In this webinar, Prof Khoo Boo Teik shares how Anwar’s vision of a ‘humane economy’ holds personal, ideological and political significance at a specific political juncture in Malaysian history.
MALAYSIA STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Monday, 18 January 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute invited Dr Khoo Boo Teik to deliver a webinar on The Making of Anwar Ibrahim’s “Humane Economy”. Dr Khoo is Professor Emeritus at the National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies, Tokyo and was Visiting Senior Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute last year. His webinar is based on his Trends of Southeast Asia article of the same title.
Dr Khoo prefaced his lecture with the premise that Anwar Ibrahim’s understanding of “Humane Economy” has changed over the decades, as a product of the prevailing social context and his personal political trajectory. Anwar, prior to being co-opted into the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), was the President of Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (acronym as ABIM in Malay) and an active student leader. In contrast to then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s racialised lenses in tackling Malay poverty, Anwar drew inspiration from the Muslim Brotherhood in Middle East and perceived Islam to be the solution in alleviating the colonial consequences of Malay backwardness and underdevelopment. In his speech to ABIM’s General Assembly in 1975, Anwar voiced unequivocal objection towards both capitalism and socialism.
However, as Anwar swiftly rose within the ranks of UMNO and helmed the Finance Ministry, Dr Khoo opined that the former began to be morally ambivalent about Malaysia’s rapid transition into the neoliberal capitalist economy. Despite publicly expressing the importance to incorporate human dignity and morals within the economic system, he also oversaw the privatisation of government assets and rising rent-seeking activities within UMNO. Caught between Mahathir’s ambition of a state-led economy and Daim Zainuddin’s aspirations to create a Malay capitalist class, Dr Khoo commented that Anwar had limited manoeuvrings despite his status as Finance Minister. In addition, neoliberal capitalism during the 1990s had delivered stellar economic growth for Malaysia until the Asian Financial Crisis struck.
As the Asian Financial Crisis deepened, the ideological differences between Mahathir and Anwar became apparent. Anwar had advocated for the economic crisis to run its course to cleanse away cronyism, collusion and nepotism within the economy. The schism led to the fallout between Mahathir and Anwar in 1998, with large number of ordinary citizens protesting against Anwar’s imprisonment which culminated in the Reformasi movement. Upon his release in 2004, Anwar framed his incarceration as a period of personal awakening and started to championing economic social justice for all races through a populist appeal. His success in finding a common ground between the Malaysian Islamic Party, People’s Justice Party and Democratic Action Party contributed to the electoral success of Pakatan Harapan in the 2008 General Election.
In the question-and-answer session, the topics brought up concerned the involvement of Anwar in cronyism during his tenure as finance minister, the (in)consistency between his beliefs and actions, and the ideological thinkers which shaped Anwar’s beliefs. The webinar drew 100 participants.