malaysia: Anwar Ibrahim as PM rekindles hopes of new era in India-Malaysia ties

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The swearing in of Anwar Ibrahim as Malaysia’s 10th prime minister on Thursday has rekindled hopes of a new era in Indo-Malay ties after it had soured due to its proximity to Pakistan.

As a minister and Leader of Opposition in the past, Ibrahim has maintained cordial ties with New Delhi for decades, including with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ibrahim has been a regular visitor to India and has said previously that Malaysia would act against Islamic preacher Zakir Naik if provided with evidence of his role in inciting hatred and extremism.

Earlier this year, in a major boost to defence ties, aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd opened its branch in Malaysia, eyeing the Tejas deal and to fulfil other requirements of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) such as the upgradation and servicing of the Russian Sukhoi-30 fighters and British Hawk trainer aircraft.
Ibrahim said in a tweet on Friday that Malaysia looks forward to working closely and strengthening ties with India as the country is an important partner. The tweet came in response to Modi’s tweet on Anwar’s appointment.

“Thank you [email protected], India is an important partner for Malaysia. I’m looking forward to working closely with you to strengthen ties and cooperation in various areas including trade, investment and culture,” Anwar said.

In his tweet, Modi congratulated Anwar on his appointment and expressed interest to strengthen the India-Malaysia strategic partnership.

“Congratulations Dato’ Seri @anwaribrahim on your election as the Prime Minister of Malaysia. I look forward to working closely together to further strengthen India-Malaysia Enhanced Strategic Partnership,” Modi said.

“While the immediate preoccupation of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is bound to be internal, his vision certainly embraces a stronger and closer relations with India. I hope he can bring back the much-needed focus on strengthening our relations,” TS Tirumurti, India’s former envoy to Malaysia and later Permanent Representative at UN told ET.

In the elections held on November 19, Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) party won the biggest share of seats (82), short of the 112 majority it needed to form a government on its own.

A veteran leader in Malaysia’s politics, Ibrahim began his political career as a student activist, and in 1971, founded the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, known by its acronym ABIM in Malay. In the early years of his political career, he started leading protests against rural poverty and on other socio-economic causes in the country.

Ibrahim’s political influence caught the eye of then prime minister Mahathir Mohammad, who convinced him to join the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party.

In his role as finance minister, Ibrahim launched decisions concerning the country’s governance, which in many ways helped Malaysia weather the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s. When the crisis worsened, the relationship between Mohammad and Ibrahim deteriorated, so much so that in September 1998, Anwar was fired and accused of corruption and sodomy, a crime in Malaysia.

Later, Anwar returned to politics, leading his own reformist party that came close to defeating the UMNO in the 2013 election. But once again, new sodomy charges were filed against him, and he was jailed in 2015.

Malaysia is a key economic partner for India in Asean.

India’s major exports to Malaysia are mineral fuels, mineral oils; aluminium, meat and edible meat offal; iron and steel; copper; organic chemicals; nuclear reactors; boilers; machinery and mechanical appliances; electrical machinery and equipment etc.

India’s major import items from Malaysia are mineral fuels, mineral oils, electrical machinery and equipment; animal or vegetable fats and oils and their cleavage products; nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances; copper, wood; wood charcoal, aluminium, organic chemicals, iron and steel and miscellaneous chemical products.

Malaysia is the 24th largest investor in India with an FDI inflow of $932.19 million which constitutes 0.22% of total FDI inflows of $421 billion into India during the period April 2000 to March 2019.

Malaysian companies are primarily interested in investing in the infrastructure and construction sector with a particular focus on roads and highways, railways and up-gradation of airports and ports.

Other sectors are telecommunications, ICT, engineering, power, oil and gas etc.

India’s defence relations with Malaysia have gained momentum during recent years. The MoU on defence cooperation signed in 1993 is the cornerstone of defence relations between the two countries.

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