Sunday, January 11, 2009

Anwar and the PKR

Before coming to Malaysia I familiarized myself with what's what and who's who in Malaysian politics. On Friday I got to hear the charismatic leader of Malaysia'a opposition coalition speak at a rally in Kuching.

The coalition of parties that currently governs Malaysia has been in power for over fifty years. Anwar Ibrahim heads the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People's Justice Party) which is one of three parties that have banded together to try to defeat the ruling coalition. PKR's coalition, by the way, is the distinctly pro-American one of the two. Anwar is the hottest name on the Malaysian political scene, and he's doing his best to associate himself with Barack Obama, as is apparent from his slogan on the banner in front of which he speaks.

While I waited outside the event for my friend to show up and let me know how to get in, the narrow entrance gate swung wide open to let a truck pass through, and I decided not to miss my opportunity. I heard later that I was supposed to have bought a ticket but that they sold out long before and the organizers ended up letting in many of the ticketless anyway. I found an empty seat in the back and talked with some people sitting around me. At one point some guys in the "Muslim Food" section invited me to fill the empty seat at their table and eat with them. They hardly spoke any English, but I enjoyed their company and tried out some of my Malay. They were quite jovial, asking how old I was and if I was married and then making fun of me a bunch, I think. I was the only white person I saw all night at this event. (Regretably, I didn't get a good photo showing the immense size of the crowd.)

Several politicians from PKR made speeches, switching between Malay, English, and sometimes Mandarin. Then Anwar made his way through the crowd of people and photographers to the stage accompanied by the Olympics on NBC theme song. His speech (2nd picture below) was very good, humorous, and hard-hitting against the current government. Afterwards, all the big shots together on stage sung PKR's own theme song and then celebrated that 3,000 more members of a ruling-coalition party were switching over to PKR membership.

The event wasn't dissimilar to Republican shindigs I've attended, but it certainly had it's own Malaysian peculiarities. Malaysian citizens, I think, have at least one thing to be grateful for: the variety in their politicians' wardrobes. Have you Americans ever seen your congressman or president in a snazzy batik shirt like those above?