Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Foreign media's "love" for Anwar Ibrahim on the wane

Critics of Anwar Ibrahim, the charismatic Malaysian opposition figure, often argue that he is "loved" by the foreign media - as if popularity among Western journalists is some sort of damning indictment of his credentials.

Well poor old Anwar doesn't seem as loved as he once was. First, The Economist eased the knife in with an extended column suggesting he was something of a chameleon. Now Philip Bowring in the New York Times suggests that Anwar has been "unable to shake off the perception that he is an opportunist telling different groups what they want to hear" (hat-tip to Reme Ahmad).

One UMNO loyalist even suggested to me (semi-jokingly) that Anwar is so concerned about his deteriorating image that he would rather be convicted for sodomy in his upcoming trial so as to give him extra martyrdom points and more support in the West.

It's true to say that Anwar has lost some momentum since the "political tsunami" of 2008, when his loose coalition helped to cut down the government's two-thirds majority. But, in a democracy (albeit an imperfect one), it is inevitable that the opposition struggles to make an impact in the electoral no-man's land between polls.

More than anything else, I think the critical analyses of Anwar penned by The Economist and the NYT are a sign of the plurality of views entertained in the Western media - something that cannot be said for Malaysia's government-controlled press.

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