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Shakespeare was Anwar’s ‘best companion’ in jail, he says

Rachel Genevieve Chia, September 20, 2019 in

“I’m a happy man. I can talk about prison, I can joke about it,” the PKR head said. Milken Institute

  • In a dialogue session in Singapore on Sept 19, Anwar Ibrahim revealed that he spent his years in prison reading books.
  • He read titles by Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Thomas Piketty, Sri Aurobindo and Kishore Mahbubani.
  • He said the books taught him to “be human, and humane”.
  • He also asked people to stop pestering PM Mahathir for a formal handover date, calling it “embarrassing”.

For 10-and-a-half long years, while jailed for alleged sodomy, Anwar Ibrahim was busy singing songs and reading.

The current People’s Justice Party (PKR) president sustained himself on music and the musings of prolific writers and thinkers, such as French economist Thomas Piketty – known for his books on wealth and income inequality – and international affairs expert and Singaporean academic Kishore Mahbubani, he revealed during a dialogue at the Milken Institute’s Asia Summit in Singapore on Thursday (Sept 19).

Anwar Ibrahim@anwaribrahim

Di Singapura untuk program dialog ‘Asia At A Crossroads’ di Milken Institute Asia Summit bersama @haslindatv. #MIGlobal

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Also on his reading list were titles by Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo, a politican-turned-yogi, and Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky – who incidentally, also spent 10 years in prison and exile, and whose books examine the human psyche.

Anwar, who joked that he had to include the Quran in the list to be “politically correct”, added that his favourite author while behind bars was none other than famed English playwright William Shakespeare.

“Shakespeare makes still the best companion, unrivalled in challenge,” he said, adding that his extensive reading had taught him to “be human, and humane”.

“(Reading taught me that) politics is just not about power, but about integrity, about legacy, about defending the rights of the people, the common man,” he added.

Anwar added that while he had lost precious time with his wife, children and grandchildren, he had chosen to forgive the “gross injustice” committed against him as needs of the nation took precedence over his personal suffering.

Calling himself a “happy man”, the Prime Minister-in-waiting said he could now talk about prison and even make jokes on it.

“We need to move on. People ask me: Do you really forgive Mahathir? Look, he did his part. You can’t deny the fact that he did contribute to the last phase of this change to unseat Najib at the last elections.”

“You have to decide what is best… and best is to move on, forget the past, forgive,” Anwar added. “Otherwise it is a disease of the heart.”

To great laughter from the audience, he added that the biggest shock he experienced upon being freed was learning about Trump’s presidency.

Constant succession questions ’embarrassing’ for Mahathir: Anwar

When pressed to confirm a May 2020 handover date, the PKR head was noncommittal and said he did not appreciate the constant questioning around handover details.

He added it was “quite embarrassing” to see PM Mahathir slapped with questions on his retirement at every media session, adding that the premier had been consistent and unambiguous about a government transition and identifying Anwar as his successor.

“Sometimes he’ll say: ‘in three years’, or ‘two years’, but that is Mahathir. You can’t change him at 94,” Anwar said. “I don’t believe it is fair to go harping (on it), knowing it is next year.”

He added that he had the majority support needed to become PM, and that Mahathir was aware of party leaders’ sentiments.

The former deputy PM also suggested that Mahathir was reluctant to announce a specific date for the handover to avoid becoming a lame-duck Prime Minister.

The term refers to an outgoing politician who has lost power due to the election of a successor.

Anwar said he had no reason to question Mahathir’s sincerity, adding that he would  patiently wait for the role.

“I happen to be one of the most patient people… I have been known as the Prime Minister-in-waiting since 1999,” he added, again to laughter.

“Waiting for a few more months or years is not a question,” he added. “Inshallah (God wiling), it will happen.”

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