The man to watch
Last Monday I did my duty (also a right) as a citizen of the Republic. The nearby Immaculate Conception gymnasium serves as the voting center in the community and here I cast my vote for our barangay officials.
Oftentimes we take our local officials for granted. But through the years, they have kept our streets free from vagrants who from time to time attempt to build dwellings on the sidewalk that eventually become permanent. The barangay team keeps track of their presence and moves them out. We are grateful for their work.
The barangay also tried to improve the traffic situation in our place by putting up “No Parking” signs along streets that are already narrow. But after a while, they were simply ignored. It appears to be a serious problem all over Quezon City with streets being used as permanent parking spaces. Some city councilors have practically commandeered the pedestrian walk around their houses as parking space for their vehicles. If those at the top take all kinds of liberties, what can the poor barangay official do about the problem?
Someone expressed the view that if you don’t vote, you have forfeited your right to criticize the government. A violet stain on my right forefinger allows me to say a few words. Our officials must set the right example if the community is expected to toe the line.
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Two weeks ago, a stunning political upset took place in Malaysia with the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition that has governed the country since independence in 1957, being swept out of office by an opposition bloc led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Mahathir, 92, previously served as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, or a period of 22 years. His coalition won 112 seats, giving them outright majority in parliament aside from winning the popular vote by a margin of close to 1.7 million.
Mahathir’s deputy in the new government is Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. She happens to be the wife of Anwar Ibrahim who had been serving time in prison on sodomy charges widely believed to be politically motivated. Recently, the King of Malaysia issued him a royal pardon, transforming the former prisoner into Malaysia’s leader-in-waiting.
In 1994, the late Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. invited me to dinner at his home in Ayala Heights in Quezon City. The guest of honor was the visiting deputy prime minister and finance minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, at that time, the heir apparent of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Anwar who was accompanied by his wife, Dr. Wan Azizah, an ophthalmologist, was among friends enjoying their company and feeling very much at home. How could any one at this gathering predict that four years later, Anwar would be stripped of his positions as deputy prime minister and finance minister, arrested on five charges of sodomy and corruption, thrown in jail and subjected to police brutality resulting in a badly bruised left eye? News reports quoted Mahathir as saying that the wound may have been self-inflicted. Try giving yourself a black eye.
In 1974, Anwar had also been imprisoned under Malaysia’s draconian Internal Security Act that allows indefinite detention without the filing of charges for leading student demonstrations protesting government farm policies in the state of Kedah. In 1979, he would lead demonstrations against the Soviet Embassy in Kuala Lumpur following the invasion of Afghanistan.
Anwar was born in August 1947 to a middle-class Malay family in the predominantly Chinese state of Penang. He graduated from the University of Malaya with a bachelor’s degree in Malay Studies. During his student days, he was president of the Malayan Language Society which he used as a platform for his pro-Malay views. It was around this time that a rising young politician named Mahathir Mohamad was expelled from the United Malay National Organization by Tunku Abdul Rahman for a controversial book titled “The Malay Dilemma.” In the book, Mahathir stressed the need for new laws that would permit Malays to better compete against the Chinese. For this breach of party discipline, he was kicked out of the ruling party. One of Mahathir’s few defenders was Anwar, and this would be the start of what has been more of a father-son relationship that would bring both men to the heights of power in Malaysian politics.
When Mahathir became prime minister in 1981, he brought Anwar in as a deputy minister in his office. This was followed by several Cabinet appointments that culminated as finance head. In 1993, Anwar assumed the post of deputy prime minister, making him next in line for the position held by his mentor.
In 1995, Malaysia hosted a regional conference on the life of our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. Anwar was the moving spirit behind the unprecedented tribute to Rizal. In his remarks at the Kuala Lumpur meeting, Anwar’s subject was “Jose Rizal and the Asian Renaissance.” He declared that “only a vibrant and functioning civil society can minimize, if not totally eliminate, excesses related to power and wealth. Only a vibrant and functioning society can provide the framework for a continuous battle against abuse of power, corruption, and moral decay. The ‘social cancer’ as diagnosed by Rizal is still very much with us, albeit different in form and gravity. What Rizal meant in the political and economic domains, is that the exercise of power must be guided by moral ideals.”
As financial turmoil swept the region, relations between Mahathir and his deputy begun to deteriorate. Anwar wanted a tight monetary policy as espoused by the International Monetary Fund while Mahathir preferred the opposite, including fiscal pump-priming by way of increased spending on public works. Anwar’s frequent calls for an end to corruption and cronyism raised the level of conflict between the two until finally he was sacked from both his positions in government and later arrested in a lightning raid on his residence.
Today Anwar Ibrahim waits in the wings. His former tormentor, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has publicly stated that he will remain in office for only a year, possibly two years. He will then turn over the reins of power to his one-time prisoner, Anwar Ibrahim, marking the beginning of a new era in Malaysia’s history.
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