An Echelon Media Company
Tuesday November 29th, 2022

Truth, In The Face Of Cremation

BITTER MEMORIES – Workers clearing up after a Muslim shop in the Minuwangoda market was vandalized and set on fire 3 weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks/Pathum Dhananjajana – EconomyNext

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s expected fallout with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva is serious. The Government is looking for a scapegoat to blame the fallout on someone, and this year it is likely to be blamed on the Muslims because of the cremation controversy. The Government could sail through the next two years with this rhetoric, making the man on the street forget the other issues that weigh him down.

It is expected that the Organization of Islamic Countries will vote against the resolution brought in by the core group at OHCHR and will favour Sri Lanka. Many civil activists see this as a repeat of the treachery to democracy by the six MPs from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the All Ceylon Makkal Congress. This infamous six who are seen as betrayers of Democracy for casting their vote for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution are today like the Areca nut, stuck between the blades of its cutter.

Ironically, geopolitics between India, Pakistan and China will be the deciding factor and not religion, which will determine burial rights for Sri Lankan citizens. Imran Khan is expected today 23rd and the Muslim community pinned on him their hopes on gaining their legitimate right to bury their Covid dead. Imran Khan’s loud rhetoric on Islamophobia by the West is being put to the test in Sri Lanka, and his stand on Muslim burial rights will expose him to the world when his Islamic stand may be compromised for geopolitical reasons. There is no doubt about his ability to garner the support of the Organization of Islamic Countries and it is believed that his visit is to discuss the strategy in Geneva this February and March 2021. Muslims and even Christians wait with bated breath to see if his visit would result in them being able to bury their loved ones, or their hope will be cremated. Will the Rajapaksa Government offer him a Muslim burial on a bouquet or a wreath. That’s a million-dollar question for Muslims in Sri Lanka.

IMPORTANT VISIT – Imran Khan Prime Minister of Pakistan champions Muslims around the world/Facebook.com

There is absolutely no science behind the denial of burial and even the Prime Minister had to eat humble pie after he announced in Parliament that burial rights would be granted. The Technical Committee appointed by the Ministry of Health and headed by Dr Channa Perera seems to more powerful than the Prime Minister and the Parliament. What an insult to the illustrious political career of President Mahinda Rajapaksa spanning over fifty years.

The absolute majority of the 6.9 million who voted for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) did so only because of the experienced campaigner President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The nation expected him to retire after the disastrous defeat in 2015 when he contested the presidential elections, but the admirable warrior bounced back and led his party to victory by winning the elections for his younger sibling President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution brought in by the Maithri-Ranil Government deprived him to contest the presidential election for the 3rd time. He proved his popularity and political acumen by re-entering Parliament as a Member and taking over as Prime Minister. However, one wonders if he kicked himself by introducing the 20th Amendment which stripped the power the Parliament had after the 19th Amendment.

Muslim bashing has been the modus operandi of political powers that held sway in Sri Lanka post-2009, starting from the Digana riots to the aftermath of the April 21st bombing in 2019. The last two elections saw probably the worst racist campaigns in Sri Lanka’s history. Muslims were barred from nominations except one who was close to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. This strategy worked, with 6.9 million voting them to power, influenced by racist ‘save the nation’ rhetoric spewed by certain politicians, monks and media, who had their own agenda to fulfil. The terror of 21/4 was apportioned fully on the entire Muslim community with the supposed links to ISIS by the bombers who had called themselves Muslim. The Muslims have never had any conflict with the Catholics and Christians in this country, and there was absolutely no Islamic cause for any terror by Muslims. The Muslim community even refused Islamic burial rites for the terrorists as Islam totally forbids killing innocents even during a war. They were buried by the authorities with no religious rites by the Muslim Community.

St Sebestian’s Church in Katuwapitiya minutes after the blast on Easter Sunday 2019/ WhatsApp image

With the Muslim bashing that was orchestrated, they rode to a comfortable victory at the Presidential elections, cashing in on the unfounded fear the election rhetoric whipped up, that Muslims will take over Sri Lanka if a strong government does not hold the reins of power.

With an impressive victory of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, the Muslim bashing continued with campaigns for one country one law, depriving not only Muslims, but also other minorities of their personal laws which affected only their personal lives, and which did not impede on the Common Law which overrides all personal laws anyway.

With the COVID pandemic bringing the whole world to its knees, the racists found a new issue to attack the Muslims and Christians by denying the burial of Covid dead or suspected deaths due to Covid. Islam forbids cremation and insists that a body should be handled very gently and buried. With the forced cremation policy, nearly 300 Muslims have been denied their religious right of burial. All engagement with Government authorities by Muslim civil, religious and business groups have totally failed.

The first Muslim COVID death occurred on the 30th March 2020, and the Quarantine Act in force allowed burial or cremation. Some racist elements denied burial claiming that the Coronavirus can contaminate groundwater sources. In spite of the lack of scientific evidence for this unfounded belief and thousands dying of contagious diseases being buried throughout history, forced cremation still continues. Almost 300 Muslims have died of Covid so far, of over 350 plus Covid deaths in the country. The disproportionate numbers in relation to the demographics in the country indicate the need for research on another social issue that may be looming to haunt Sri Lanka.

A Muslim boy holds up a placard protesting the compulsory cremation of Covid dead/Journalists for Democracy

The COVID 19 virus was first identified in December 2019 and all the countries of the world allowed the burial of those who died of COVID-19 infection. The Ministry of Health Provisional Clinical Practice Guidelines on COVID-19 Suspected and Confirmed Patients dated 27th March 2020 allowed for the burial of dead bodies under certain conditions.

Four days later, on 31st March this was changed, disallowing burial and requiring that all COVID-19 victims be cremated. (The Extraordinary Gazette notification no. 2170/8 of 11th April 2020.)

This denied the right for Muslims and Christians (and some from the Buddhist/Tamil communities) to bury their dead according to their religious teachings, cultural practices or personal wishes. This position of the Government is unscientific and absolutely wrong due to the following reasons.

The WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION in its guidelines dated 24th March 2020 regarding the disposal of COVID-19 infected bodies have clearly stated burial as one of the safe methods of disposal. The document states the claims that the virus spread directly through groundwater have not been scientifically substantiated and there is no indication that the virus could be transmitted through drinking water.

The World Health Organization (WHO), Center for Disease Control and Prevention of United States (CDC) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC) have issued clear and extensive guidelines on handling dead bodies for cremation or burial.

On 24th December 2020, the Secretary to the Ministry of Health of the Sri Lanka Government appointed an EXPERTS TEAM of the country’s lead Immunologists, Virologists and Microbiologists to provide their recommendations on whether burial can be allowed.

The Experts Team in their report clearly stated that the virus cannot replicate in a dead body and the remaining virus would die over a period of time. It stated that the virus infection is not a water-borne disease, and therefore contamination of water is very remote. The Experts Team recommended cremation or burial with guidelines. They also emphasized that the dignity of the dead and their families should be respected and protected.

The COLLEGE OF COMMUNITY PHYSICIANS OF SRI LANKA (CCPSL), one of the leading medical institutions in their positional paper, voiced their specialist opinion. It stated that with more than 80 million global infection cases and 1.7 million deaths, there is no evidence in the nearly 85,000 published scientific literature on COVID-19 that the virus was transmitted through a dead body. Further, the spread of the virus directly through groundwater has not been scientifically substantiated. They concluded that cremation or burial should be allowed within the strict guidelines recommended by the Ministry of Health. Each citizen of Sri Lanka should be allowed to be cremated or buried as per their wish and the family’s desire within the strict guidelines recommended by the Ministry of Health.

The virus may spread first, if at all, through hospital sewage, waste from isolation and quarantine centres, and faecal-oral transmission, if it was to spread from dead bodies.

The SRI LANKA MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (SLMA) another leading medical institution in their response to the issue of COVID 19 death management in Sri Lanka had expressed their views in favour of burial.

There are no reports of the virus being infective via groundwater. Even in the case of severe waterborne diseases like Cholera, the burial of infected dead bodies was allowed. It is unlikely that the virus could remain infectious within a dead body for any significant period of time. The Council of the Sri Lanka Medical Association is of the view that the burial of COVID-19 dead bodies could be permitted in Sri Lanka.

Further, it stated that the disposal of COVID-19 dead bodies has affected ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka. In view of the cultural diversity of Sri Lanka, it is essential to have a proper policy for the disposal of the dead which is acceptable to all. Almost 200 countries in the world have buried the COVID-19 infected dead bodies and are continuing to do so. There is not a single evidence that groundwater has been contaminated so far due to burying Covid dead.

UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (OHCHR)

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in its latest report dated 27 January 2021, titled ‘Sri Lanka on the alarming path towards a recurrence of grave human rights violations, reports as follows:

“The UN High Commissioner is deeply concerned by the trends emerging over the past year, which may represent early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation. With regard to burial, the High Commissioner notes that WHO guidance stresses that “cremation is a cultural choice.”

As stated above, the World Health Organization in its guidelines dated 24 March 2020 regarding the disposal of COVID-19 infected bodies have clearly laid down that burial as one of the safe methods of disposal.

UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS – The following four UN Special Rapporteurs:

(i) Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief;
(ii) the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;
(iii) the Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and,
(iv) the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

Their communication to the President of Sri Lanka stated as follows:

“We are concerned that the amendment is inconsistent with the Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 guideline provided by the World Health Organization (WHO Guideline). Furthermore, we are concerned about the lack of consideration provided and the lack of sensitivity in the MoH Guideline to different communities and their religious and cultural practices.” The Special Rapporteurs reiterated the point that WHO Guideline provides that people who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated. (Annexure 9).

HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF SRI LANKA

The Commission on 20 November 2020, highlighted that any restriction on a fundamental right, even at a time of crisis, must be imposed under strict justifications. It recommended permitting the burial of bodies of persons who succumb to the Covid-19 virus while adhering to required health guidelines. It also urged the Government to ensure compliance with the Constitution of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. (Annexure 10).

CIVIL SOCIETY, RIGHTS ACTIVISTS AND CIVIL ORGANISATIONS

Recognized individuals consisting of professionals, academics, lawyers, specialists, intellects, reverend priests and 29 civil society organizations issued a statement urging the Government to permit the burial of the COVID-19 dead bodies.

They said that the Government’s ongoing forcible cremation policy without proper scientific evidence has caused much suffering and grievance to certain religious groups. The statement called upon the Government to enable those from religious minorities to bury their dead.

The above provides a synopsis of the ongoing human rights violation by the forced cremation policy of the Sri Lanka Government which is not based on science, hurting the sentiments of Muslims, Christians and other citizens who choose to bury their loved ones, and dangerously hindering peaceful coexistence in Sri Lanka. (Colombo, February 23, 2021)

By Hilmy Ahamed

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  1. Mubarak Mohammed says:

    Thank you Mr. Hilmy, for your valuable information based on real facts. I have just finished commenting in another article as below: FYI which you too has confirmed, simple short, should make sense to the health authorities of Sri Lanka. “Cholera is a water-borne disease whereas Covid-19 is Air-borne.”
    I feel the Sri Lanka authorities are now a bit concerned once the burial of Covid-19 victims started it will be proved beyond doubt that all previously forced cremation is a blatant error.

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  1. Mubarak Mohammed says:

    Thank you Mr. Hilmy, for your valuable information based on real facts. I have just finished commenting in another article as below: FYI which you too has confirmed, simple short, should make sense to the health authorities of Sri Lanka. “Cholera is a water-borne disease whereas Covid-19 is Air-borne.”
    I feel the Sri Lanka authorities are now a bit concerned once the burial of Covid-19 victims started it will be proved beyond doubt that all previously forced cremation is a blatant error.

Sri Lanka inflation expectations said to be “very high”: ex-Governor

RESULTS: Sri Lanka’s central bank has made progress in putting the breaks on soaring inflation.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s inflation expectations are said to be “very high” though the price index has started to grow at a slower pace, former Central Bank Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy said.

“The IMF says inflation expectations are very high, even though inflation is coming down,” Coomaraswamy told an investment forum organized by CT CLSA Securities, a Colombo-based brokerage.

Participants of the forum who are in the central bank’s expectations survey should not just fill the questionnaire routinely but give some thought before doing so, he said.

Central bankers believe that expectations contribute to inflation and/or make their job harder, though critics say it yet another victim blaming ideology developed by Western Mercantilists to escape accountability for suppressing interest rates.

In the 1970s Great Inflation period US Presidents Nixon and Carter and their economic advisors in particular popularized several victim blaming ideologies including wage-price-spiral inflation (blame the unions), exogenous shocks (blame the OPEC cartel), speculators, among others, until Fed Governor Volcker came in and killed inflation with monetary tightening. (Blaming the Victims: The Government’s Theory of Inflation)

A central bank is the only agency that can create inflation or stop it.

The US Fed has also started to tighten monetary policy aggressively in 2022 putting the brakes on global commodity prices. The US Fed earlier blamed ‘supply chains’ as producers and shippers struggled to cope with the sudden demand exerted by stimulus checques and monetary easing. President Putin is still blamed.

Sri Lanka’s inflation (the rate of price increases) has slowed after rates were allowed to go up and some traded goods prices have fallen absolutely after the central bank raised rates and killed private credit which is also helping maintain an exchange rate peg around 363 to the US dollar.

The 12-month inflation shown by the widely watched Colombo Consumer Price Index peaked at 69.8 percent in September and the National Consumer Price Index peaked at 73.8 percent.

Interest rates are still less than half the inflation and financial repression has been threatened.

Mainly non-traded services components of the index are still going up as relative prices adjust.

In the credit system banks who are reluctant to lend due to risk aversion have built up excess liquidity of over 300 billion rupees (a form of private sector sterilization of non-borrowed reserves), preventing earlier printed money from going to the market and creating demand and forex shortages.

Banks which overtraded with central bank money are borrowing about 150 billion rupees overnight from the window.

The kerb market rate has also stabilized around 370-375 to the US dollar for the past two months helping anchor traded goods prices. (Colombo/Nov28/2022)

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Sri Lanka opposition MP asks government to clarify “domestic creditors” for restructuring

MP Harsha de Silva (l) with President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the tea party hosted in parliament after the president’s throne speech. Image credit: President’s Media

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s opposition lawmaker Harsha De Silva asked the government to clarify “domestic creditors” in the debt restructuring amid a wait and see approach by markets.

Sri Lanka government has started discussions with its external creditors for debt restructuring, but some of the external debts are held by local investors as some local banks have bought international sovereign bonds (ISBs) and Sri Lanka Development Bonds (SLDBs).

Speaking at the Foreign Ministry’s budget debate in the parliament, De Silva, an economist by profession, citing a local paper report said there are conflicting reports in “domestic creditors”.

“One (report) where the governor of central bank Nanadalal (Weerasinghe) saying that Sri Lanka will be able to get IMF board approval by January 2023. And the second by Standard Chartered CEO Bingumal Thewarathanthri saying perhaps by March,” he told the parliament.

“And I quote ‘when there is clarity on the haircuts that is going to be borne by the foreign bond holders, bilateral creditors and domestic creditors’. Who does he (Thewarathanthri) referred to as domestic creditors? Local banks and individuals who have invested in ISBs and SLDBs or those who invested in LKR (Sri Lanka Rupees).”

“There has to be clarity on this. There are so many conflicting stories on how well the restructuring discussions are moving forward.”

Sri Lankan economists and financial experts have said a local debt restructuring could have adverse consequences in the economy including banking sector collapse and people coming to street against respective banks and government if they go for a hair cut.

Opposition parliamentarian Eran Wickremeratne said the country’s first priority should be to make sure the banking system stays stable. ‘

“I have taken the position that I’m against the local debt restructuring we have negotiated our way. I understand that there are gross financial requirements and issues. In the negotiation the time is going to be the issue,” he told EconomyNext on Friday.

“We won’t be able to push through some reforms as fast as we think. We may have to take more time if going to basically not allow an immediate local debt restructuring. What I mean by restructuring is restructuring is not the problem, but I’m not for a haircut.” (Colombo/Nov28/2022)

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Anwar: Not Malaysia’s Mandela, but something more

ECONOMYNEXT – Something extraordinary happened in Malaysia this week. After a bitterly fought general election with no clear winner, the King had the wisdom and the courage to appoint Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as Malaysia’s 10th Prime Minister.

To those observing from the outside, it was a remarkable sight. So, one can only imagine the gravity of the moment from the point of view of Malaysia’s new Prime Minister.

Anwar Ibrahim travelled to Istana Negara for the ceremony on Thursday from Sungai Long with his wife, the accomplished and independently remarkable Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who for 24 years, has taken her husband’s crusade against corruption and bigotry in Malaysia and made it her own. When Anwar was imprisoned, she stood in for him and embodied his cause with an authenticity and ferocity that saw her become Malaysia’s first ever female opposition leader.

When they arrived at the ceremony, one of the many dignitaries assembled for Anwar’s swearing in was Malaysia’s Chief Justice, Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat, the first woman to hold that office, who herself has long stood out as a judge with little patience for corruption or abuse of power. Whether in the 1MDB appeals or in holding firm against other powerful special interests, she has embodied the kind of judicial independence for which Anwar has fought.

As Anwar, the Prime Minister in waiting, took the instrument of his appointment into his hand and began reciting his oaths, he must have felt the weight of every word he swore of the pledge he has long dreamt of taking. Perhaps no Malaysian politician has distinguished himself on the world stage as Anwar did as Malaysia’s finance minister between 1991 and 1998.

His outstanding performance in transforming the Malaysian economy and navigating the perils of the 1997 financial crisis, while lauded across the globe, threatened entrenched interests, leading not just to his sacking and repeated imprisonment, but to a systematic 24-year long campaign to tear him down, destroy his name, and vanquish the causes of good governance and egalitarianism that he stood for. It was a campaign that was almost comical in its corruption.

Beginning in September 1998, every time it ever looked like Anwar was raising his head and might score a major political victory, either an arrest, a court ruling, gerrymandering or some other element of state machinery interceded to intercept him and keep him from power.

His multiple imprisonments on what the world agrees are trumped up charges are well known, as is the black eye bestowed on him by the fists of Malaysia’s chief of police. However, it is often forgotten that his Pakatan Rakyat won a 51.4% majority of the popular vote at GE13 in 2013, “losing” the election in practice only because of the first past the post electoral system by which the votes were apportioned. Whatever else Malaysia’s elite entrenched special interests disagreed about, they all seemed to agree on one thing: stopping Anwar at all costs.

Most of those who sacrificed their conscience and integrity over the years to keep Anwar down are now out of the spotlight, shunned by the electorate, recognized for their crimes by the judiciary, or cast aside by their political handlers once their utility expired. None were present in the corridors of power at the royal ceremony last Thursday to witness the totality of their failure.

It was heartening to see the local markets react to Anwar’s appointment with the biggest rally they have shown in two years, and to see the world market respond through the Ringit seeing its best day in the currency market since 2016. As Anwar prioritizes tackling the skyrocketing cost of living for ordinary Malaysians in the backdrop of a looming global recession, these signals of confidence are a promising sign.

As he begins to combat poverty while forming his cabinet and steering a fragile coalition, the new Prime Minister will have to grapple with bringing about good governance, combatting corruption and ensuring judicial independence. With corruption as deep-rooted as Anwar himself has charged, he should expect and be prepared to combat the fiercest opposition and subterfuge. To those who live on graft, this is not just a matter of policy. They stand to lose everything, their livelihood and their liberty, if he succeeds.

It is difficult to argue against anti-corruption initiatives or transparency in government, so his opponents will try, as they did throughout his time in the opposition, to paint Anwar as an outsider, unpatriotic, anti-Malay, anti-Islam. It will be up to Anwar and those around him to ensure that from the bully pulpit of the Prime Minister’s office, he can show a larger swath of Malaysians who he is and unite them.

Anwar has the most essential quality of a unifying politician, in that he is a “we” politician and not a “me” politician. Notwithstanding the formidable cult of personality that has been built around him, he is quick to redirect any personal praise or flattery by sharing credit with others and putting them in the spotlight and doing so with a humility and sincerity that endears him to other leaders.

While Anwar Ibrahim is fond of calling himself a ‘village boy’ due to his affection for the simplest pleasures of life, there is nothing simple about his pedigree. He was born with UMNO in his blood, with an UMNO parliamentarian for a father and political organizer for a mother. He is accused of being anti-Malay for his egalitarian politics, even though his entire undergraduate education was devoted to the study of Malay culture, history and literature. The idea that he would oppose the legitimate interests of Malays is unthinkable.

So it is important that he succeed as Prime Minister where he failed as a candidate, in persuading more Malay people that they have nothing to fear from him. In fact, their interests are better served by a level playing field that would enable them to thrive and compete not just in the shelter of the cosy, subsidized affirmative action bubbles that other parties have tried to woo them with, but in the world at large.

Anwar’s in-depth study of the Bible does not make him any less devout a Muslim, but a stronger, more confident one. An unapologetic ally of the Palestinian people, Anwar’s opposition to the suffering imposed by Israelis on Palestinians is only sharpened, not blunted, by his assertion of Israel’s right to exist. He is confident in who he is. Even torture, and years spent in the darkest depths of solitary confinement in a gruesome prison cell were not able to make him waver in his values or political principles.

It is already evident that Anwar’s appointment has raised Malaysia’s standing in the world. Several governments who either vocally or privately protested the way he was treated over the last quarter century have responded to his appointment with a new vigor and eagerness to engage with Malaysia and deepen political and economic ties with the country. Anwar demonstrated in opposition that he has a gift for advocating for Malaysia on the world stage. As Prime Minister, this is a gift that will serve him in good stead.

Wherever they sit on the political spectrum, no Malaysian could deny the sincerity that Anwar brought to his first press conference on Thursday following his appointment. He means to do the job, and do it well, responding thoughtfully and obediently to the King’s direction to form a unity government. He has clearly taken to heart the words of the monarch that “those who won did not win everything, and those who lost did not lose everything.”

The lesson in that message for every politician is that Malaysians are sick and tired of political knife fighting, of “moves”, from Kajang moves to Sheraton moves. No doubt some confederacy of politicians are already plotting the next creative ‘move’ to bring Anwar down, but they may find themselves outmatched by history.

Pundits have quipped that Anwar’s journey this week was one of “prison to palace”, forgetting that he earned that particular honor on 16 May 2018, when he was released from prison and had to deal with the dizzying experience of being driven directly to the palace for an audience with then Yang di-Pertuan Agong Muhammad V. He has been dubbed Malaysia’s “Nelson Mandela” as both men were imprisoned for their politics and came to power soon after. But such reductions do little service to Anwar, whose time in prison, as horrific as it was, is not what defines him or best qualifies him to govern Malaysia in such perilous times.

Prime Minister Anwar was born Malay and has always been a devout Muslim. Unlike the African Mandela in white apartheid South Africa, Anwar was born to power. And he was not directly elected to his office by a clear majority as Mandela was, but instead, Anwar was appointed Prime Minister after no one won a majority. He is not Malaysia’s Mandela, or Malaysia’s Barack Obama. But history has examples more fitting of Anwar’s pedigree, principles and intellect.

There was another politician once, who, like Anwar, had the privilege of sailing into politics through an established political party. That politician too, like Anwar, was from the majority community, but over time grew to vocally oppose discriminatory policies and helped form a new political party. That politician too, like Anwar, was an accomplished orator and compelling communicator. And he did not directly win nomination for the American presidency in May 1860. Instead, he was selected following much debate after no candidate secured a clear majority. And just like Anwar will have to do in the coming days, President Abraham Lincoln had to assemble a broad coalition, a team of rivals, to get his country through the most perilous of times.

Prime Minister Anwar shares other qualities with America’s most revered President. Lincoln too was known for having little patience for pettiness, and to extend a hand of friendship to sworn rivals. The American President’s devotion to his children was also legendary. Anwar rarely responds to questions about his ordeal in prison without sharing his anguish that his five daughters and only son had to endure in watching their father suffer and be persecuted.

Having either taught or studied at schools of the calibre of Oxford, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, an astute student of history such as Prime Minister Anwar has no doubt already drawn some of these parallels and knows how to take the right pages out of Lincoln’s book to thread the political needle and form a stable government. As a battle-tested politician, there is little doubt that if any Malaysian can rise to the challenge and hold together a team of rivals, it is Anwar Ibrahim.

For Anwar to truly succeed, he will have to transform Malaysian politics and bring about the paradigm shift in Malaysia’s political culture that his supporters have rallied behind for so long. Anwar may be the first Malaysian Prime Minister since independence who does not plan to leave behind a legacy for his children of titles, property, monuments or fortunes.

Anwar’s own oldest daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, in her congratulatory message to her father, said that the legacy she expects to be left for the next generation is not a material one, but one of “ideals, principles and values that cannot be bought or sold.” Over the last 24-years, Anwar, his family, his party, and their supporters have braved unimaginable odds to take this simple message to Malaysians.

Whatever policy compromises Anwar may have to make to assemble a stable coalition government, he, like Lincoln, will be defined by whether he is able to remain true to his core principles while governing effectively. After so many years of struggle, so many years of trying to awaken Malaysians to the future that could await them if they unleashed the potential of all Malaysians and empowered grassroots industries and businesses to thrive, Anwar will finally get a chance to show them through deeds instead of words.

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