Anwar Ibrahim explains initial concerns over Lim Guan Eng as finance minister
KUALA LUMPUR: Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto leader of the People’s Justice Party, or Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), told Channel NewsAsia on Wednesday (May 16) he had raised concerns about the appointment of Malaysia’s first ethnic Chinese finance minister in more than four decades.
However, he said, they have since been resolved.
Lim Guan Eng, the two-term Penang chief minister and the secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), was announced as finance minister on Saturday by new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Hours later, PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli issued a statement saying the posts were made without the party’s consensus, fuelling speculation that Lim’s ethnicity was one of the problems raised by Anwar’s wife and deputy prime minister designate Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
“It was not just her; I said, look you can have a Chinese but make sure that you have some discussions,” Anwar said in an interview on the day of his release from prison custody.
“You have to consult party leaders from the other component parties and understand if there are going to be ramifications, repercussions among the (ethnic majority) Malays.”
He added: “Because, other than the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, our support among the Malay base in the east coast is not impressive. So I think those are the considerations.”
Pakatan Harapan defeated former ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) on May 9 in Malaysia’s general election, but Kelantan and Terengganu were won by Islamist party Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS).
PAS and BN component party United Malays National Organisation, or UMNO, had accused Lim’s largely ethnic Chinese DAP as being anti-Islam in the lead up to the polls, charges the DAP have vehemently denied.
“Are we discounting the fact that Chinese can be finance minister? No, we are Pakatan Harapan,” said Anwar.
“I said, look, if you want to do it, there’s certain things you have to do first, that’s all. And finally, we supported him.”
Anwar pointed out that Lim and other DAP leaders had come to see Anwar hours after he was released, a sign of their reciprocal support.
He did acknowledge, however, that there was discontent about the cabinet minister appointment process among some party members.
“I said, you must allow Dr Mahathir to carry on as prime minister; it is his prerogative,” was his response to them.
Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia joined PKR’s alliance with DAP and Parti Amanah Negara in 2017 in a bid to oust BN, setting aside almost two decades of animosity.
PKR had been initially set up to oppose Mahathir and his administration after Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister in 1998 and then sent to jail the year after on convictions it decried as politically motivated.
Under their new pact, however, Anwar is expected to take over from Mahathir as prime minister in one to two years, if all goes to plan.
RUMOUR MILL WILL CONTINUE
Still, Anwar tells Channel NewsAsia there will be young leaders who will criticise the government – which they must be given room to do – as long as it is not calling for leaders to be overthrown.
The rumour mill, he added, would also continue to be active.
“You can’t stop these rumours, including that Wan Azizah wanted the premiership,” he said.
“Yes, Wan Azizah was offered the post by the king, not because of anything but because she has the most number of seats and all the candidates contested under the Keadilan banner – but she declined immediately (as it was agreed Mahathir was to take on the position)”.
Anwar added: “The king was saying, ‘I have not seen a political leader with no such ambition. I am so impressed and touched. The only thing she asked was to get back freedom for her husband’.”
Anwar said Malaysia’s king, Sultan Muhammad V, gave her his assurance – and tried to get Anwar freed from his 2015 sodomy conviction the very next day.
Anwar is set to join Pakatan Harapan leaders for a meeting to finalise seven cabinet member positions on Thursday morning.