Family of jailed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim pledge to 'take over his mantle'

KUALA LUMPUR - Anwar Ibrahim may be languishing in jail, but the family of Malaysia's opposition leader pledged today to "take over his mantle" with his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail now set to chair the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition, replacing her husband, as she has done so many times before.

Although not the same as the role of opposition leader in Parliament - an indication of candidacy for prime ministership - the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president's role as mediator and figurehead for the ideologically disparate alliance was decided last night, according to PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar.

"Yesterday, the PR secretariat council agreed that Wan Azizah will be a permanent chair for our meeting," said the lawmaker, who is also Anwar's daughter, at a press conference at Anwar's family home.

Ms Nurul Izzah shot into the limelight after the then deputy prime minister was sacked from government in 1998 and jailed. Her siblings are now expected to take a more prominent role, with younger sister Nurul Nuha appointed to spearhead an international campaign calling for Anwar's release.

"As his children we will take over his mantle and continue his struggle, hopes and ambition," the 30-year-old told the press conference, while unsuccessfully choking back tears. 

Ms Nurul Izzah explained that the March To Freedom campaign "should not end when my father's freedom is secured", but that it would focus on civil liberties and highlight political incarceration in Malaysia and seek the help of foreign diplomatic pressure while lawyers worked on a potential judicial review of Anwar's five-year sentence.

Since the verdict was passed down by the Federal Court yesterday, the likes of the United States, European Union, Australia and Canada have expressed concern for rule of law and the judiciary in Malaysia.

Anwar was accused of sodomy by his former aide in 2008, just months after he led the opposition to record gains and denied the ruling Barisan Nasional a two-thirds supermajority in Parliament for the first time since Malaysia gained independence in 1957.

shannont@sph.com.sg