The struggles faced by Anwar Ibrahim in his life have always been the talk of the people. From early on during his student days in Universiti Malaya, his name had popped up in the Special Branch report when he became head of the students’ movement.
From 1968 to 1971, Anwar was a student at the University of Malaya and led the National Association of Malaysian Muslim Students as its president. At the same time, he was also the president of the Malay Language Association of the University of Malaya (PBMUM).
After leaving the university, in 1971, he together with some friends established Angkatan Belia Malaysia (ABIM), before being elected as the president of the Malaysian Youth Council (MBM). He succeeded Tunku Abdullah Ibni Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman who ran the organisation from 1986 to 1972. In 1974, Anwar was arrested while leading student protests against rural poverty and hunger.
What happened that made Anwar arrested at that young age?
Anwar had led a group that sparked the student movement in Malaysia. Those involved were the young generation — many of whom later become national leaders — who are fighting for the fate of the people that the government failed to defend.
The incident occurred after the 1974 general election when the country was hit by rising commodity prices and economic collapse. Rubber tappers in Baling experienced severe hardship due to the fall in the price of rubber that year.
At that time, reports were claiming that a family in Baling suffered from starvation to the point that they allegedly had to eat a type of poisonous cassava, and died. However, this case was denied by the government, led by Tun Abdul Razak at the time.
Following the report, there was a mass uprising of students protesting what had happened. In the history of the student movement, this is the largest movement ever recorded, involving almost 10,000 students.
Almost 2,000 of them were arrested, and a number of the students were placed under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Anwar who was then the president of ABIM and MBM, who led the street provocation was detained for two years under the ISA, while Dr Syed Husin Ali, a lecturer at Universiti Malaya was detained under the ISA for six years.
According to Makalah Ar-Risalah 1975, the gathering of the students was dispersed by the FRU (Federal Reserve Unit) with tear gas.
The students had fled to the National Mosque but the FRU continued to chase them.
The FRU surrounded the 8,000 students who were sheltering in the mosque and fired tear gas at them.
The FRU then tried to arrest the students and in the operation, several individuals were injured.
Official figures showed that the FRU had arrested a total of 1,128 students, including 80 female students and took them to police stations in Sentul, Brickfields and Jalan Bandar. Later that night, they were stationed at the Jalan Gurney Police Depot. All the arrested students were brought to court the next day and they pleaded not guilty.
They were released on bail of between $200 and $300 each. They were tried between February and April of 1975.
Despite that, the arrests were not able to stop the students from continuing to protest even though it was limited to the campus, because it was strictly controlled by the FRU.
The protest in the campus lasted a few days before the government launched a movement to arrest student leaders, lecturers and youth leaders.
The police entered the campus of Universiti Malaya and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia at 2.00 am, Sunday, December 8, 1974; searched dormitory rooms, offices and other buildings of the university to find and arrest students under the Internal Security Act.
This Baling protest, even though it was later confirmed to be a false report, had sparked the courage of students to become the people’s spokesperson. And this is where Anwar’s special leadership style began to open the eyes of many parties.
Because of that, when Anwar took over the position of Prime Minister last Thursday, he was very focused on this issue. People are starving, and starvation can spark an extraordinary revolution.
Therefore, he wants the government to provide an accurate report on the current situation of the people’s lives in this country.
In his press conference on Sunday, he gave an analogy to the story of a magistrate giving an inaccurate report regarding the current situation faced by the people.
“There was a magistrate at that time, asking how things are. And his subordinates explained that the fishermen and farmers are all in good condition and each has enough property. Later, pirates attacked the village and the poor people were killed.”
Strictly speaking, he wants to be honest with people. If there is nothing, show that there is none. We tell the people, ask for forgiveness and apologise to the people, saying that there is nothing.
Anwar does not ‘play’ with the welfare of the unfortunate people, because he has sacrificed and was sacrificed for them. The Baling tragedy placed Anwar under the Internal Security Act, as a prisoner without trial at the Kamunting Detention Camp for 20 months.
It taught him a great lesson, and because of that, he is mature enough, understands the pain of the people, and will ensure that under the leadership of his administration, this does not happen and will not happen, even if the economic recession hits the country.
Two weeks to prepare papers to deal with the livelihood of the people is fair, so that all the facts and recommendations that are served later can give light to all the affected people.