Home in The Tropics

Daughter of political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim, Izzah tells the story of women that are fighting for Malaysia's freedom.

Malaysia is home to me. It is where I was born. The country I love,cherish, at times cry for.

I love everything about Malaysia except its corrupt executives led by one man surrounded by a long list of endless scandals at the face of Malaysians’ growing hardship and rising cost of living. Or some other bigoted individuals including those remaining in Malaysia’s cabinet.

A few months ago, I found myself in Oslo, for this hugely splendid – in both spirit and form – freedom forum. There, I further emboldened my mind that one of the next step will be writing for this meaningful project that is Words in the Bucket.

I don’t have a sordid nor necessarily tragic story to tell you. But it has silvers of sadness ; set in the tropics.

I am guessing in a world post Beirut and Paris’ senseless killings, Syria’s ongoing suffering – inclusive of those brought upon by Assad, and Sisi’s destruction of democracy in Egypt – nothing would ever come close to the harrowing truths of murder and evil.

But shades of grey keeps us on our toes. Lest we are left to living as though the world and the future stopped to matter as soon as we traverse beyond our doors and confines of comfort.

As my father, Anwar Ibrahim, enters his fourth foray into politically motivated imprisonment, I had wanted to tell you the story of courageous and brave Malaysian women.

Allow me to inspire you as we end the year, to share with you that the largest demonstration to be held in Malaysia in recent times, lasting 48 hours, all peaceful and without provoking even one shot of water cannon – was spearheaded by a woman.

Maria Chin – who was appointed as the chairperson of “Bersih 2.0 ” – a coalition of NGOs advocating free and fair elections – managed to capture the imagination of more than 250 thousand Malaysians from various walks of life – in a gathering demanding – the following 5 things for Malaysia:

1. A Clean Government (Kerajaan yang Telus)
2.The Right to Dissent (Hak untuk Membantah)
3. Strengthening the Parliamentary Democracy (Memperkukuhkan Demokrasi Berparlimen)
4. Saving the Economy of Malaysia(Menyelamatkan Ekonomi Malaysia)
5. Resignation of the Prime Minister, Najib Razak (Perletakan Jawatan Perdana Menteri, Najib Razak)

And true to its authoritarian nature, Malaysia’s ruling party proceeded with lightning speed to press charges against her, along with scores of legislators and Malaysians in general who participated in the said protest – despite the right to do so in accordance with the freedoms outlined in the Malaysian Constitution.

With Malaysia’s many entanglements and flirtations with crises , financial scandals and tragedy, you learn to appreciate the small miracles that affects the lives and the future of Malaysians. You appreciate the heroes that stem the tide against the injustices that drives Malaysians further into doom and gloom. People like Maria Chin, a woman who drowns out the voices of men, are the ones we should hail as catalysts of change.

My mother Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail was at the center of this fight many years ago and still is when my father was thrown into jail on the back of trumped up, politically motivated charges designed to humiliate and remove him from the Malaysian political landscape forever.

My mother was never a politician by design. She prefered to be in the position to help people on the ground, by performing her duties as an ophthalmologist.

Back in 1999, after the removal of my father, she spearheaded the movement, that later formed the basis of KEADILAN, a multiracial party, where she was chosen as party’s president. Under her guidance, the party managed to win 5 seats in the 1999 General Elections, the first elections contested by the party. She was also Opposition Leader in the 2008 General Elections that denied Barisan Nasional, the right wing political party in my country, their traditional two thirds majority in parliament, for the first time in history.

This is an amazing feat, considering that she had to play the role of not only a mother, but also a father during those years that my father was jailed.

Since then, for the first time in history, Malaysia has seen a woman being appointed as a speaker of the State Assembly Hall of Selangor, Hannah Yeoh, not to mention more than thirty percent women representation in the state government ministerial lineup.

Malaysia also saw one of its own as recipient to America’s International Women of Courage Awards in 2009 – Dato Ambiga Sreenevasan – former Bar Council President and predecessor to Maria Chin in helming Bersih.

As for Maria Chin, due to the influence that she wields, the government has started using all avenues to charge her.

As stated by Amnesty International’s South East Asia campaigns director Josef Benedict : the move highlights a wider, vindictive push to silence others who take to the streets to voice their opposition.

But we must not be silenced. There will be no backing down. We must soldier on and continue this fight. The fight for freedom of choice, the fight for freedom of speech and the fight for equality.

Maria, my mother and Hannah are not alone. There is a long list of courageous young women leading the charge and demanding for change – from the political, legal and the larger scenes of activism.

But suffice to say, the ones named are merely the first few silver linings of hope in Malaysia’s murky path towards authoritarianism. More silver linings will appear come 2016 and as the seasons change.

And soon, we shall truly be known as the true blue democratic tropics .

Categories
Human Rights
Izzah Anwar Nurul

Nurul Izzah Anwar is a Malaysian politician and the daughter of Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia and the current leader of KeADILan (People’s Justice Party). After earning her Masters in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University in 2007, Anwar entered the world of politics and began campaigning against the Malaysian government on behalf of her father, a prominent opposition leader, who has been systematically targeted by the government and jailed numerous times. When Anwar Ibrahim was sentenced to five years in jail in March 2015, Anwar spoke on his behalf during a debate in the Malaysian Parliament. She is currently an MP for KeADILan.

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