11 July, 2008

Australian PM snubs Malaysian opposition

One item not on the Australian prime minister's agenda during his one day visit to Malaysia, was a meeting with key opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

From ABC, Radio Australia

Presenter: Sonia Randhawa
Speakers: Nurul Izzah Anwar, Malaysian opposition parliamentarian and daughter of Anwar Ibrahim; Clive Kessler, professor of Sociology from the University of New South Wales; Tricia Yeoh, director, Centre for Public Policy Studies.

RANDHAWA: Kevin Rudd is in Malaysia for a low key one day visit. It is his first visit to the country since becoming prime minister. He has met the Malaysian Prime Minister, Abudullah Badawi to discuss trade and less formal ties between the two nations.

One item not on Mr. Rudd's agenda is a visit to key opposition figure, Anwar Ibrahim, despite Dr Anwar's request for a meeting.

The Malaysian Opposition controls five states, and made unprecedented gains during the general elections in March, 2008.

Dr Anwar's daughter and parliamentarian, Nurul Izzah Anwar, says this was a missed opportunity.

(Nurul Izzah)ANWAR: There would have been a good opportunity having to meet one of the main leaders that represent many stakeholders in the country, as in the last general elections has proved that people are connected to its reform and my father as well and my mother as leader of the opposition , Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is the personality that it represents, a change in Malaysia. So it would have been a good opportunity, but having said that, we respect his position.

RANDHAWA: What could Australia have gained by visiting at this particular time members of the Opposition?

(Nurul Izzah)ANWAR: I think even in the past, the Australian leadership has actually made it. It was a norm for them to meet up with the leader of Opposition in Malaysia. So it's always useful to get different perspective across the political spectrum in any country more importantly in Malaysia, because you know we are currently facing a crisis, political, economic and I feel that to get a sense of what the issues are at stake, it is important to get different views. We're facing serious erosion of our judiciary, as well and the police force there are serious questions of their

RANDHAWA: Professor of Sociology from the University of New South Wales and Malaysia expert, Clive Kessler, is in Malaysia. He says that it would have been extraordinary if Mr. Rudd had met with Dr Anwar.

KESSLER: I think the main purpose of the visit is to have the visit and to have it go off without any hitch and for it to be all low key, that's generally what Australian diplomatics to Kuala Lumpur are about. In the past, Australia have been very careful to try not to provoke the government. When there have been in the past contacts between Australian politicians and diplomats and people such as Anwar, it's generally not done by the prime minister, it's been done by the foreign minister. It's been done fairly carefully. So the fact that Rudd is not seeing him, I don't think is a snub in the first place. And the second place, to have visited him would have caused I think all sorts of ructions. It would have created problems that again in the very fraut political situation at the moment, somebody would have seized upon and used it as yet another opportunity to hit Australia over the head with. There would have been no gains, only losses from meeting Anwar and I think not to meet him is the safe and sensible and practical, as well as the correct course.

RANDHAWA: Yet, Mr. Rudd's decision is being criticised.

Executive director of Malaysia's leading human rights group, Suara, Yap Swee Seng says Mr. Rudd should have had both sides of the current political crisis.

Tricia Yeo is Director of Independent Economic and Social Think Tank, The Centre for Public Policy Studies. She shares Mr. Yap's views.

YEO: As it stands right now Yup is not just the opposition party group that it used to be, but it also has five states in the country out of the 13 states, meaning that Pakatan Rakyat is the government in this state. I don't think it would have caused major harm or distress to bilateral relations to either Australia or Malaysia, if the prime minister had met with Anwar and yeah I think it's just fair to give equal attention to both sides.

'Dismayed' by Thai, Malaysian problems

In remarks on recent developments in Thailand and Malaysia, MM Lee said - in response to a question on the future of the Asian region - that he is filled with 'dismay' that these two countries have run into severe problems:

You look at Malaysia. The economy. It is one of the wealthiest countries in the region. It's got oil, it's got gas, it's got palm oil. All the commodities it has. It's also got a manufacturing sector.

But suddenly, it's trapped in some political-cum-personal difficulties of charges and counter-charges which can only be bad for the economy. I think the KL Stock Exchange has gone down by some 20 per cent. I don't track it, but I know it's down.

If you have confidence that this will be resolved in six months or one year, then you buy. If it's not resolved and it goes down another 20 per cent, then you've lost...

But I see all these problems as man-made. It's not economics. It is lack of a certain integrity in the system that you are entrusted with and you therefore run it properly.

Read here.



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