My hope is Anwar will take Malaysia higher


I MET Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in 1970 when I went to University of Malaya with a group of Soviet students for an internship in the Malay language.

The interest in Soviet students was enormous, and the Malay Language Society decided to organise a forum called The Soviet Union Today. The hall, which could accommodate 300 people, was filled to the brim.

Literary luminaries Usman Awang, Keris Mas and Abdul Latif Mohiddin attended the forum. So did Anwar.

We (the organiser and I) talked about life in our country, and I had a difficult question about Islam. We prepared well. We brought a huge photo album from the embassy, which had pictures of former Indonesian president Sukarno praying in a Moscow mosque.

A heated discussion ensued, and our main opponent, as you might guess, was Anwar, who spoke passionately. He referred to international Islamic organisations, and said that Muslims in the USSR were not allowed to freely practise their faith. 

It seemed that we had exhausted all the arguments, and then my colleague Tanya Dorofeeva waded into the ideological discussion. She climbed onto the table and said: Well, what oath do I have to take to make you believe us?

Later, Anwar began to quickly gain positions in Umno. Not to mention popularity. Everyone was in a hurry to pay respects to the new favourite. 

At that time I worked in Kuala Lumpur as the second secretary of the USSR embassy. I remember the long queue of people who wanted to meet him on Hari Raya at his residence.

Diplomats were no exception. I had to stand in line for a long time before I managed to shake hands with him. At that time, the Russian-Malaysian Dictionary which I played a part in compiling had just come out. I gave a copy to Anwar as a gift.

One of Anwars most important undertakings as education minister was the introduction of a standard pronunciation for  the Malay language.

Teachers were retrained, new textbooks and cassettes were produced, and television announcers learned to speak in a new way. Later, however, this initiative was abandoned when unexpected and dramatic changes took place in Anwars career.

The arrest and imprisonment of Anwar caused great dissatisfaction in the intelligentsia and followers of the reform movement.

I see his wife, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, as a courageous woman who constantly supports her husband.

Someone may say Anwar's long and thorny path to the political Olympus is over, but it is not. There is difficult work ahead.

I congratulate Anwar on his appointment as prime minister and hope that he will justify the faith of the voters, the confidence of the king and will do everything for the prosperity of his country and people.

The writer is a former lecturer at Universiti Malaya

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