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Anwar Ibrahim calls for reforms:

Translated transciption of Anwar Ibrahim’s press statement delivered on the afternoon of September 3, 1998 at his residence in Jalan Setiamurni 1, Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia is grappling with a grave challenge. The economic miracle that we have been so proud of seems now to be no more than a phantasmagoria, a dream from which we have been awakened by the sharp bite of reality.

This economic crisis will cause great suffering. Many will lose their jobs. There will be more poor people. Our primary task, therefore, is to restore the economy, and we will have to call upon every ounce of strength and perseverance that the people can offer.

But, believe me, the economic crisis is just one of a host of hazards. We are in equally deep trouble in the political, social, cultural and civic spheres. We cannot but attend to these problems and, in doing so, let wisdom and a sense of priority guide us. If we ignore any of them, we will rot.

And then there are difficulties arising with the dawning of a new age. In fact, the economic crisis, far from being the source of our present misery, is the effect of our failure to prepare for a changed world. We have, indeed, passed into a new era. We are in the age of globalisation and in the midst of an information explosion. In order to meet the challenges that come with these changes, we too must change.

The time to reform is now. And we need a clear agenda. We ourselves are the ones to determine the means, method, tempo and pace of reform. It is dissatisfaction within—not external pressure—that urges the call for reform. And the Quran enjoins it. The Prophet Shu`ayb says: "I desire only betterment, to the best of my power" (Quran,11, 88).

The reform we seek is not one inspired by the IMF or any foreign country. It will be a reform that fits our mould, one that addresses the needs and realities of Malaysia and Malaysians. So let no one accuse us of lackeying to foreign conspirators. We are Malaysian patriots and we oppose any kind of conspiracy, foreign-based or home-grown. The question is not East or West, North or South. The question is justice. We have to fight oppression, whether it comes from the East or West.

The people want change. The cry for reform comes from deep within the heart of the nation. But there remain a handful who shudder at the thought that winds of change may be blowing. These are the corrupt who fear the exposure of their crimes. Yes, the abusers of power and position are shaking in fear. The bloated merchants who feed their greed through nepotism and cronyism are in a panic, like wriggling worms on a hot pavement.

Don’t be tricked by those who fear reform. They are out of ideas and desperately singing the same old tune. Threatened by the inevitability of change, they create phantoms with which they try to scare the citizenry into submission. But only children are afraid of spooks. Malaysia has been independent for 41 years; we are free and adult.

Our people must unite in facing the challenges of the new world. But because the people stand behind their leaders, unity must begin at the top. The people would not be divided if their leaders were not clawing at each other. The mighty unity to which we aspire will forever elude us if our leaders, while preaching solidarity, continue to tolerate the antics of so-called supporters who pit one leader against another.

Since my election to the Umno Deputy Presidency, I have had to repeatedly declare my loyalty to the President. I have confidence in the wisdom of Umno members. When called upon to make an important decision at a critical moment, they will draw upon that wisdom. They want a stable and united party. They want the party to be continually strengthened, deriving uninterrupted nourishment as each generation of leaders passes on the reins to the next.

As far I am concerned, the party must never suffer the least threat to its solidarity and stability. Since my election as Deputy President, I have repeatedly renewed by declaration of loyalty to the President. I have done it in the Supreme Council and I have done it at the General Assembly. In fact, well-meaning friends have cautioned me against overdoing it. But I would do whatever it takes to ensure party unity.

But what is this unity for? Surely it is to empower us as we strive to raise the honour and dignity of our community. We are at the threshold of a new millenium. There is a new world with a new temper before us. New challenges are coming and our old ways are useless against them. We must change. We must effect reform. It is an obligation. It was this conviction that made me declare, in the winding-up speech I made in the year I was elected Deputy President, that my colleagues and I were solidly behind the President in his quest for change in the name of dignity for our community.

But retrogressive elements and others threatened by change have never ceased in their effort against reform. And, in the absence of a credible answer to the call for reform, they seek to confuse the public and divert them from issues requiring attention. They hope to sully the reform movement by mounting a smear campaign against anyone who champions reform.

The campaign of calumny against me is part of a political conspiracy. They know I cannot be defeated in an honourable and democratic political battle. So they have resorted to the lowdown tactic of trying to ensure that I am disqualified from even entering the arena. I have known of this conspiracy for more than a year. It began with tales spread through the rumour mill, followed by a poison-pen circular, and now a book filled with vile slander. The poison letter and the book have been circulated so widely that they have reached even the small Umno branches. Even mosques have not been spared this desecration. I have had no choice but to obtain a court injunction. Unlike the poison-pen letter, the book carries the names of an author and a publisher, as if daring anyone to challenge the truth of its contents. I had to go to court to make that challenge; otherwise some readers would suspect the book had truth in it. This issue regarding a campaign to calumniate me has been raised even in Parliament.

This campaign is directed by millionaires who feel unsettled by talk of reform and personalities who feel marginalized and excluded. Indeed, they include those in high political and administrative positions.

I came into politics with only idealism and moral rectitude for my capital. My morals and my character are of paramount importance to me, for without them idealism would be a sham. Hence, when it is my character that comes under attack, I refuse to see it as just a game of politics. That was why I decided to make a police report against the calumny. After investigations had begun, it became clear that political figures would be dragged in. The Prime Minister asked me not to prolong the matter and I took his advice for the sake of the party’s unity. Moreover, I was grateful that he had come to my defence at that point. I thought the issue had been put to rest with the Prime Minister’s intervention. I was therefore shocked when the lies emerged again, even bolder and more appalling. The poison-pen letter had gone into a book, together with new lies. And the book was to be distributed widely at the recent Umno General Assembly. As if the attack on my moral character was not enough, this time I am also accused of involvement in murder and being a foreign agent. My only option was to seek legal redress.

By agreeing not to let the matter drag, I had hoped that the smear campaign would stop. Imagine my consternation when I learned, a few days before the Umno general assembly, that a person by the name of Khalid Jafri had written a book which in part repeated all the poison-pen lies and that the book would be distributed by the tens of thousands at the venue of the assembly.

From the beginning, I have kept the Attorney-General informed of developments in my legal action. It is obvious that he is displeased over my decision to obtain the injunction and to go for a civil suit. I have given him my explanation—that unlike the poison-pen letter, the book has an author and a publisher. Nevertheless, I am satisfied with his guarantee of a thorough investigation to build a case of criminal libel against the author.

And I have promised that I would cooperate with the police. The Inspector-General of Police has assigned a senior officer to lead the investigation and he has repeatedly stated his view that the book’s contents are "tasteless" and "rubbish."

I acknowledge that some people are averse to the legal steps I have taken. They are of the opinion that the book should simply be dismissed for the sham that it is, but I believe my action necessary because, more than just repeating the poison-pen lies, the book links me with an alleged murder and accuses me of being a foreign agent and conspiring to topple the Prime Minister. In fact, the author and distributor of the book openly contend that my inaction would prove the book’s veracity. They declare confidently that I would never dare drag them to court for fear of exposing my alleged secrets.

My lawyers assert that investigations should have easily been carried out according to normal procedure after I had lodged the police report since the "suspects" are known and the defamatory statements they are accused of making are published in a book. The named suspects are the ones who should be subject to police investigation. According to the law, the onus is on them to prove their accusations, to show admissible evidence in court, not rumour, hearsay or fabrications.

But a week after my report was lodged, it became obvious that the police, who should be gathering evidence with which to prosecute the calumniators, were instead looking into my personal affairs. It was as if I had become the suspect. My lawyers advised me to demand an explanation from the IGP and the AG. But I told them I had complete faith in the professionalism and fairness of both officials.

Perhaps I should not expect sympathy from anyone. But I have the right to justice and I am sure that I will receive justice if government agencies are true to the ethics of their various professions. However, their current behaviour indicates some malice towards me. Instead of concentrating on the libellous book, they are now listening to stories churned out by the rumour mill, which is operated by politicians and millionaires who are intent on driving a wedge between the two of us and cutting me down. The stories in the book are suddenly submerged and new ones are brought to the surface. It is as if the police have lost their balance. Witnesses are pressured to make statements calculated to shame me.

I have given a more detailed explanation with regard to several of the slanderous charges against me in letters I wrote to the Prime Minister on the 25th and 28th of August. I know that even at this moment, new lies are being concocted to be sold at slander bazaars throughout the country.

I fight for civil society, the rule of law and administrative transparency. And I strive to be true to these ideals in all my affairs and dealings. I have never asked to be treated preferentially. But I ask for justice, and I am certain of winning it if the enforcers of the law and the judicial system are true to the ethics and professionalism expected of them and are not subservient to either business or political interests.

I have never been frightened of accusations and I will face the charges against me. I was once accused of graft; so I called on the Anti-Corruption Agency to investigate me. I had no fear because I knew I was innocent. And then there was talk that I had used my position as Finance Minister to ensure allocation of company stocks to members of my family. So I sent out a directive to the department responsible to automatically reject any application for shares if it came from any member of my family.

I will fight. I have struggled for 30 years, first as a school boy, then a university student, then a youth activist and now a party member. I have faced all kinds of adversity, none of them small. I have led students in championing the poor, I have fought for the honour of the Malay language, and I have struggled to spread Islamic consciousness and to urge moral rectitude among the youth. I have endured two years of imprisonment without trial because I stood up for the rights of starving farmers in Baling. I don’t want tears. I want the torch to keep burning. I want the brothers who come after me to raise that torch higher and higher. I don’t want my brothers and my children to live in fear.

Fate is in God’s hands, but striving is in the hands of men and women. Our responsibility is to labour on. Justice will not come as a gift. We must fight for it. God will not change a people’s condition until they change that which is in them. If there is fear in our heart, we will live in fear. If we fire up that fighting spirit in our breast, we will receive the determination and strength to establish justice and vanquish injustice. We need power to eradicate corruption. We need power against nepotism. We need power against cronyism, oppression and victimisation.


We have only just celebrated our 41st year of independence. But merely celebrating freedom is not enough; it is more important to live it. We have to be free politically, economically, and culutrally. We must be free from foreign oppression. But what is the meaning of independence when foreign opression is replaced by oppression by your own people?

It is not enough to be free merely in the political sense; there must also be freedom from spiritual and mental servitude. We are all servants of God Almighty and we must all be free from servitude to other servants.

We must free ourselves from moral corruption and from love of wealth for our person, our family and our clan. We must be free from the tendency to backbite, slander and calumniate.

I call on all Malaysians--from among Umno and other political parties, the teenage generation, the youths and adults, all organisations—to abide in and promote this spirit. It is only in this spirit can we enter the 21st Century and the new millenium.

Anwar Ibrahim