Anwar passes the test in New York

19 April 1998

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"However, their claims will gain legitimacy if the global community does not commit itself unequivocally to reforming the international financial regime in tandem with the changes being demanded upon nation states."

Anwar, in no uncertain terms, told his audience that the crisis had spurred demands for good governance and the development of a civil society, and he reiterated strongly that, "let no one therefore entertain any doubt about Asia's ability to reform and recover. We will emerge stronger for having undergone this pain. The fat will be squeezed out, but the muscle will remain. Asia has demonstrated its resilience in the past."

My American neighbour at the table told me, "even if I disagreed with his perception his words were pleasing!" Another, a European, said: "I have been exposed to another face of your country." Another guest said: "A world-class speaker and very disarmingly charming. I attended the dinner discussion last night -- what an artful politician!"

By and large he has definitely made an impression on those who had not met him before. He spoke well even if he did not sound like an Oxbridge man. His English is excellent. Nobody seemed bored or wanting to get away before he could finish the speech. He made one or two jokes which were well received, about the Titanic in particular. All in all it was very well received.

I met several interesting persons during the morning seminar and during luncheon, and of course, like at any gathering you also come across one or two terribly conceited persons who I found, outside their jobs rather unintelligent.

While the audience was not spellbound, Anwar did give an excellent performance; he answered questions with sureness, confidence, immediately and spontaneously, Anwar has earned his spurs.

I have faith in both Mahathir and Anwar because they embrace their jobs, I believe, conscientiously, remarkably and above all they enjoy what they are doing. Whatever the circumstances.

The alliance between Mahathir and Anwar which began nearly three decades ago was unanticipated by those who did not know them well or those who did not follow Malaysian political trends closely. In any event it has served their purpose and that of Umno and the nation.

The selection of Anwar as deputy prime minister was not a surprise. It would have been a shock (and it was) only to the uninitiated in the deep and higher-level intrigue of Umno politics and those who were naive enough to wallow in mediocrity.

Since achieving power, Anwar has been pursuing a classic consolidation of influence and power whole enjoying the confidence of Mahathir. He has cleverly -- so far -- not made damaging mistakes or incurred the undue suspicions of the boss.

Malaysia is going through an economic contraction and Anwar as Minister of Finance will have a greater burden than most of his colleagues to convince the people that they would have to have new assumptions, lower their expectations (temporarily) and adjust to living in a new economic and social environment.

Many may be tempted too soon to think the future is not bright but that would be a gross mistake because those new assumptions also illuminate the future as hinted by Anwar during his answers especially.

I am not being over excited but I believe in a cyclical upturn.

The sooner we make the necessary changes and reforms as Anwar suggested and which Mahathir approved, the sooner we are in a prosperous and even stronger Malaysia.

Mahathir and Anwar are determined to reshape the contours of the Malaysian economy in a way that has not been possible in the past which ought to benefit everyone.

I do hope Mahathir and Anwar -- with inexhaustible ideas, plans and determination -- will be able to recreate our economic miracle soon enough.

I am a well-known perpetual optimist; a mood of optimism has always been a part of my psyche. However, it will buoy up after listening to Anwar and following my private discussions with him.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )