Anwar’s wife out to preserve husband’s legacy

Anwar’s wife out to preserve husband’s legacy

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov. 26 Kyodo In the last general election, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail followed her husband, then Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, on the campaign trail.

Now, four years later, her husband is in jail for corruption — a charge she and many others claim was a trumped-up sham — and Wan Azizah herself is trying to win the seat her husband held for 17 years, Permatang Pauh in Penang.

The 47-year-old, Ireland-trained ophthalmologist is matched in Permatang Pauh against Anwar’s former political secretary and childhood friend Ibrahim Saad from the ruling National Front (BN) coalition.

Since the election campaign began a week ago, Wan Azizah, as head of the fledgling National Justice Party (Keadilan), has been crisscrossing the country, sometimes visiting three states a day, trying to draw support to her party’s candidates, many of whom, just like herself, are contesting their first election.

In all her campaign speeches, Wan Azizah includes messages from Anwar besides relating the ordeal she has faced since Anwar was sacked in September 1998.

Her tales often move women in the audience to tears.

“The past one year has been hectic, sad, challenging, hopeful.

In my prayers, (I ask) that my husband will be freed at the end of this ordeal,” the mother of six said.

Wan Azizah is also often accompanied by either one of her two elder daughters Nurul Izzah or Nurul Nuha during the campaign rounds.

“They signify the idealism of youth. They represent the future generation,” she says of her “Reformasi Princesses.” Of her chances in her maiden election, Wan Azizah said “I don’t know my chances. I have to leave it to the electorate. I think it is too early to say, what with the onslaught of the media (being) rather one-sided, if I may add.” During the campaign, the tightly controlled media has been running myriad anti-opposition advertisements, including one that questions Wan Azizah’s relationship with her husband of 19 years.

Under the banner, “Even she doesn’t trust her husband,” the advertisement picks a comment out an interview she gave to Australian television in Dec. 1998 in which the interviewer asked her if she trusted Anwar and Syamsidar, the wife of Anwar’s former political secretary Mohamed Azmin Ali, “absolutely.” “Don’t trust anybody absolutely,” she replied.

“If she can’t trust him, can we? Vote for BN,” the advertisement continues.

Syamsidar and Anwar were alleged to have had a sexual affair.

“It was a general remark. I find the (ad’s) connotation a bit mischievous. If I don’t trust (him) why am I still here? To the extent that I have gone through in my life, I think it’s very unfair,” Wan Azizah said.

But she dismissed the advertisement as “just another tactic” of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s coalition that she has to put up with now that she leads an opposition party and she and Anwar have become powerful symbols, the rallying point, for the opposition and people seeking change from Mahathir’s uninterrupted 18 years in power.

Earlier this year, the fundamentalist Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), the predominantly Chinese-Malaysian Democratic Action Party (DAP), the socialist People’s Party of Malaysia (PRM) and Keadilan joined forces to fight head-on against the formidable BN, which has ruled the country since independence 42 years ago.

On suggestions the opposition coalition is fraying, Wan Azizah said, “There is unity. We know our differences. We enter into this working relationship knowing our differences.” “There is a perception there are two different, very extreme groups coming together. I think that is not a true picture. We found that we have more common goals rather than harped on our differences.

Of course we have our different religions and our different ethnic groups, (but) this is Malaysia,” she said.

“There’s potential in the Malaysian people, they are trying to be resilient in the wake of such autocratic rule. The people’s spirit will prevail.”

COPYRIGHT 1999 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning