Getting Serious about Democracy
covering burma and southeast asia
Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Getting Serious about Democracy

By Anwar Ibrahim Friday, May 12, 2006


Malaysia’s former deputy PM takes Asean to task for coddling Burma, and advocates greater strides towards democracy there and throughout the region


Malaysia’s former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim has returned to the international limelight, following his release from prison in September 2004 after serving six years. Once tipped to succeed former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar was convicted of corruption and sentenced to prison in 1999. The following year, the government added the charge of sexual misconduct in a move that was widely seen as politically motivated. An appeals court ultimately overturned the charge. Anwar always maintained his innocence on all counts. Since his release, he has been a vocal critic of Asean’s policy of “constructive engagement” with the Burmese military regime and a strong advocate for dialogue between the regime and Burma’s democratic opposition, particularly National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Still popular in Malaysia, Anwar also hopes to stage a political comeback in the 2009 elections. He spoke to The Irrawaddy about his concerns on Burma, Asean’s long-term regional goals, and his future political ambitions.


Question: You recently wrote an opinion piece in which you said: “The true cultivation of democracy requires more than simply the introduction of elections. It also requires the establishment of a democratic process and a leveling of the political playing field.” With this in mind, how do you, as a former political prisoner, assess the democratic process in Malaysia?


Answer: There are serious issues to contend with in Malaysia. Though we are considered to be a moderate nation on the path to development, the basic components of democracy in Malaysia are dysfunctional. There is no free media, the judiciary is compromised, corruption is rampant, the institutions of civil society are weak and the public remains ill-informed about the reality of the situation.  A country capable of sending people to prison without trial is in need of serious democratic reform.


Q: Are you preparing to contest the 2009 election despite uncertainty over whether you will be barred from running?


A: Yes. I will not bow to the machinations of authoritarian leaders masquerading as democrats and abusing the judicial process.

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