Think Tank (2/2024)
Dr Ooi Kee Beng
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Reformasi, Perpaduan, Madani: Anwar Ibrahim’s Search for a Sense of Common Purpose
21 Mar 2024

The political journey of Anwar Ibrahim from the Reformasi to his present role as Prime Minister of the unity government that seeks a remedial alternative to the excesses in Malaysian politics of the previous two decades, was discussed at the seminar on 21 March 2024.

Dr Ooi Kee Beng, the Executive Director of Penang Institute, highlighted that when Anwar was sacked from his position as Deputy Prime Minister and jailed in 1998, this triggered the Reformasi movement that discursively advocated good governance, in contrast to the the cronyism, corruption and confrontational politics of Mahathirism. This dichotomy opened channels for political action and collaboration that came to determine a new path for Malaysian politics over the coming decades, especially with many Malaysians coming to recognise the need for reforms in the post-Mahathir era. As Prime Minister today, Anwar would be able to move in a new and hopeful direction for his country’s nation-building process. What he has to accomplish is to bring about economic growth and political stability.

Dr Ooi suggested that currently, there is a sense of common purpose in Malaysia whereby Anwar will seek to strive for discursive unification to transcend the debilitating politics of the last six decades. Thus, Anwar might seek to regionalise Malaysia’s nation-building, or even globalise its domestic discourses. Malaysia’s ASEAN chairmanship in 2025 and multilateral trade agreements can be useful mechanisms for facilitating this process to move Malaysia out of its discursive isolationism towards stronger international ties.

Domestically, as Dr Ooi discussed, the question remains as to whether Anwar’s administration has the capacity to steer a fragmented society embedded in divisive discourses towards sufficient development to sideline these debilitating tendencies. In the end, the legitimacy of the Anwar government may rest on whether he can attain a sense of common purpose for Malaysia as a whole.

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