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Veteran politician, academic Syed Husin Ali dies

He was one of Malaysia's best-known political prisoners under ISA.

2 minute read
Syed Husin Ali.
Syed Husin Ali.

Syed Husin Ali, one of Malaysia's most prominent politicians and a former detainee of the Internal Security Act (ISA), passed away early this morning at the age of 88.

Syed Husin was best known as the leader of Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia, which was later renamed Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) after the party dropped its socialist tag.

He also played an important role in the founding of the present PKR, which emerged from a merger of PRM and Parti Keadilan Nasional.

A former academic at Universiti Malaya, he has written extensively on sociology and politics in Malaysia with a focus on economic solutions to poverty.

His book "The Malays" is considered a classic reference work on the subject.

But it was his autobiography Two Faces, in which he recounts his experiences of detention without trial under ISA, that first gave the Malaysian public a detailed insight into how the authorities silenced critics and used various intimidation tactics. In his case, Syed Husin said that the authorities also tried to smear his wife Sabariah Abdullah, who was one of his strongest supporters until her death in 2013.

Due to old age, Syed Husin has largely retired from politics but remained a loyal supporter of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was one of his students at UM during the student protests in the 1970s.

Syed Husin has always maintained that his arrest was politically motivated and that he was the victim of a power struggle within Umno. He was accused of being a communist and an agent of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, then a vocal Umno leader who was fast climbing the political ladder and regarded as a threat by the party's leadership.

In a book dedicated to him on his 80th birthday, Syed Husin said he remained optimistic about Malaysia, especially the youth.

"I believe in the people, and what is important for the future is the young people of today.

"I am optimistic about the youth and the people, but not optimistic about the ruling groups and the old people, including me!" he said.

Syed Husin is survived by a son, two daughters and grandchildren.