Nurul Izzah Anwar interview with Sumiko Tan sparks political row in M'sia

An interview with Singaporean media caused a flurry in Malaysian media.

Sulaiman Daud | March 25, 2019, 06:36 PM

It all started with a Lunch with Sumiko interview.

On Sunday, March 24, The Straits Times published an interview with reformation symbol and Malaysian politician Nurul Izzah Anwar conducted by executive editor Sumiko Tan.

Adding to controversy

The daughter of Anwar Ibrahim had already caused quite a stir after a previous ST article on March 23 revealed that this would be her final term as an MP for Permatang Pauh in Penang.

Izzah also announced that she was quitting the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee on the same day.

Lunch with Sumiko

The interview with Tan covered many of the same points in the previous article.

Izzah spoke of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition's challenges in winning Malay support, as well as "emboldening" the middle ground and political moderates.

But she also spoke positively of the "opening of the democratic framework", with a vibrant media scene and Malaysians feeling comfortable with discussing politics.

Working with Mahathir

However, there was one sentence that seized the attention of Malaysian readers.

It came when Izzah discussed making peace with the man who sent her father to prison, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, in order to form the PH and win the election.

Izzah said that her heart had been "broken" over the past year.

When Tan pressed further about what she meant, Izzah replied:

"I mean having to work with a former dictator who wreaked so much damage, not just on our lives but the system. It was not easy."

Backlash to "dictator remark"

Predictably, this sparked a storm of controversy across the border.

According to The Star, Nurul was criticised by a former MP for her remark, asking if such a remark was "acceptable" while Malaysia was grappling with several bilateral disputes with Singapore.

On March 25, The Star also reported that the PH had released a statement backing Mahathir, specifically in relation to Izzah's remark.

Supposedly issued by the PH secretariat, the statement said: "The leadership continues to support Dr Mahathir as the Pakatan chairman, and will fully support the mission of rebuilding the country from kleptocracy."

It added that while it welcomes suggestions and criticisms, any such criticism made has to be constructive and "lift up the spirit of unity".

No such statement issued

However, there was another twist to come.

Later that same day, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, who is also PH's chief secretary, said on Twitter that no such statement had been issued.

In Malay, it reads: "With regards to a Pakatan Harapan secretariat statement shared today, I would like to inform that the statement is not valid. At this point, no statement has been issued."

According to ST, the articles on the supposed PH statement had been taken off the websites of both the Star and Sinar Harian, and can no longer be read.

Saifuddin to meet with Nurul Izzah

The Star then reported Saifuddin's comments during a press conference that the statement was "fake news", and had been created to establish tension within the PH.

Saifuddin also expressed his intention to personally meet with Izzah to discuss her critical comments.

Saifuddin said:

"I have not spoken to her (Nurul Izzah) over the matter. I prefer to meet her personally and find out what is the back story, and only then it is fair for me to comment on it."

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Top image from Nurul Izzah's Facebook page and Saifuddin Abdullah's Twitter page.