Wednesday, April 24

Opposition leader’s ‘hand gesture politics’ backfires

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KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim often likes to portray himself to the world as Malaysia’s great crusader, peaceably agitating for change against a seemingly unbending, authoritarian regime.

After Bersih 2.0 last year, he played the victim quite persuasively, mobilising his friends in the foreign media to attack the government for taking “brutal action” against peaceful protesters.

But after his questionable role in Bersih 3.0, Anwar’s star appears to be waning.

In fact, things have gone downhill that — far from heralding him as a democrat — many are now accusing Anwar of inciting violence.

Video footages from Bersih 3.0 posted on YouTube shows Anwar making a curious rolling gesture with his hands to PKR deputy president Azmin Ali.

Within seconds, PKR supporters breached the police barricades and charged into Merdeka Square, prompting the police to respond with tear gas and water cannons to prevent a stampede.

In an interview with Radio Australia on Tuesday, Anwar denied that his hand gesture was a signal to protesters to breach the barricades, instead claiming implausibly that it meant, “negotiate with the police”.

People will make up their own mind about the truth, but so far, few outside observers appear convinced.

“Mr Anwar has some explaining to do”, was The Economist’s verdict – and, here in Malaysia, Anwar’s role in Bersih 3.0 has been similarly criticised by people from many ends of the political spectrum.

At a PKR press conference on Monday, independent filmmaker Benji Lim accused Anwar of endangering the lives of protesters, as well as jeopardising Bersih’s cause.

The protest “was completely hijacked by the opposition,” he exclaimed, before being bundled unceremoniously out of the room.

Even Bersih 3.0 chief organiser Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan has lamented Bersih’s politicisation by opposition leaders, telling journalists that she “cannot control what they say”.

Anwar has dismissed any criticism of his conduct.

Instead, at the press conference, he launched a bizarre attack on the government, accusing the Barisan Nasional leadership of behaving like Stalin and Hitler.

He went on to suggest his fate was comparable to a Nazi concentration camp victim — a claim made even more appalling because he was speaking on the exact anniversary of Hitler’s death.

This episode, whichever way you cut it, also raises broader questions about Anwar himself, and his opposition allies.

Can persons who hijack a peaceful rally for their personal political ends be fit to lead a nation of 28 million people?

Do they have a steady, prudent hand that we need to guide our country’s burgeoning economy?

Those who know the opposition politicians well say that what happened on April 28 was unsurprising.

This time round, the opposition politicians have been caught on film footages, which will bear witness to their actions.

Political observers say that Anwar has often been seen indulging in “hand gesture politics”, revelling in grand spectacles but offering voters little in terms of a detailed blueprint for transformation.

Finally, many would say, Anwar’s ‘hand gesture politics’ appear to have backfired.

Don’t be surprised to see him spend much of the coming weeks and months explaining what his Bersih hand gesture really meant. — Bernama