Priority is to give pact more punch
By SHAHANAAZ HABIB AND RASLAN SHARIF
Q: With only days left before you can return to public office, what are your immediate plans?
A. I am not in a rush. I don’t recognise the court’s decision therefore the date has no significance in my mind.
My number one priority is to ensure accountability and good governance in managing the five states. We have to anticipate the possibility of the federal government creating problems in not assisting and not disbursing funds.
So we have to ensure that we manage and fulfil our promises to the electorate. Secondly, we have to cement the coalition to a more credible and formidable group. That is critical.
Q: People are waiting for you to get back in Parliament yet you say you are no in hurry. A number of opposition MPs have said they are willing to give up their seat for you.
A: Yes, I have an option of about 20 possibilities. I have not made up my mind because this is not a priority. We have 82 MPs right now – more, in fact – and that’s enough to make a serious impact on Parliament.
Building up an effective credible Pakatan Rakyat is to my mind far more important for now. If we can do that – if we can run our state governments and if I can continue expressing my views on a number of issues – I don’t see why one would expect that I have to jump into the fray as an MP that soon.
Q: But do you see yourself in Parliament by the end of year?
A: Certainly not in the next few months. In the next few months we will review by looking at it and developments. Things are moving very fast and we are cementing a stronger Pakatan Rakyat and Umno is getting more fragile. I am the first to admit that negotiations to have a solid relationship take time. But we have time on our side. It is Barisan and Umno that is racing against time.
Q: The opposition has 82 seats but you said you have more than 82 seats to choose from. Are the extra seats from potential crossovers?
A: I am sure you have heard that people from Sabah and Sarawak and other MPs too wanting to cross.
There has been some criticism that we are soliciting them – but I must first state that had the elections been free and fair and not rigged and if the inedible ink had been used – we would have won a substantial number of more seats and been even closer to forming the government.
We made it very clear when they (crossover MPs) are associated with Pakatan Rakyat, they must subscribe to our policies of democracy, independent judiciary, free media, a new Malaysian Economic Agenda with a clear commitment to distributive justice.
Q: During the elections, PKR, DAP and PAS went around asking voters to deny Barisan Nasional a two-thirds majority which they did. But how moral is it now for the opposition to get Barisan MPs to crossover and try and make the elected Barisan government fall?
A: Morality must not only be perceived but it also must be consistent. You can’t say on one hand that you can cheat at elections, you can control and manipulate the media and commit a lot of fitna (slander) and then complain about (the Internet movie) Fitna in the Netherlands. Look at the amount of the fitna tolerated here and condoned.
I never said that denying Barisan a two-thirds majority. I’ve always said we wanted to form an alternative government.
Even within DAP and PAS, we say if we win today, we will release all political detainees the following day – the Malays in JI (Jemaah Islamiah) the Hindus in Hindraf. That means we give that window – that hope that we could take over.
I did say too if we win today, there is no reason we can’t reduce the price of petrol tomorrow. So if you talk on moral issues, my conscience is clear.
Q: There was such euphoria with Pak Lah in 2004 and voters gave him mandate wholesale only to desert Barisan in this 2008 election. What lessons have you learnt from this journey that voters can change their minds just like that?
A: It is my firm belief that you must have the trust and confidence in the wisdom of the masses.
I think the people were right in their decision of supporting Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi in 2004 because initially he made the correct pronouncements and it was very difficult for people to fault him on the pronouncements on an anti-corruption drive, good governance, independent judiciary, economic justice and “I will listen’, all those pious platitudes.
One year is too soon, they said, give him a chance but after 4 years, the people say ‘look, you have not delivered’. So what have I have learnt – is that people can give so much affection, they can cry for you, they can give kisses – but never take them for granted. They may not holding PhDs in the villages but they are wise in their own way.
Pakatan Rakyat has to hold to this principle very clearly which means our state governments must be clean, not corrupt, work hard and deliver promises. Yes, there would be mistakes on the way but these can easily be forgiven – but not by absconding funds, stealing and betraying the trust.
Some of our people may make some not-so-articulate statements because it was not discussed or well deliberated. But I believe that these things are temporary and can be forgiven. People test you on your credibility and the fact that you deliver your promises. One thing I hold dear in my heart -is that I know for a fact that I have been vindicated by the people – not by this corrupt court – and I can sense their hope, the affection they show.
True, there are some who have extreme hatred towards me – I don’t deny that. Some say I have betrayed the Malays and Muslims and become a running dog for the Jews and now an agent of the Chinese – but they are just a small minority.
Overall though I can see in their eyes their belief and hope that this guy (Anwar) is promising something and you can trust him. I saw that in their eyes and it is very sentimental to me. I can still picture some of these faces of the people in the huge crowds. I can still picture some of the faces of the people in the crowd during the election rallies. It is very sentimental to me. I could see hope in their eyes. They look at you, kiss you, hug you and cry and we cannot betray it. This goes beyond politics.
Q: With regards to the PAS and DAP relationship, how were you able to convince PAS to moderate its Islamic state approach?
A: It’s not for me to convince them. PAS is an Islamic party and it is too much to expect them not to continue with their struggle for Islam.
PKR, for example, is not an Islamic party but I maintain that I am a committed Muslim but then we all agree this is a multi -racial multi-religious country and that we have a special role for Islam as the special religion for the Federation.
But what is pertinent in this context is for PAS , DAP and PKR to acknowledge the fact that the issue of governance , stability and the future of the country is paramount. This seems to be fully endorsed and recognised by the voters in the election.
Some use the term political tsunami but I call it a ‘defining moment’ because it was not comprehensible in the past for Malays including more conservative Malays and PAS members in large numbers to support DAP candidates and vice versa.
Q: About Malay unity, people are still talking about how Umno might woo PAS over. What do you think of that possibility?
A: At a time when Umno seems to be a bit desperate, so they become more Malay? They were less Malay two months ago?
They talk not only PAS but they also message me about Malay unity. I say yes, the Malays must be united, but the paramount consideration is Malaysian unity. The Malays will be even more secure in a united, stable and rich Malaysia.
We must have affirmative action, but if is need-based rather than race-based, then this will help the Malays even much more. I am kept posted by PAS leaders about these attempts, and they tell me that Umno leaders are trying to engage them, and I said we should welcome them — welcome them to Pakatan Rakyat.
Q: Will Pakatan Rakyat allow its MPs to vote their conscience in Parliament?
A: There is a proposal … firstly, Pakatan Rakyat MPs will hold a conference to debate issues regarding Parliament.
Secondly, the issues to be discussed will include decisions to be taken on whether we will give the MPs flexibility.
There are opinions in favour but I can’t say for certain until we reach an agreement on that.
Personally, I believe that if it has anything to do with policies, then the MPs must toe the party line, but if it is concerning general issues, then we can give them some flexibility.
So this way, we can create an environment where the MPs individual views are given recognition and due respect.
Q: Will Pakatan Rakyat introduce a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi?
A: No, for now, that is not an issue, there is no reason (to do it). We do not find it a necessity nor critical (for us to do so).
We will of course continue to monitor and discuss this between the leaders of DAP, PAS and PKR, but for now there is no reason to raise this.
Q: In the event Pakatan Rakyat gets a majority in parliament, will you be Prime Minister? And is Pakatan Rakyat open to a non-Malay becoming Prime Minister?
A: On the candidate for Prime Minister, we have more less reached a consensus but it is not final and has not been announced as it is not time yet. And I don’t want to jump the gun. But this does not been that we are stalling as we are ready to govern.
As I said we have time. If I am entrusted to the job, I do not want to be in a rush because I don’t want to govern a fragile government. I
want one that is strong so that the programmes and policies we have promised can be carried out well and there would not be flaws with all sorts of allegations of corruption and abuse of power.
As for the issue of the non-Malay Prime Minister, based on the constitution and the majority, the tendency is for it to be a bumiputera Malay.
My Chinese and Indian colleagues in the opposition too do not question this. What they are asking for them is not to be marginalised. In the future if there are changes and mindset become more open to the idea, then it will be up to the wisdom of our society to decide.
Based on principle, this should not be prohibited because as Malaysian citizens they have the right. There should come a time people here too become more open and choose the best person.
It’s is still sensitive today. So for this moment of time, for the stability and continuity, we should continue to let the Prime Minister be a bumiputera Malay. But he must also have a free Malaysian vision and put an end to all socio-economic injustices and give equal rights to all.
Q: What are you views on the Official Secrets Act, Internal Security Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act?
A: We have made it clear in our manifesto that all draconian and oppressive laws have to go. There’s concern over the threat of terrorism and therefore we have to tighten security laws in terms of dealing with this.
We will not compromise on this. But clearly the detention without trial, the suspension of civil liberties, including the writ of habeas corpus, has to go.
Because in defending basic rights, you cannot use draconian laws and condemn people to imprisonment without trial.
Does this mean we compromise on security? No. We will give police adequate powers, in the event they have reasonable need to use them.
Operasi Lalang is now acknowledged by the Prime Minister as something that was wrong. I was detained under the ISA, and two years after I was released, I was made a minister.
So there are a lot of things (that have happened) to suggest that these oppressive laws should be abrogated.
Similarly, the Universities and University Colleges Act and the Official Secrets Act need to be reviewed. The OSA should not be used to protect the corrupt.
It makes a mockery of the whole process. If the intention is to safeguard matters concerning national security, that’s fair. I don’t think anybody would say that all government documents should be open (to public scrutiny).
I remember being asked by the then Attorney General, who said “but you did swear, under oath, to protect government secrets?” My reply was: “Yes, but I did not swear to protect the corrupt.”
Q: What about the Printing Presses and Publications Act? If you come into power there will not be a need for publishing licenses?
A: There are enough libel laws and other laws to protect (people). If for example, the issue of the film Fitna, or cartoons on the Prophet, we must have blasphemy laws.
I’m not saying that I’m that liberal, that you can insult religion. We have to have these laws. But these laws cannot be used as a license to then protect the corrupt and deny basic freedoms.
Let people express themselves. And some of it (opinions) will be at our expense. I know, I have a blog, and I say we open it up, and I get some nasty comments in my blog.
But I am committed to this issue of freedom. The only thing that I won’t allow is four-letter words, swearing, making nasty references to religion or race, but otherwise we have to allow it.
What is important is that we need to be clear over what is prohibited and it must be discussed and be agreed upon.
Q: You spent a long time in Umno and the Government, and some people say they have not heard Anwar Ibrahim admit to any of the sort of practices that he now rails against. There has been no acknowledgement on your part: “Oh yes, I did some of those things, I am sorry for it, I repent, I’m a changed man now”. Some people still doubt that you are now a “transformed man”.
A: If I say I’m a transformed man, I’m not being truthful. I have said repeatedly that I was part of the system that even accepted the ISA, the draconian measures, however much I disagreed with them. Operasi Lalang — it is a known fact that I went and appealed on behalf of quite a number of the opposition leaders detained.
In the case of the judiciary, Tun Salleh Abbas, for example, at a personal level, too. Some people say that, “If you had been true to your principles, you would have resigned.”
Okay, I said that I cannot absolve myself completely from being part of the system. But I think I did not use my power to even (do things such as) censor the media.
Q: What about people who say you had your cronies too back then?
A: They can say that. But you tell me which businessman or big tycoon I did not meet and work with?
But can you say I cancelled someone’s contract or enriched myself in the process (of carrying out my duties)?
There are still rumours going around that we spent hundreds of million in the elections. But people know how we had to struggle, how much money we gave to each candidate.
You know why we lost in Sabah? We just didn’t have the funds (to campaign properly). The candidates appealed to me for more, but I said I’m sorry, that’s all we have.
What’s important, I think, on the issue of personal integrity is that did you amass wealth, take shares, APs, taxi licenses, contracts while you were in government? Did you take one inch of government land? I did not. Do you have one cent in any bank account, even a foreign bank account? I don’t. That’s why I can go on the attack. If people ask, your decisions as Finance Minister, was every single decision correct?
Of course I can’t say that. I can say I’m sorry for the mistakes, but if you have to continue to apologise every week, you will sound like the Japanese apologising (for things they did) during the Second World War.
Q: You are the glue that sticks the Pakatan Rakyat together and it’s till a very fragile coalition. In the very unfortunate event you are no longer there, who’s going to take over?
A: That’s very scary (laughs). It’s not that we are invincible but because I have been alerted too many times about my personal security by friends here and abroad. But I think the ‘glue’ now transcends me.
The people have spoken and PKR, DAP PAS leaders are virtually compelled by the voters to work together. And for now I am just facilitating that. To their credit, the leaders are mature, wise and seem committed to the cause.
Q: Some have said that Khairy Jamaludin reminds them of a younger Anwar – they are both ambitious, speak well, have charm, an aura and rose up the ranks real fast stepping on many toes on their way up. Do you agree that Khairy is a younger you?
A: Frankly I don’t know him that well. I met him once soon after I was released when I wanted him to facilitate (getting) my passport because I was in excruciating pain.
Even when he met me, I was in excruciating pain. He sounded reasonably intelligent to me and he was very polite in that particular meeting. But I thought that some of his (later) statements appear to be rather arrogant where I was firm and tough. There’s a difference between firmness and arrogance. and he’s an extremely well to do businessman.
At the point I was sacked all I had is a house and very little savings so there is a very big difference there. But otherwise I don’t share this very personal venom and viciousness that is thrown towards him by many others. I don’t take it very personally. I did express my disgust when he chose some very demeaning terms condemning me. I took civil action but that’s more to try and educate him on basic decency in politics.
And I even joke when he said ‘I will hound him for being an agent of the Americans and Chinese’ or whatever. It reminded me of the song Hound Dog and I went around singing “You ain’t nothing but a hounddog.’
I follow Umno politics quite closely but I don’t share this personal venom against him. It’s not a very popular thing to say these days. It may be perceived as my defending him, but I am not defending him. But I don’t share the view that people are attributing the entire blame for the disastrous defeat on him. I think people tend to either over- generalise or apportion the blame.
I think he’s a very convenient scapegoat although he deserves it to a certain extent – but not to be blamed for the entire defeat. There are many faults and many problems. You can see the many issues that are raised. It’s not just him – it is the entire system.
Q: How do you feel about Pak Lah and Najib and do you still consider them still friends?
A: Pak Lah more so because I have known the family for a long time. And I knew the parents quite well. His parents and mine were very very close friends and associates.
When i was in form one in Malay college, other than my dad, his father was my most frequent visitor. So I acknowledge that. But then I think his basic flaw is that when he came in with this clear agenda with the correct pronouncements and when he failed to deliver – either because of sheer incompetence or being surrounded by corrupt and incompetent team Najib was my deputy in the Umno youth.
We worked together reasonably well although I came from a village and he was from a very upper class. And I had to adjust myself for some time but we got along rather well I should say. But I thought some of his decisions and statements against me either when I was in prison or when I was released was certainly ‘rough’.
I had some information of the procurement of submarine and the Sukhoi jet and his complicity in the murder of the Mongolian girl and I did raise some questions. There’s nothing beyond that. At a personal level, we can remain friends.
Q: Give me your assessment of the performance of the reluctant politician in the opposition who has now become the Opposition Leader? Are you impressed?
A: Of course, I can’t be that objective and impartial. What Azizah has done is very impressive to me, knowing her understanding and interest in politics all those years, She always wanted to be a good ophthalmologist and was very concerned about eye diseases and helping the blind and the poor. That was her main interest and of course bringing up the children. But now she’s doing well on her own standing.
I was in Permatang Pauh and people say well that’s Anwar’s constituency. People forget that Anwar has left the scene for a long time and she has managed to get a lot of support to the extent that some are saying that Anwar kalau boleh, tak payah Permatang Pauh boleh tak? (Anwar, if you can please don’t contest in a by-election in Permatang Pauh) They are polite.
They are supportive of me but they think Azizah has performed and they have grown to like her and have affection for her. And she’s been following all these issues. I saw her drafting her first statement (as opposition leader) thanking PAS, DAP and PKR for endorsing her as the leader of the opposition and the issues she would like to raise.
I think she’s very clear on that. Of course, she’ll take a much softer line (than me) in the sense it’s more conciliatory and more motherly. I can’t persuade her to do the otherwise because she says ‘no’. She says the issues can be strong but she wants to take a softer approach. She’s very forgiving. She’s much more forgiving than me. She has her own strength. She looks quite fragile but she is tough.
Q: So you won’t be the ‘Opposition Leader’ behind the screen?
A: I know what you mean. In the party only now, I am becoming really more assertive in terms of work. People have underestimated her because people tend to assume that I do meddle a bit too much. No, but not really – not in the party.
She was running the party for the last few years. I did appear in the party towards the end – it is only now that I have become quite involved. And she has been working as an MP. I asked her about the questions to Parliament and she said she had already submitted it yesterday. I didn’t even get to see the questions to parliament. draft statement i saw. she showed it to me and i thought she covered the issues quite well.
Q: What are the chances of Pakatan Rakyat winning the next general election?
A: If we perform, we will sweep the elections.The five states (that we control) are the base a very important corridor. I am very confident of our chances subject to the fact that we perform. We need to perform.
From my intelligence, they are some who will try to stop this. They will try to create problems in funds and businesses which will be unwise because they will be punishing the people. Then the reaction will be worse (from voters against Barisan) as we have seen in Kelantan.
Q: How long of a honeymoon period does Pakatan Rakyat have?
A: It is important they start performing now. I don’t think we should be even start talking about a honeymoon period.