Malaysia’s Anwar returns to frontline politics in big poll win

Malaysia's People's Justice Party president and leader of the Pakatan Harapan coalition Anwar Ibrahim waves after winning in a by-election in Port Dickson. (AFP)
Updated 14 October 2018

Malaysia’s Anwar returns to frontline politics in big poll win

  • Winning the seat was a key requirement for Anwar to succeed 93-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad
  • Mahathir returned to the premiership this year after a shock election win

PORT DICKSON, Malaysia: Anwar Ibrahim won an overwhelming mandate in a parliamentary by-election Saturday, setting the stage for his return to frontline Malaysian politics and sealing the once-jailed opposition figure’s remarkable resurrection.

Winning the seat was a key requirement for Anwar to succeed 93-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who jailed his former protege and heir apparent on sodomy and corruption charges in 1998 when their relationship soured.

Mahathir returned to the premiership this year after a shock election win, saying he would stay in power for only two years before handing the reins to Anwar.

Figures from the Election Commission showed Anwar got more than 71 percent of the total votes cast in a seven-way contest — which included a former aide who lodged the sodomy charges that landed Anwar in prison for a second time in 2014.

“I am happy with the results. Allah bless us all,” Anwar, 71, said after the victory, which marks the charismatic politician’s stunning political comeback from prison to Parliament.

Anwar was in prison when he forged an unlikely alliance with Mahathir in a bid to unseat then-Prime Minister Najib Razak, who had called elections for May amid massive corruption allegations.

Anwar said late Saturday he told Mahathir about the win and the prime minister was “pleased with the result.”

“In Parliament, I will focus on assisting our MPs to embark on carrying out effective reforms,” he declared.

But James Chin, a Malaysia specialist at the University of Tasmania, said he expects Anwar to be appointed to the Cabinet soon.

“A person like Anwar cannot be a backbencher for long. He has to be in the Cabinet,” Chin told AFP.

“I can guarantee you that people will now be calling this government the Mahathir-Anwar administration, a throwback to the 1980s.”

Underscoring the drama of Saturday’s vote, one of Anwar’s six challengers was Saiful Bukhari Azlan, the ex-aide who had accused him of sodomy. Saiful got only 82 votes.

Polls opened under cloudy skies at 8 a.m. (0000 GMT) and closed nine and a half hours later in the sleepy southern coastal town of Port Dickson, home to a sizeable ethnic Chinese community that has traditionally been one of Anwar’s pillars of support.

“We are voting for the next premier. We need an influential leader to bring long-overdue progress to Port Dickson,” said 60-year-old voter Lee Tian Hock.

“This morning, I prayed to Allah for a big win for Anwar,” retired truck driver Mat Taib, a member of the country’s ethnic Malay majority, told AFP.

“I want him to be our eighth prime minister.”

As Anwar hugged his wife and partymates, dozens of supporters erupted into shouts of “Reformasi” — his battle cry while in opposition —  after he was declared winner.

There had been little doubt the charismatic politician would win the seat, which was vacated after a member of the ruling coalition stepped down to pave the way for Anwar’s return.

But he campaigned hard to secure the multi-racial constituency, promising voters development, clean government and a boost to local tourism.

Anwar did not discuss the sodomy accusations on the campaign trail. He has always maintained the charges were trumped up to derail his political career.

But he has campaigned doggedly on the multibillion-dollar graft scandal at state fund 1MDB, which led to dozens of corruption charges against former leader Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor.

Both face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in jail in a scandal that saw Najib’s coalition lose office for the first time since the country declared independence from Britain in 1957.

Political heavyweights including Mahathir have campaigned for Anwar during a comeback that was unthinkable even six months ago.

The duo went onstage together at one campaign event, prompting wild cheers from supporters.

After he was dumped as finance minister and jailed in the 1990s, Anwar led a reformist opposition movement while fighting to overturn his convictions.

Mahathir, his mentor turned tormentor and now ally, came back from retirement to lead the Alliance of Hope coalition that won power in May.

‘America First’ vs ‘Make in India’ as Modi hosts Trump

Updated 23 February 2020

‘America First’ vs ‘Make in India’ as Modi hosts Trump

  • Visit will be big on optics with Modi, Trump appearing at a rally and the US president with First Lady watching the sunset at the Taj Mahal
  • US wants to sell more medical devices like stents to India

New Delhi: Trade ties between the United States and India have long been problematic but under “America First” President Donald Trump and “Make in India” Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they have worsened.
While eclipsed by his trade war with China, Trump’s tussle with India, and New Delhi’s prickly reaction, has made a major pact unlikely during the American president’s visit to the world’s fifth-largest economy from Monday.
“They’ve been hitting us very, very hard for many, many years,” Trump said of India ahead of the 36-hour trip to Ahmedabad, Agra and New Delhi accompanied by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others.
Here, AFP looks at the main issues of contention between the two countries on trade, which hit almost $145 billion in 2018, with the US deficit of $25 billion — much to Trump’s annoyance:

India has long had a penchant for protectionism. Its import tariffs are among the world’s highest. Under Modi, facing slowing growth, accelerating inflation and a widening budget deficit, this hasn’t changed.
Under pressure from farmers and fearing yet more cheap Chinese imports, Modi in November baulked at joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade pact including Asia’s main economies and China.
In recent months, Modi’s government has hiked duties on US imports, including on $600 million worth of Californian almonds as well as apples, steel and chemicals coming into Asia’s third-largest economy.
In its recent budget, the right-wing government raised tariffs on items such as shoes, children’s tricycles and furniture, irking Washington which canceled a visit by trade envoy Robert Lighthizer, reports said.
Plans to force foreign firms to store Indian consumers’ data locally have also irked US businesses, as have e-commerce regulations hitting firms like Amazon and Walmart.
Modi’s “Make in India” drive is aimed at getting foreign companies to manufacture in the South Asian country and so reduce imports — mirroring Trump’s “America First” mantra.
New Delhi’s actions “have made the protectionism concerns in India even greater,” a senior US official said ahead of Trump’s arrival.

However, many of India’s recent moves have been in response to actions by the Trump administration, starting with its 2018 decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from India and other countries.
India is the world’s third-largest steelmaker, and its exports of steel products have tumbled 46 percent according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Exporters of mechanical and electrical machinery and auto parts have also suffered.
Last year, Trump added to the pain by suspending India’s privileges under the decades-old US Generalized System of Preferences program that had allowed it to ship $6 billion in goods duty-free.
The US wants to sell more medical devices like stents to India while US dairy farmers — a key voter base for Trump ahead of his re-election push in November — want greater access for their products.
India says it is worried American cows have been fed bovine extracts — a no-no in a country where most Hindus believe the animals are sacred. Modi relies heavily on support from his farmers too.

United by mistrust of China, Trump’s visit will see deals in defense and other areas, including potentially the supply of six nuclear reactors, the fruit of a landmark atomic accord in 2008.
The visit will be big on optics, with Modi and Trump appearing at a rally at the world’s largest cricket stadium and the US president and First Lady Melania watching the sunset at the Taj Mahal.
But the main “deliverable” that both strongmen want is a big trade deal, and in its absence they might instead strike a smaller agreement, according to press reports.
This could include India lowering duties on large-engine Harley-Davidson motorcycles — long a bugbear of Trump — and farm products like alfalfa hay and pecans, according to Bloomberg News.
“We would not like to rush into a deal, as the issues involved are complicated and there are many decisions which actually could affect or impact the lives of millions of people on the ground,” cautioned an Indian government spokesman.