SINGAPORE – In a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg Television, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim spoke about his fragile coalition, the role of his family in the government and Malaysia’s desire to balance geopolitical competition between the United States and China.
Below is a transcript of the interview. Some questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity:
Q: Your political journey has been extraordinary to say the least. You were touted as the future prime minister of the country from as far back as 1997. More than 20 years on, how does it feel to finally be premier?
Waiting in the corridors of power is of course an experience by itself because you observe the players. It’s like King Lear with Cordelia looking at the stage and you learn from the strengths and weaknesses of your foes, and hopefully when you’re in office, you try and improve, and do your best to serve.
Q: You’ve inherited a nation that’s so divisive. You saw the first hung Parliament, a country tainted by the longstanding 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad) scandal. How do you regain credibility?
It’s not just 1MDB but this corruption is systemic, as I’ve said, which means it cuts across the whole spectrum of particularly the political elite, and therefore you have to set a good example. There are political leaders who are not there for money and avoid all cases of corruption, abuse. People are fed up with the situation and Malaysia shouldn’t be known for its financial scandals or malfeasance. It should be known for its vibrant, multiracial society with a capacity to move forward.
Q: So what can be done in the first 100 days of your government?
From the first day you must give a clear message: no more corruption, no more negotiating tenders, no more abuse; and you remain consistent for days and weeks and months and years. I’m sure the people will decide not only in your favour, but the favour of a new narrative, a new policy.
Q: No more corruption you say, and yet here you are tied up with Barisan Nasional whose party chief (Zahid Hamidi) faces multiple charges. Is there a disconnect there?
He has been investigated and charged – is undergoing trial and the court should decide independently. I made very clear that the courts are independent and I do not think I should prejudge the case. But it shouldn’t be just purely political. Why refer to him personally when I’ve said that the system is corrupt. There’re so many other political leaders who have been abusing their positions: former prime ministers, former finance ministers, by the hundreds and millions of dollars.
Q: Zahid Hamidi faces 47 counts of corruption. He is your deputy prime minister.
I’m not here to discuss his case. I am here to suggest that the court process must be independent and he must be given a chance – the fairness to be adjudicated by an independent, impartial court.
Q: What if you lose your deputy prime minister? What if Zahid is found guilty and sent to prison?
Let us move on. We have to work from day one, to ensure that the system that we have has good governance, and that the system is free from corrupt leaders. And I think to be fair, they have observed these rules now.
There’s not one trace I can find from any of my team now trying to squander through contracts or projects and I’m fine with that. People should judge me from the last two months.
Q: How stable is your government?
What is important is that it has been tested in Parliament and we secured a two-thirds majority which is stronger. I don’t need a two-thirds majority. I need a comfortable or strong majority.
There is no indication that there is friction within the coalition. For now, the government is stable. It has not been this stable for the last 10 to 15 years. That’s good enough for Malaysia.
Q: Some people are taking issue that your daughter Nurul Izzah is a senior adviser to economic and financial affairs. Your wife (Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail) is a Member of Parliament. Is that too much family in the government?
Azizah is in her own evolution. She is not just pampered. She struggled, stood the test with the party, with “reformasi” over the last 20 over years and she is now an ordinary member of Parliament. Is that a big deal?
Nurul Izzah is now an adviser. She’s qualified. She’s not being paid for the job. She’s someone I trust to help me out. She can deliver. She’s not abusing her position. She’s not using it to try and abscond some funds to give your cronies. That is a sickness and the rotten system we inherited, and she is there together with many other colleagues of mine to try and dismantle that.
Q: Is there too much competition against China?
We don’t have that problem. We would use our potential and whatever little influence to try and engage with everyone. We also express in private some of our concerns with China or the United States for that matter, but then overall we want to remain good friends to both.
Q: Who should bear the bulk of the responsibility for the rising antagonism between the US and China?
I don’t necessarily need to assess that because our hope is that there should be more engagement to resolve this outstanding problem, because the continued resentment and antagonism into these countries are affecting a smaller country like Malaysia and Asean adversely, so it is to our interest and to the international community if they can have an amicable resolution to this tense relationship.
Q: On Ukraine, do you see the need for President Zelensky to start negotiating earlier rather than later for the greater good of the world?
We have been consistently in favour of negotiations. However tough and difficult, you must never fear to negotiate. BLOOMBERG