Datuk Seri Anwar is on a speaking visit to Australia and has held talks in Canberra with the Foreign minister Kevin Rudd. He has also used his visit to highlight religious and racial tensions in Malaysia, unexplained deaths attributed by some to forces of the ruling elite and what he calls Prime Minister Najib Razak's use of the race card, a reference to allegations that the ruling UMNO is championing Malay supremacy. He also responded to claims that Malaysia was on its way to becoming a failed state, reminiscent of Burma.
Presenter: Linda Mottram
Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysian opposition figure
ANWAR: I don't think we would go to the Burmese road soon, although it is interesting to note that the electoral process in Burma was quite fraudulent, but they did give some access to the opposition media, which Malaysian authorities did not give. It's also a minor plus point for the Burmese. But many concerned citizens, thinking elements in the society seem rather worried about the development, the decline of the economy, the failure to attract foreign investments, continuing waste of resources that would render Malaysia less, certainly not competitive now, but close to failing.
MOTTRAM: Why is it then countries like Australia or for a country like Australia, Malaysia slips below the radar as if it's a normal functioning democracy, something we don't need to be concerned about?
ANWAR: Well I think the problem the Australian government is not to be seen to be too combative, problematic with too many states; they have Burma, they have a preoccupation in Afghanistan and probably therefore Malaysia is relatively peaceful and not too explosive. But I think they're ill-advised if they proceed in this way, you don't wait for a state to fail, you don't wait for commotion, explosion to try and deal with it. I'm not suggesting that they should interfere, but they should express their views, they should promote civil society, as a vibrant democracy they've a duty. Among the Muslim countries Indonesia and Turkey have got paramount in doing this.
The EU fortunately is coming out more forcefully on this. The United States is slowly adjusting itself to this need. But I think the issue of democracy, human rights, rule of law, they're not something that you can just ignore. But I'm of course appreciative of the fact that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd took time, and we had very, very useful discussions, some issues affecting both countries, and of course my personal predicament. But I always make it a point that they should extend the issue, the issue of freedom, human rights. It goes beyond Anwar's personal case.
MOTTRAM: Indeed when Julia Gillard, our Prime Minister was in Malaysia recently on a brief stop, a journalist, a Malaysian journalist raised the question of Australia's view of the human rights situation in Malaysia, and Ms Gillard chose to skirt around the question shall we say. Does that bother you?
ANWAR: Well I understand the diplomatic nuances and the need for Australia in particular, because they experienced in the past the term, recalcitrant etc but you must appreciate that on the ground the reaction of some political leaders, there's always a good positive attitude towards Australia. Malaysia generally will welcome Australian tourists and students from Malaysia would give a priority when it comes to studying in Australia. We welcome business and investments etc. But we also know that Australia's a very important democratic country in this region, and they have therefore a role. They've done remarkably well after the transformation in Indonesia to the level of support efforts to build institutions, education and their engagement with civil society organisations in Indonesia.
But I don't feel that as comfortable when it comes to their position vis-à-vis Malaysia. I mean what do we expect? We don't expect the millions of aid, but we expect a friendly gesture that they're equally concerned. And therefore this meeting with Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd this morning is to me personally is very important and he has shown a lot of understanding and a berth of knowledge of the political, economic situation in Malaysia. It's rather impressive.
MOTTRAM: So do you expect that Mr Rudd will shift the focus a little more to Malaysia?
ANWAR: I don't know but certainly I sense that he seems to be quite well informed and passionate about the issue of democracy. We discussed for example developments in Burma, and I can sense he's not only a rhetorical issue about supporting Aung San Suu Kyi and the march towards democracy and freedom, but he seems to be very passionate about it.
MOTTRAM: On the question of Burma, ASEAN has effectively welcomed the outcome of the election cautiously, but it's hardly a condemnation from ASEAN towards the Burmese election, and yet we know it's a sham. What's your view on how ASEAN should be approaching that?
ANWAR: You see this complicity, this position of ambivalence and at times even submitting to the policies of dictators, authoritarian leaders, I find it difficult to comprehend. I can see that they were not prepared to condemn a member country, but to concede and accept the result, that is very difficult for us democrats to accept.