KUALA LUMPUR: Anfaal Saari, vice-chief of Pakatan Harapan’s women’s wing, admits she knew little about politics before the 1998 arrest of Anwar Ibrahim and the ensuing wave of protests against the prime minister of the time, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
She was quickly thrown into the world of activism because her father, Saari Sungib, the current deputy chief of Selangor Amanah, was one of the activists associated with the Reformasi movement, under which the sustained protests were carried out.
“Back then,” she told FMT, “you had only VCD recordings of Anwar being arrested. My family, including myself, made copies of the VCD and distributed them to the public.
“Seeing Anwar’s family suffer, seeing the black eye that Anwar got while in prison – all that sunk into my mind and that’s when the Reformasi spirit within me started to burn.”
She said her home became a “war room” for the movement.
“We had posters and books in the house and we opened our doors to fellow activists. I met many people. We went for demonstrations and we distributed fliers.”
She said things took a turn for the worse for her family with the second wave of arrests in October 1998.
“My father was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA). My mother was pregnant at the time and so, being the eldest, I was left in charge.
“It was a very difficult time for me because I had no clue as to what I should do. I had to learn along the way.”
It was around this time that her family’s hatred for Mahathir reached its peak, she said.
“At that time, we would have either laughed or slapped you if you somehow had prophetic powers and told us that Mahathir would one day join the opposition. We could never have imagined working with him.”
Saari was eventually released from detention, but in 2001, further arrests were made under the ISA. Anfaal said her father could sense, as early as November 2000, that the authorities would be coming for him and other activists.
“So in December, we went for a family holiday in Medan. Then January passed, February, March and finally, in April 2001, my father was arrested.
“We chased the police car all the way to the police station, but we finally lost sight of it.”
Under ISA, a person could be held for up to 60 days before his case was reviewed to determine whether he should be detained further, usually two more years, before another review. Anfaal said she prayed hard for her father’s release on the 60th day of his detention.
She was in Terengganu when, on the 54th day, she was summoned home and her mother told her Saari would be imprisoned at the Kamunting detention centre for two years.
“I cried my lungs out then and did so again when we met my father the next day.”
About a year later, she received a marriage proposal from her current husband.
During a visit to Kamunting three weeks after the proposal, she asked her father to sign a document surrendering his paternal right to someone else who would be qualified under shariah law to give away the bride. He refused.
“We set the wedding date for April 7, hoping that he would be released by then. If not, we would have to call off the wedding.
“Even by April 6, no news had come. But on April 7, the police brought my father home in a van and he was allowed not only to give me away but also to give a short speech.”
Anfaal said her acceptance of Mahathir as an ally did not happen overnight. She said it was a slow transition that began with PAS’ treatment of her father during the height of the 2014 Kajang Move. Saari was at the time a PAS member serving as state assemblyman for Hulu Kelang. He was among those who supported the move to oust the then menteri besar, Khalid Ibrahim, much to the chagrin of PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang.
“My father was among the first ones to sense that Khalid Ibrahim wanted to unite Selangor PAS and Selangor Umno under him so he could keep his position,” Anfaal said. “He was one of the few PAS assemblymen who went against Khalid.”
She recalled that Saari came under intense attack from PAS leaders and members.
“It hurt him badly. Haji Hadi called him a lackey and a lot of other names and even prayed for him to be damned.”
When PAS leaders who were ousted at the party’s 2015 muktamar formed Gerakan Harapan Baru and later Parti Amanah Negara, she said, it was natural for her and Saari to join them.
“So there was a transition,” she said. “And deciding to work with Mahathir was another transition. It was not something we had to come to terms with overnight. It was never about accepting or not accepting Mahathir. It was all about the cause.
“We were all firm that the Reformasi cause was far more important than any personal feelings we had. Then, when Mahathir came into the picture, we saw his importance for the cause.”