Born into a politically famous family, Member of Parliament (MP) Nurul Izzah Anwar, 30, was never groomed to take over her father’s (then Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) job, or to have an active role in politics at all. But it all changed at the events of 1998, a time when her family faced great scandal. After winning the fight for the Lembah Pantai constituency in the March 2008 General Elections, she has become part of new generation of young politicians, who hope to be able to hold the reins of the country’s leadership.
Malaysian Today: Share with us your political and educational background.
Nurul Izzah Anwar: I became an Assuntarian in 1995, transferring from Sri Hartamas school soon after my PMR results came out. Assunta helped shape my political outlook and worldview, especially with vocal friends who were consistently at loggerheads with the establishment (and me, being the DPM’s daughter then). Still, I must insist I was rather open to criticism fielded against my father’s party then and I believe that trait persists till today. After SPM I applied to University Malaya, got accepted, but chose Universiti Teknologi Petronas, Tronoh instead. I spent a semester reading Chemical Engineering, until 1998 happened. I took a year off my studies, and entered the world of political activism – where I consistently campaigned for the opposition, notably in the 1999 and 2004 general elections before contesting for public office in 2008. Before contesting that, I did my Masters in International Relations specialising in Southeast Asia Studies at the SAIS, Johns Hopkins University, Washington.
Q: When did your interest in politics first begin?
A: The events of 1998 (where Anwar was arrested and charged with sodomy) basically catapulted me into politics — and there’s no turning back. My affair with politics came about as a direct result of that. Also, during my year off university, I worked with and learned from Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Institut Kajian Dasar and ABIM -including a number of international institutions of advocacy, namely Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES), Global Health Watch and briefly, the Women Leaders’ International Forum (WLIF -with former President Mary Robinson). The most notable stand we (with SUARAM) took was for the plight of political prisoners, for which we achieved much support during the main session at the 57th commission on Human Rights, Geneva.
Q: Being part of such a politically famous family; what are the expectations put on you and how do you deal with them?
A: The best thing you can do is manage expectations. I am my own person, and I believe you can only stand on your own merits since paternal or maternal relations can only go so far – and at times can also hurt you. Unlike other political families, my circumstances were unusual. I was never groomed to take over or enter politics. So expectations on me as the eldest in the family as well as an MP are not the same. I came in with very different expectations. Being my father’s daughter, I was the symbol of the Reformasi movement. Today I am an MP, so situations have changed, expectations are definitely higher but they are no different than any other MP.
Q: What was going through your mind during the March 2008 elections – especially during the campaigning, and trying to reach out to the people in your constituency?
A: It was an exciting campaign – very much “politically suicidal” in some respects. I believe it was best to remain focused, since we had very little financial support, and were very much the underdogs. However national issues were very much in our favour – and somehow along the way Malaysians were brave enough to vote for change — despite the fear tactics and the inducements by the ruling party. I try my best to stay true to the younger generation – I wanted very much to signal to the young that we have to stand up and be counted — the least one could do is to register, and vote! You have to be honest with your constituency. I made no pretense of being able to offer more than I could. What I promised to my constituents was that I would give my utmost best and that is what I have been doing. I wanted the people of Lembah Pantai to see me as who I was and that is a woman who grew up in this area, went to school here and gave birth to my first child here too.
Q: What were your goals then and how have you lived up to them now, after almost two years?
A: Every day to stay true to your principles, no matter how difficult and challenging it may be. I believe that we can transform the current culture of political patronage, we can do away with money politics, and empower the people by giving them a voice. I might have underestimated the power of the media – since as a politician, the mainstream media’s support can go a long way into transmitting your work and progress to your voters. It’s challenging when there’s lack of coverage – it adds up to your work load.
Q: What did you know about politics now that you wished you knew then?
A: It is terrifyingly tough, and requires a sharp mind, and of course, a thick skin helps tremendously.
I wish I knew how tough it would be – I did expect it to be difficult, but without funds, and a mountain of responsibilities, not to mention two younglings, it ain’t exactly a bed of roses. Nonetheless, I have become surprising optimistic in the last two years! And I enjoy what I do!
Q: In these challenging times, what is the message you’d like to tell young people?
A: Reach for the stars – never let anyone destroy your dreams, your self-respect, or your family.
You are worth as much as your ideals and principles – that’s something I’d like to impart to my children
(taken from Malaysia Today)