infrastructure, much of which, I dare say, is built on ersatz capitalism of cronyism, corruption and double-dealing for an economy that remains built on sand for more than sixty years.
Anwar is by no means Barack Obama who, despite his popularity, was failing in his second term as US president. And failing badly on social and political policies, except for the economy which was rip-roaring, which, by all measures, the asinine Donald Trump ungratefully and childishly inherited. nd Anwar Ibrahim is no Nelson Mandela either. For all of Mandela's popularity, he'd failed, singularly, to bring South Africans together as one people (think of the swamp of ghettoes across that country). The same problems face Anwar: rabid racism and religious bigotry. I'll predict Malaysians will come back with their predictable " ... but Rome wasn't built in a day". Of course. But Malaysia has ah more than six decades to embed or concretize its racism and bigotry across Malay-Muslims, Indians and Chinese in that country. Another sixty years won't fix the problem in the hands of Anwar who, himself a Malay-Muslim, would have to tread on eggshells over the greater Islamization or Talibanization of Malaysia whilst not stepping on the toes of Malaysia's despotic sultans, protectors of Islam.
The regime Anwar now runs isn't owned by him. And it's doubtful if he ever will. The "majority" by which his regime is constructed is worse than wafer-thin and as such politically flimsy. Remember Pakatan Harapan's spectacular implosion after 22 months in "power" from 2018. It was a total disgrace, the whole time immersed in political bloodletting within Harapan. It'll happen again because Anwar survives as premier on a cobbled together but very loose or fluid coalition of parties with diverse party and state interests, most of which are "invested interests". Remember: this is still racist, corrupt, bigoted Malaysia -- not even remotely Singapore (more like Indonesia). Anwar will have to spend a lot of time pacifying these loose coalition members and feeding them with the spoils of state power, much of which, over sixty years, is strongly divested in the business oligarchy of Malaysia Inc, whose back Anwar will be loathed to break if he wants to survive political office in the next five years.
At his age, 75, he doesn't have a long time. The ideas he held for Malaysia when a younger politician, no longer hold. The world has fundamentally changed -- for the worse. And it has changed for the worse in Malaysia too. The other problem is that Malaysia is no longer any kind of "investment darling" of the world's cashed up investors. It faces enormous challenges from across Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Its vital natural resources have been allowed to be plundered by the Malay state since independence and certainly after 1969 by every regime that has been in power. The worst was Mahathir's under the directorship of Mahathir's privatization policies, which, like Najib Razak's Goods and Services Tax, were too premature of a basically immature economy (no matter the idiotic boasts of the ignoramuses that Malaysia is or was or will become a "tiger"/miracle economy. Anwar and his "team", whoever might yet make up his "cabinet", will have to come up with some really bright and new ideas to compete with the likes of Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia (under the mostly lame duck Jokowi) and perhaps even the Philippines (if Marcos Jr has his head screwed onto his shoulders right). There's no way in hell Malaysia would aspire and achieve Singapore's commanding heights. That was always a Malaysian pipe-dream and hot air of naive self-grandeur. Who becomes his economic team in his cabinet had better not be those who had occupied the corridors of influence in the Mahathir, Najib, Perikatan Nasional regimes, lest Malaysia truly aspires to become a genuine pariah state.
On foreign policy, it's hardly surprising that Anwar wants to cement ties with China, not just because of market access for Malaysian exports but also for access to Chinese and diasporic Chinese capital, much of which is already looking for new investment homes for the greatest return, at least in the short term given the mainland Chinese is in serious trouble and the crackdown by the crackpot new emperor Xi Jinping on cracking down on elements of domestic Chinese oligarchy who have been gradually withdrawing its support for the Xi regime over the last couple of years.
If Anwar sees ties with China is "pivotal", he can't see Malaysia's ties with the US any less than the same. Even before World War II Malaysia has been dependent on foreign sources to protect its national and territorial sovereignty. And since the start of the Vietnam War, Malaysia -- like the rest of the spineless ASEAN -- has depended on US nuclear protection against an aggressive and expansionist China. That's not to say the US is not as aggressive and expansionist an imperial power but with imperial China still rising, unless its debt-laden economy collapses, its the likes of ASEAN that have kept the US in the old/new Cold War game.
The really big question remains this one: How long was the Anwar wafer-thin coalition last? Not long. Why? It won't be long before the political fangs of Anwar's coalition partners emerge and claw his back -- and front -- to demand more political gains where in matters most -- the economy and its spoils, and the peddling of influence against the backdrop an immoveable racism and corruption.