Stepping out of Anwar's shadow and into Malaysia's political spotlight

Stepping out of Anwar's shadow and into Malaysia's political spotlight

Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is back in politics after winning the recent by-election in Penang's Permatang Pauh district. The seat was vacated after her husband, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, was sentenced to prison on sodomy charges, which many believe were politically motivated. Thepchai Yong, The Nation's Group Editor-in-Chief, talked to her in Kuala Lumpur shortly before the poll

IT'S IRONIC TO BE ASKING YOU HOW YOU WILL CARRY ON AFTER ANWAR WAS PUT BEHIND BARS, AS THIS WAS EXACTLY THE SAME QUESTION I ASKED YOU 16 YEARS AGO WHEN HE WAS JAILED |THE FIRST TIME. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW, AND THEN?

The situation has changed a lot, maybe for the better. We never thought that we would be able to break the [Barisan National] ruling party's hold on the two-thirds majority in parliament and win the state government of Selangor, which is a jewel in the crown because it's a rich state. That's the difference. That means we have made leaps and bounds even though we didn't get the federal government.

WITH ANWAR BEHIND BARS, THE SPOTLIGHT IS NOW ON YOU AND YOUR DAUGHTER NURUL IZZAH. ARE YOU READY TO PICK UP THE MANTLE?

You have to have hope, you have to fight on. The result may or may not come in my lifetime. But at least, when you plant a seed you wait for it to grow. It may not bear fruit immediately but there will be a time when it will. I believe in that. And I have hope.

HOW MUCH LONGER WILL IT TAKE?

I do not know.

BUT DO THINGS TODAY LOOK MUCH MORE PROMISING THAN 10 YEARS AGO?

Definitely. The younger generation that grew up during the time of Reformasi 16 years ago have grown up and have matured somewhat. There are younger ones who didn't know Anwar when he was still in the administration, but there were others who grew up during the time of the protest [after Anwar's arrest] and some are now in important positions in the government.

HOW WAS ANWAR THE LAST TIME YOU VISITED HIM?

Anwar has never shown us that he is in any difficulty. But, of course, it has taken a toll on his health. He looks much thinner now. He is in good spirits. We actually gain strength from him. He shows us his spirit and gives us inspiration. He misses his grandkids especially. Of course, being free is different, but being behind bars doesn't deter him. He is still full of instructions for us.

DOES HE EVER SHOW ANY SIGNS OF REGRETS?

No. Not Anwar. He would do everything again, but probably a bit differently. But not much different, in the sense that he would come back to Malaysia even though we got offers for him to go elsewhere, especially Indonesia, Turkey, or even Oxford or the US, where he was a professor.

AT A LONDON FORUM LAST YEAR, HE WAS ADVISED BY FORMER WORLD LEADERS, INCLUDING EX-US VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE AND MARY ROBINSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF IRELAND, NOT TO COME BACK AND FACE THE PROSPECT OF BEING JAILED AGAIN. DID YOU AND YOUR FAMILY ALSO TRY TO CONVINCE HIM NOT TO RETURN?

Yes, of course. We'd rather see him free and being with us. But he said he had to prove a point. If you are not guilty, why would you want to run away? He said he wanted to stay put in his country and face the hardship for the things he believed in. He said he would keep fighting, never surrender.

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