Speaking with Mrs Datuk Sri Anwar Ibrahim Or YB Datin Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail
Mrs Anwar (a) YB Datin Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail
Wife of former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim
Currently, President of the People’s Justice Party or Keadilan, Malaysia.
A leader of Malaysian Parliamentary Caucus for the democracy and prosperity in Burma.
Datin Seri Dr. Wan Azizah was born in 1953. She received her early education at a Roman Catholic Convent in Alor Setar, St. Nicholas Convent. She went on to read medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, and was awarded a gold medal in obstetrics and gynecology. She is a qualified ophthalmologist.
Dr. Wan Azizah served as a government doctor for 14 years before deciding to focus on volunteer work, when her husband, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim became the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. As part of her voluntary pursuits, she became Patron of the National Cancer Council at that time.
After the dismissal and arrest of her husband, Dr. Wan Azizah earned the respect and admiration of many Malaysians as the leader of the fledgling Reformasi movement. She first led the Social Justice Movement, an NGO, before the National Justice Party was established. The establishment of the party saw Dr. Wan Azizah being elected as president. She won the parliamentary seat of Permatang Pauh in 1999, and in 2004.
As a political party leader and a parliamentary representative, Dr. Wan Azizah is involved in many programs and activities domestically and internationally. She has spoken at UN-sponsored programs, and the local and international media. She is also involved in the Malaysian Parliamentary Caucus for democracy and prosperity in Burma.
Burma Digest . . . Good morning, Peace be upon you Datin Seri. Thank Your Honor very much for agreeing for this interview.
YB Datin Seri Dr. Wan Azizah . . . Good morning, Peace be upon you also. You are welcome.
Question…Our Democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was born on 19 of June and her birth day is same as the Women’s Day in Burma. Do you have any special message that you want to convey to her at this moment?
Answer…Yes, I am indeed full of admiration for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi because of her resolve, her commitment and bravery all these years of struggle and still stand firm in the principle, belief and the conviction for the mother land of Burma itself.
I have been very supportive of the democracy for Burma and we are now having a Caucus in Malaysia Parliament. We started it and now it moved all over ASEAN and we make it active and to highlight the plight of the ordinary Burmese people.
I have been to Mae Sot, Thai and Burmese border and I see some refugees, some child soldiers and many people from opposition including the exiled MPs. And so of course, I feel very close to them.
And now with the prolongation of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in custody, it saddened me because at the age, she till has to suffer and now on her coming birthday, she is still not free. So in that sense, I feel sad for her, yet I feel full of admiration for her, to continue like this.
Question…This Caucus is also promoting democracy and possible release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners. But even Tan Sri Razali Ismail’s ….
Answer… I think Tan Sri Razali Ismail is no longer the special envoy and the mediator, I think he had made some headway but kind of seems to arrive a deadlock.
Question…And also Mr Ibrahim Gambari has voiced out aloud about the ill treatment of the NLD and democracy supporters. Do you see any positive future for this organization to play a bigger role to release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the prevailing of a democracy in Burma?
Answer…Well. Mr. Ibrahim Gambari is the special envoy of UN and he is the only fortunate person to have met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi even though for a short while. The rest, even our Foreign Minister was not allowed.
Yet I hope we have to highlight and keep on giving attention to this problem. It will not go away, even if you close one eye and look the other way. That is not going to help. But we know that it is not easy and complex.
I had seen a video of the human faces behind these. The backpacked workers in the wild terrain trying to help the Burmese People runaway to be displaced from their homes because of the oppression from the army and the fear that they are to go. The backpack workers do take some visuals and a video clip of it.
When I was in Jakarta, we had a public forum or seminar on Burma. I was one of the speakers together with an MP from Indonesia and San Aung, exiled MP from Burma NLD. Three of us spoke and we have the video clip showing the plight of the Burmese, Karens and all other ethnic groups running away from the army. How they are being pursued and camps had been burnt. How the crops had been taken and how the children had been killed, some died of diseases, of course. It is very sad.
The caucus tried to put a weight on this issue. Last UNSC had the meeting to put Myanmar on the map for Security Council. It did not happen because the Russia and China’s veto. It had stepped backwards.
Yet, I feel that we have hope. Other ASEAN countries are joining this Caucus and they are highlighting the fact that the security of the region. Burma is our neighbor, if of anything in
trouble, there will be a spillover effect on us . The refugees, the diseases especially the danger of bird flu and problem of drugs especially the Amphetamine tablet, HIV, TB and other things.
Question… Can you see as isolated internal problems of Burma or should ASEAN countries especially involve more into helping integration. And the constructive engagement, is it actually working at this moment?
Answer… It does not actually work so much because of Burma was in ASEAN and I think caucus played a role. We make the generals to skip as the host country of ASEAN. It was the turn of the Burma to take over. So that at least we achieve in that giving pressure so that generals do not take over and Burma to become a host country or chair country.
But the other thing is that about constructive engagement of course, it does help I wonder how much it go or filtered downs all these investments and all those businesses. It all goes down to the people who really needed it most. So that is one thing, of course, there are questions; there are reviews that you have to do. The policies that are taken, yet I think ASEAN is becoming to be more vocal and louder.
It is an embarrassment to have Myanmar been the member of ASEAN and yet ASEAN is helpless in seeing what ever they are doing internally. And the biggest embarrassment is being of the prolongation of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s imprisonment. I think ASEAN is taking a bigger role in trying to make not the rogue state but Myanmar or Burma at least comply with some of the international standards.
Question… The improvement seen as the whole lot of duration of time, it is taking slow. Is it possible because of involvement of India, China and Russia?
Answer…Yes, because of India and China are important neighbors and helping Burma and when they discover the gas in Arakan State. The discovery of the wealth, which actually should go by right to the Burmese People but now its being high jacked by the Junta. I think that we should actually try to help Burma. But the avenues are quite restricted and limited that is the only problem.
Question…And the seven steps of Road Map to Democracy really hold water or it is more like a play that the generals have installed?
Answer…Well the question of the road map. Whether the map is really leading to drive to democracy, or really are they holding the election at all. But you see at the end of the day, it is so important that the Burmese People to have a force by themselves, to have a way of struggle against the oppression by the army that you and I all know that the Junta. Not only are they now damaging a lot of external relations but internally, the country. What happens to the education of the people? What happens to when you see, when I look at the child soldiers, you talk to them. Some guys are only, because consensus are bad, they are only 15 or 17. When they are caught they were 14 or 13 and they were forced to be like that. They have different dreams; they have ambitions, one want to become a doctor, one, “want to help my people”. It is so; such a tragedy that if the rest of world just stands by apathetic, I think that it will be a tragedy and will be spilled over. The world front has become a small place that becomes more acceptable to the rest of the world, not only Myanmar been isolated as such. I meet them at refugee camp at Mai Sot and what sorts of future. Of course some of them say that, they can’t get a kind of frustrated, they could go to Australia or New Zealand, Europe. But a few of them only to get chosen. But that is not what they really want. They want to go back to their homes, their country. So it is a big question, so complex that, If we give up. If we keep on highlighting it, one day I think, something will happen and give themselves and succeed.
Question…And see how the treatment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi by the government, for 17 years in and out of the prison in her own home. Do you see a likely change of scenario or a more positive sight?
Answer…That was what we hope for. That was what we hope that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi be free. Actually she is legitimately the leader, chosen by the people. And the Junta’s taking the power like this is not legitimate.
But we are hoping that, how to empower the people of Myanmar or Burma itself. Because it is not hiding, we can do so much of course, the fact is that, the people have to get over the fear. It is easy to say. I can empathize with them. I wish we can do so much more. Yet we see, there is, of course, a limitation.
Question…For the military government, will they work more like the power sharing with the military, in the unity parliament working in Burma, with the NLD.
Answer…Yah! Anything that will hopefully give you a, such direction, I think you should try.
Now that Burma has found gas and wealth and they have made a deal with Russia, India, China, and of course there are other things that you have to balance up. And there are other investments that are coming from ASEAN countries. So I think there is a bulk future coming. But we have to resolve the Junta, the people and the governments of those countries with Democracy first, before you can talk other things
Question…Do you see possible change in the near future?
Answer…At the moment we see the stalemate. So may be you can never tell. Sometimes things change from within. And we should pray that it will happen. Because there was a time when General Than Shwe was a little bit more open and then at happens, you know. Now the Premier is not well. So probably, the one who takes over can change his mind.
Question…What kind of advice do you want to the people of Burma, for their own version of Burmese Reformasi (Reformation)?
Answer…Of course you have to have a point that you have to say that, “Enough is enough” and people could come out. There is the possibility.
But how to empower the people, you have to think out for yourself. There is no formula, matched formula for every one, place or time.
There is of course we have the people, which is the most important and strongest that we can count on. Once they overcome that fear, I think Burma has a bright future.
Question…You are the leader of the opposition party, more so as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma. Probably in the next General Elections in Malaysia, win the majority Parliamentary seats; you would be elected as the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Do you have any different change of formula to engage Burma in compare to the present foreign policy of Malaysia?
Answer…If I were a Prime Minister, I am wondering it is a far shot. But first for one thing, you have to be a firm Prime Minister, send firm massage that you expect as the neighbor, at least to free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and on what grounds that she is been arrested. She was the Executive branch chosen by the people. And the relations, trade or something that Burma have, been looked into. Of course agreements come into, and you just cant break. But we have to get into all these Foreign policy engagement.
Question…What about bringing the generals to the International Criminal Court?
Answer…That, of course we need to gather evidences and all the atrocities. And we have to, of course, anyone can bring up in to the open air, especially the influence, you do have to bring them but for either or not make them engage.
Question…Discrimination and persecution on Ethnic Minorities and Minority Religions, based on their race and religions. They are evicted and UN has recognized them but the Malaysia government has not actually recognized them as refugees. How do you see on those problems?
Answer…All we have to think again. Because, of course, the Rohingyas and all those are prosecuted just for the religion. Apart from that, actually, the ordinary Burmese people too are prosecuted and they had been abused and are forced to labor, asked to work for the army. So discrimination, I think is not but may be more so because the impression we get, they are more prosecuted because they are Muslims.
Yet Malaysia of course have the policy of accepting that people too. And we have at time to time, we have to open our doors. We have to give them the UNHCR status. And yet we have to work out something to help both sides. Malaysia is slightly better off but we cannot afford too many influxes from our neighbors. But I think we have to help the poor neighbors to come in and the UNHCR status is one of the ways to help them.
Question… Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in her book “Freedom From Fear” that, It is not power that corrupts but fear of losing power corrupts. Burmese citizens have low morale. And the government is brainwashing them. You have struggled so much for Malaysia. Do you have any advice on how people can live and try to improve their lives in the situation they are in and hope does lies in a state of hopelessness?
Answer…Some say that it is hopeless but there is all hope for the Potential human life,
You live because you have hope for the future.
How do you actually project for the hope? First, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s life? You can show that life can be brilliant and can have bravery, and can hold on to the hope.
And yet you can actually have a connection with all those who are of same thoughts and minds as you are for the freedom of your country.
If no body knows about you there is not going to be any attention to the plight of attention to your problems. I think a lot of things too; I did meet a few of the people that decided to go in as backpacked workers, to show that there are a lot of sufferings there.
If you ever go as a tourist to Rangoon or Naypyidaw, new capital, or anywhere, it seems so nice, life is so peaceful, and people are free to talk. The country is rule by the culture of fear.
Yet if you show this; what happens in the jungle, what happens to the poor people, what happens to the Rohingyas, who are running away for their lives. Then people will then sit up and say yah, they have a problem. Therefore you will get people trying to help. May be they cannot help for a certain reason but may be they can help if they are not to loose something. Then they will help and give hopes to the people of Burma themselves, to stand up for this oppression.
Question… The number of citizens outside Burma have a better role contributing to promoting of Democracy in Burma?
Answer…Yes. You are luckier. But you also feel that, the life is not like that. That is a nice feeling, you want to go back, sick of homeland. So, then outside, you could highlight the problems and therefore, so the generals were not be given the easy task, doing what they are doing now. They have to think twice, because as you said, they could be tried in the International Court of Justice for all the crimes. This actually shows that you actually have a project to do.
Question…Do you have any advice to give to the Burmese people in Burma as a message?
Answer…As a sister feeling to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, I have admired her for a long time. I feel that there is a bond between us. We have a set of similar problems. Yet I think that I have problems but what ever she faces was much more than mine.
Burmese people must have the strength to overcome the fear that have been truncated. And then to form a group of like people. Of course, you must be careful because mainly there are spies around working for the Junta as well.
But in the end the spirit of Burma will prevail. But I really believe that. But it is not easy.
If you look at the history of the world, nothing is magic; there are a lot of strives. Life is filled with a lot of tests and tribulations as well and faith will guide you through all these. Insha Allah (God willing) this will finally give rise to freedom and betterment for Burma. I called it Burma because I‘d been with the refugees and they call it Burma, but in formal circle, they call it Myanmar.
Question…Do you want to convey a personal message to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi yourself?
Answer…As I said that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, I really admired her strength. I wish all the best.
Burma Digest . . . Thank you very much. We appreciate your kind interview. Thank you again on behalf of all the Burmese people.
YB Datin Seri Dr. Wan Azizah . . . Thank You.