Malaysia’s political reformist Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim speaks on leadership and winds of change

2 Oct 2018

SMU welcomed Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, as the 10th speaker of the Ho Rih Hwa Leadership Lecture Series on 20 September 2018.


Speaking on the topic “Leadership in the 21st Century: Winds of Change” at SMU Hall, Mr Anwar addressed an audience which comprised a significant number of students from SMU and other educational institutions. He quoted former US President John F Kennedy that “The purpose and aim of education is the assimilation of knowledge for the dissemination of truth. It means that education is about our ability and capacity to acquire not only information but also knowledge and wisdom.” He urged the students to “think and reflect, and not just accept the so-called facts or truths as they are. Without creative thinking and a creative mind, you will just absorb and conduct affairs without any effort to undertake change or reform.”


Describing himself as an incorrigible optimist “because I believe in the idealism of the youths”, he encouraged the youths to not only acquire and assimilate knowledge but also to have the determination to do more for themselves, for their families and for their country.


Some 1,200 people, including SMU Chancellor Mr JY Pillay, SMU Pro-Chancellor Mr Lim Chee Onn, SMU senior management, staff, students, faculty and alumni, as well as the foreign diplomatic community, chambers of commerce, principals, teachers and students from other educational institutions in Singapore attended the lecture.


Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim delivered a lecture on “Leadership in the 21st Century: Winds of Change”.


Forgiveness, compassion, tenacity and courage were some of the attributes Mr Anwar shared when he spoke about leadership. “I think there are fundamental principles that one must hold, one must not compromise on the core values and principles on what is just and fair,” he said.


Sharing what he learned from his personal experience, Mr Anwar commented that he will never compromise on the need to respect freedom and justice. “I do not want any Malaysian to be deprived of his or her rights. I don’t believe that we can achieve the true meaning of independence and freedom if we continue to condone any form of oppression or discrimination.”


Saying that we are living in post-normal times, Mr Anwar said that much of what we have taken to be normal or orthodox no longer applies - markets no longer function as expected, political systems now operate on a different wavelength which allow extreme viewpoints to migrate into the mainstream, technology and innovation are leading us into a world of artificial intelligence where machines will do the thinking and deciding. “There are no easy answers to the challenges before us, but we must adapt and learn to navigate these complexities rather than to simplify them. We have to accept the unknown unknowns which are at play. Humility is central to being able to operate in a scenario where we do not have nor will we ever have complete knowledge,” he said.



The audience were captivated by Datuk Seri Anwar’s wit, humour, charisma and intelligence.


During the one-hour question-and-answer session which followed his lecture, Mr Anwar addressed questions on a variety of topics.


Asked by SMU chairman and session moderator Ho Kwon Ping about potentially "problematic" issues between Singapore and Malaysia, Mr Anwar stressed that both countries have long historical ties – cultural, economic and trade. He believed that Malaysia will benefit immensely from excellent relations with Singapore, and vice versa. He dismissed the view that current Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is not too friendly. “He has strong views about some deals which he believed to be incorrect or that we are not in the position to implement due to costs,” said Mr Anwar. In fact, Dr Mahathir has encouraged Malaysian ministers to visit Singapore. Mr Anwar continued, “To me, (the issue such as water) is not a problem that should cause tensions between the two states. There are issues that must be resolved as friends and as good neighbours in the interest of both nations.”



An enthusiastic audience posed many interesting questions to Datuk Seri Anwar during a lively Q&A session moderated by SMU Chairman Mr Ho Kwon Ping.


To a question by a SMU student on his advice to young students who wished to champion alternative views, Mr Anwar said "When you start to believe in something, you cannot be inhibited by boundaries. You must have the courage to express your views in an open forum… So my advice is you must study very hard, excel in your studies, that’s number one; but you must know that you study not just to become successful professionals, you must also aim to serve. You owe it to the community. It is that conviction that must stay with you."


In response to a Temasek Junior College student who asked what it would take for political reform to happen in Singapore and if he thought the country was ready for it, Mr Anwar replied, "I think to be fair and more objective, the Singapore issue or problem certainly cannot be compared to the fiasco in Malaysia. Nobody talks about endemic corruption or discrimination as you see it here. But whether they should move on to a more vibrant, democratic reform, that’s for the Singaporeans to decide. But to compare with Malaysia, I think it is not right because we were at the stage where if ... change was not effected at the last election, Malaysia would certainly go down the drain."


Mr Anwar also touched on what keeps him motivated despite the many tribulations he has faced, the lowering of the voting age in Malaysia from 21 to 18, affirmative action and the direction of race-based politics in Malaysia.


Watch the full recordings below:

Part 1 – Lecture


Part 2 – Q&A Session

Last updated on 3 Oct 2018.

Share this page

Recent News