Azizah: 'Ready or
not, here I come'
By Ceres P. Doyo and Christine Avenda?o
MALAYSIAN opposition leader Azizah Ismail yesterday announced she was running in parliamentary elections next year, saying her political party's chances had been boosted by the Philippine experience of people power now taking shape in her country.
In several speaking engagements on the second day of her three-day visit to Manila, the wife of ousted Malaysian Deputy Premier Anwar Ibrahim said the harsh treatment of her jailed husband had forced many of her countrymen to acknowledge the need for reforms.
''Ready or not, here I come,'' Azizah, leader of the newly organized National Justice Party, told newsmen at a breakfast forum hosted by the Foundation of Worldwide People Power headed by Inquirer founding chair Eugenia Apostol.
Azizah said she had been ''approached by people who said I'm the only one who can defeat Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's (United Malays National Organization).''
Azizah, who launched the National Justice Party early this month to continue Anwar's reform struggle against alleged corruption, cronyism and nepotism, said ''the sentiment is very strong (that) we have a fighting chance.''
The party, backed by nongovernmental organizations and Anwar's associates from the ruling party, enjoys overwhelming support from the grassroots, according to Azizah.
While ''a climate of fear'' was preventing many from openly supporting her, she said Malaysia's middle class was doing it in other ways, such as through pro-Anwar Web sites on the Internet.
have shown us
if the masses
draw a line
- Wan Aziza Ismail
Former Philippine President
Corazon C. Aquino, right,
welcoming Dr. Wan Aziza
Ismail, wife of former
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim,
in Manila for a three-day
image is from
Philippine Daily Inquirer
''It is people power, the people are giving us support,'' said Azizah who arrived here Wednesday as a personal guest of former President Corazon Aquino.
She said big businesses as well as the minority Chinese and Indian groups, while still afraid to openly declare support, were also hungry for change.
''I have actually met a lot of people in the Chinese community and they are supportive of reforms even if they do not come out,'' Azizah said.
She said Mahathir had been employing ''divide and conquer tactics'' by playing up the differences between Malaysian Chinese and Malays. But she stressed Malaysians were ''too wise'' to fall prey ''to such blatant appeal to bigotry.''
''We believe the people in the ruling party, the majority of them, are with the reform movement and that will bring about change,'' she said.
An ophthalmologist, Azizah earlier said she had no choice but to enter politics to seek reforms in the aftermath of her husband's conviction and the ensuing political turmoil in her country.
''I have no choice, and I think it was thrust upon me like providence like Ms Aquino, actually,'' she said in a television interview Wednesday night.
She compared her fate to that of Ms Aquino whose husband, former Sen. Benigno Aquino, was assassinated in 1983 while under military custody, triggering massive protests that culminated in the ''people power'' revolt that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos three years later. After Marcos fled to Hawaii, Ms Aquino took over as president.
''My husband has been assassinated in his character. Even though he is around, there is still further attempt to assassinate his political career in this conspiracy of the highest order,'' she said.
''Ms Aquino and the people of the Philippines, have shown us the dictator can be overthrown if the masses draw a line and say: Enough, no more,'' Azizah later told a luncheon meeting hosted by the Rotary Club of Manila.
In a scathing attack on Mahathir, Azizah said the Malaysian premier and his ''desperate cabal'' would stop at nothing to destroy Anwar's political career and his character.
''Anwar is a victim of the corrupt system, a system fashioned in the image of a once respected prime minister who has lost all sense of perspective, all sense of right and wrong and all sense of reality,'' she told businessmen.
Azizah said like many Filipinos who had endured 20 years of dictatorship under Marcos, Anwar was only trying ''to reform the system from within.''
Anwar was sentenced two weeks ago to six years in jail for corruption and is facing additional charges of sexual misconduct.
Azizah was scheduled to meet President Estrada later Thursday despite protests by the Malaysian government.
But Mr. Estrada said he had not received a formal request for a meeting with Azizah, although he added ''there is no reason why I shouldn't give her an audience.''
On Tuesday, Malaysian officials summoned the Philippine ambassador in Kuala Lumpur to convey their displeasure over Azizah's visit.
Philippine ties with Malaysia were strained last year when Mr. Estrada openly expressed support for Anwar and considered boycotting the APEC forum in Kuala Lumpur to protest the arrest.
When he later decided to attend the forum, Mr. Estrada met Anwar's wife, further displeasing Malaysian officials. He also met Anwar's daughter in October when she visited the Philippines to seek support for her father.
Ms Aquino, for her part, said she had no intention of meddling with the private affairs of Malaysia when she invited Azizah, but that she was only out ''to show my sympathy.''
''I am here because I know what it was like to be the wife of a political prisoner,'' she said, praising Azizah for leading ''a struggle for justice and freedom.''
Azizah, however, called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to follow the lead of the Philippines by openly acknowledging the changes that were going on in Kuala Lumpur.
She said she respected an Asean policy of noninterference but added she would like ''Asean to follow the example of the Philippines in the way of giving moral support.''
''Just the voice of concern is good enough. I do not want to drag any countries into our domestic affairs,'' she said.
Asked whether there was a possibility that she may be jailed once she returns to Malaysia, Azizah simply said: ''I am aware of that.''
She stressed her fight was not illegal and that they were only pushing for ''transparency and accountability in government.''
''We want people to choose the government of their choice in a fully democratic way,'' she said.
With reports from Inquirer wires
Source: April 30, 1999 from Philippine Inquirer Internet edition <www.inq7.net >
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