The economic policies of Anwar Ibrahim, the  charismatic and rather controversial Malaysian politician, have been repeatedly scrutinised. Anwar’s political career spans six decades: from his days as the president of the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) (1974–1982), to him joining the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), during which he occupied a number of portfolios becoming the minister of finance (1991–1998), and deputy prime minister (1993–1998), to his dispute with the then prime minister, Mahathir Mohammad, and subsequent political imprisonment during which he became the leader of Reformasi, the reform movement, and the return as opposition leader (2008–2015). So, there is a lot of ground to cover; and trying to understand Anwar’s worldview, especially in relation to economics, over this span of time is not an easy task. Khoo Boo Teik’s The Making of Anwar Ibrahim’s ‘Humane Economy’ is a welcome addition to the discussion, as an analysis of Malaysian political economy and as a contribution to the discussion on ‘Islam and economics’ seen through the ideas and writings of Anwar. Khoo covers the ground ably.

He seeks to ‘reconstruct Anwar’s worldview…and to offer a critical understanding of how he arrived at his ideas of the humane economy’ and its implications for Malaysia. Khoo relies on keynote addresses, budget speeches and political party documents. Given that these documents are those of a politician who had various positions and leadership roles in multi-ethnic Malaysia, the findings can often be very complex and seemingly contradictory. 

Khoo Boo Teik, The Making of Anwar Ibrahim’s ‘Humane Economy’, ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, 2020 (Trends in Southeast Asia No. 18)

After a very brief introduction to his background, much of the monograph focuses on Anwar’s economic views. Khoo, like many other political observers, finds Anwar somewhat an enigma. Is he the ‘firebrand/radical’ Islamist of the 1970s and early 1980s for whom ‘economics did not seem to matter?’ Or is he the ‘economic reformist’ – the pro-market reformist he was during the 1990s (as the minister of finance) or is he more the people’s reformist he took on from the 2000s to date when he led, and still leads, the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat, now Pakatan Harapan? 

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