There is something about Nurul Nuha Anwar that seems familiar, the first time you meet her. You cannot really put your finger on it, but it is as if you have met her before, or have known her for absolutely ages.
Which is unlikely to be so, since Nuha, who is opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s fourth child, has stayed out of the limelight until the recent incarceration of her father for sodomy. As of last month, the public barely knew her, only have caught glimpses of her from time to time by her father’s side.
At first, you feel its because she looks so much like her sister, Nurul Izzah, who is more recognisable. Izzah is Lembah Pantai MP and a rising star in PKR, and, as PKR’s ‘Puteri Reformasi’ she has been in public eye since she was 18.
Nuha, however, had not. She was too young then, and was largely shielded from the spotlight, so you feel that it could be that they both share their father’s nose, or both have enviably sharp wit and a sort of savvy, street-smart intelligence about them.
Then you think again, and no, that’s not it.
The feeling of familiarity stayed throughout The Rocket’s interview with her recently, which was just a few days before the penultimate Kita Lawan rally for the March 2 Freedom campaign which she now leads.
So you start asking questions and hearing her answers, and then it hits you: Nuha is so much like her mother, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, that it is uncanny.
It is not in her looks, however, that she reminds you strongly of the PKR president, but in their gentle demeanour, their soft-spokenness, and the careful, considered and demure pattern of their speech.
They even sound a bit like each other — not in voice, but in tone.
Seeing Nuha and her mother standing next to each other — whether by design or by coincidence — during the March 7 Kita Lawan rally, that feeling simply gets reinforced. Both give the impression of a sort of steadiness, an unflappability in the face of chaos; in contrast to Izzah, who like Anwar, has fire inside her.
However, the events that placed Nuha into the spotlight are an eerie deja vu of her sister’s own experience.
Izzah had come into her own after her father’s incarceration, and so has Nuha, but for now, the latter does not have any political ambitions.
“I believe Pakatan has so many young MPs, my sister, Nik Nazmi (Nik Ahmad), Hannah Yeoh… so many. I feel that right now, I remain focused on my campaign to free my father from this unjust incarceration,” she said.
Asked why she had come forward after years of being in the background, Nuha simply said: “Because my father is a political detainee.”
“He has been unjustly and cruelly detained and under this horrible, horrible thing. Back then, we were so young. Izzah was young too, but we (the younger siblings) were still in school. And Izzah, she’s amazing. She had to juggle all that and she wanted to protect the family, but now that we’re older, we need to to do this for our father — it’s not just me but my whole family.
“I just happen to give the press conferences,” she said.
The events that have taken place (see chronology of events) since the Federal Court upheld the Court of Appeal decision to send Anwar to five years jail for sodomy in February however, have had a mixed reaction from many quarters.
Some say the mood has been more subdued, and although the Kita Lawan rally had been a success with over 5,000 people taking to the streets, it is somehow far less than in the 1998 Reformasi when the entire city came to a standstill as tens of thousands turned out to protest.
This, Nuha believes, is not a sign of abating support or indignation at the unjust treatment of her father.
“I think people need to see that we have had continuous support for the past 17 years, and being physically there isn’t the only way to show support. We have had tremendous support throughout social media and the internet, and we feel blessed to have that,” she said.
“People are more aware. They have other responsibilities but they disseminate what they can, and the rakyat are more educated, and this is what the government fears the most; and despite having control over all mainstream media channels, we (Pakatan) still managed to capture 52% of the vote,” she added.
She holds on to the faith that through their efforts, Anwar can still be freed.
“We believe that whatever measures we take, we have to have a sense of faith. The belief has to be there or what we do is futile,” she said.
It is perhaps this faith that is propping the family up at the moment, and Nuha said it has been an emotional roller-coaster for them all.
“It doesn’t get any better to know your father is in prison for the second time, and my kids ask about him all the time. We remain strong because we think of how he would want us to be, he would want us to fight for him, and he would want us to carry forward his vision for a better Malaysia. It’s our future we are talking about,” she said.
“We as a family are really close. Many families including ours can be dysfunctional at times, but we love each other regardless and that it is not a front, or facade that we put on— what you see is what you get.
“You know what? You’ve (the government) taken our father away from us again and again and I must say this is our time to fight his unjust incarceration,” she added.
As Nuha said that, her voice sharpens, and she gets the same glint in her eye that Wan Azizah had when the latter contested in Anwar’s stead in the Kajang by-elections. It is clear that behind the gentle demeanour, there is steel just waiting to be tempered and strengthened.
And, like Wan Azizah, who has been the pillar of strength behind the most politically divisive man in the country all these years, Nuha is coming into her own, shaped by the events that are still unfolding as we speak.
– The Rocket