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29 July 2009

Zaid Ibrahim’s Keynote Address at The Oxbridge Malaysia Dinner Dialogue Series

Bankers’ Club, Kuala Lumpur

Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for your invitation for me to speak today. When I accepted
your kind offer, I was ‘party-less.’ But things have now changed. I
have drawn my line in the sand. And I have chosen sides. Today, I am a
proud member of Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

Today I am persuaded by the argument that for Malaysia to have
democracy and the Rule of Law, we must have a new government; a viable
inclusive government of the people; a government for all Malaysians.
Today I am dedicated to the cause of securing the success of Parti
Keadilan and Pakatan Rakyat, and ensuring that it galvanises the best
talents and ideas to form a robust alternative Malaysian political
force to lead the nation, to deliver true integration and nationhood.

Ladies and gentlemen, this country was established as a secular
multicultural and multi-religious democracy a’la the Westminster
model. The Constitution however provides for a special position for
the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak. They unfortunately
omitted to include the Orang Asli in this special category, although
they were naturally the first original inhabitants of this country.
All they got was a Jabatan Orang Asli. The special provisions for
Bumiputras under Article 153 do not make them more special than other
citizens, for the fighters of independence did not envisage an
Orwellian society where some are more equal than others. The
acceptance of equality of rights as citizens is central to the success
of our Malaysian journey.

When the Prime Minister announced his ‘1Malaysia’ slogan, I asked if
that meant he would make a declaration that all Malaysians are equal.
The answer was not forthcoming till today. All he said was rights must
be understood in the context of responsibilities. Another fuzzy reply.
When critics asked if ‘1Malaysia’ is an affirmation of the rights of
ALL the citizens under the Constitution, an affirmation of the
multicultural and multi-religious nature of our country; and that the
principles of Rukun Negara will continue to be the mainstay of our
society. My detractors say that my views are fodder for the egos and
insecurities of those who detest the constitutional position of the
Malays. They say I work too hard at being a Malaysian and by doing so,
have forgotten my roots and responsibilities to the Malays. And that
no right thinking Malay, who truly understands what is at stake, would
ever support me. I know my heritage. I know my humble beginnings. And
I know my roots and responsibilities as a Malay. They are wrong. To
them, let me say this:

UMNO – being hidden in a cave for so long and concealed from the real
world – have almost abandoned the idea of a shared and common
nationhood. They believe that for so long as the MCA and the MIC
remain with them as partners of convenience; that is sufficient to
build a nation. They think it’s sufficient to forge a new nation by
electoral arrangements. The MCA and the MIC also think it’s sufficient
for nationhood if they remain business partners of UMNO.

A new united Malaysia can only come true when UMNO changes and
abandons racial politics and the politics of racial hegemony. Or when
the Malays can be made to understand that patronage, authoritarianism
and nationalist extremism, which underpins UMNO’s style of leadership,
does more harm to the community and the country than good. That Malays
themselves must break from the shackles of narrow nationalism so that
they may realise self-actualisation and emancipation. The first is
difficult to achieve but I take it as my responsibility to try and
achieve the second.

Let me now get into the subject of the speech by giving you an
understanding about how UMNO ticks. This, to me, is critical in order
for you to appreciate what hope we have for the preservation of the
Rule of Law and Democracy in Malaysia.
At the heart of UMNO’s philosophy on leadership is a conviction that
there is an inherent, almost ‘divine’ right to retain power at all
costs. This is so for two reasons: Firstly because they assume that
they are the only political force, by way of Barisan Nasional¸ to
offer a workable power-sharing leadership of this nation. And
secondly, because they believe that the Malay hegemony that UMNO
maintains is necessary to prevent the Malays from becoming
marginalised. It is these beliefs that are at the centre of UMNO’s
self-indulgent sense of indispensability and self-importance that is
today causing them to steer the nation to an authoritarian rule. It is
this sense of self-importance that is accountable for the
authoritarianism in leadership and government. It is this that has
helped justify in their minds their right to quell anyone who
threatens the status quo, whether it be a group of politicians or
activists protesting against abuses in government or a group of
Indians protesting against their treatment and lack of opportunities
or a previous Deputy Prime Minister who was no longer in step with the
‘Big Boss.’ It does not matter. Self-preservation demands expedience
at all costs to resolve any impending threat.

But there is more. Since the hegemony is protected by policies that
benefit the elites and other powerful forces, this sense of
self-importance becomes even more dangerous. Because it justifies why
real checks and balances against governmental abuses can be done away
with. It justifies trampling on fundamental safeguards in the Federal
Constitution in the last 20 years.

But there is more. If you are on the cause of preserving the rights of
the elites, the oligarchs, then it brings you no shame to have a
former UMNO lawyer as Chief Justice; in fact, you become proud of that
achievement. Even if the Attorney-General had committed many errors in
the discharge of his functions and duties, a well-known fact amongst
the legal fraternity, you will not change him; nor would you change
the Chief of Police despite so many reports of transgressions
committed by him. All for the ‘Malay cause’ they would say! And if you
are on the Bench writing your judgement on the Perak fiasco; you can
tailor it to suit your master’s political interests, and you will be
lauded for that. The ‘Malay Cause’ is everything. The Constitution can
wait; sound legal reasoning can wait, justice can wait..

But there is more. Many in UMNO see the hegemony as a ‘be all and end
all,’ with the power sharing between component parties as being a
means to an end. Ketuanan Melayu, a mantra of Malay supremacy, has
gained ground instead of receding over time. More accurately it is
Ketuanan Elit Melayu as the majority of the Malays have found out to
their dismay.

What is the price that we ultimately pay as a nation, if this
pernicious doctrine is embraced by many? Clearly to start with, we
would continue to be cursed with a non-transparent government without
the capability of functioning in a way that respects the rule of law.
We will be cursed for having laws that oppress, that curtail and
suffocate the basic freedoms of the people. We now have a set of rules
for the elites and one for the rakyat, one for Barisan Nasional and
one for Pakatan Rakyat.

If the public believes that the government is not beholden to a set of
commonly revered values and principles, and its actions are tainted by
racial biases, there will continue to be physical and emotional
segregation of communities, regardless of how many times we change the
slogans to break such divisiveness. The notion of creating a free and
democratic Malaysia therefore becomes unachievable.

The ultimate price that the country suffers from the present political
culture is that the Malays and non-Malays will continue to be denied a
sense of ownership of Malaysia’s nation-building journey. And instead
of becoming partners in this voyage to mature nationhood, they
continue to bicker and remain suspicious and distrustful of one
another. Because of this segregation, the government is unable to set
a new direction for the country.. Because of racial polarisation, the
people are not ready to accept a multi-racial dimension for this
country. As a result, we are not able to enact or even discuss
comprehensive national policies whether it is regarding the police,
education or judicial and civil service reforms. The distrust of the
communities will prevent objective appraisals and solutions to the
problems. Ethnic interests take precedence over national interests.
National interests become a strange and fearful concept. And there
will continue to be a brain drain of Malaysian talents who would have
decided that they would rather make their homes elsewhere. This is a
high price that the country can ill-afford to pay given the
increasingly challenging global outlook.

Authoritarianism, patronage, and nationalist extremism from any
quarter destroy the key ingredients necessary for the Malaysian
community to really build on and retain that wealth and knowledge.
Competitiveness and true economic and scholastic success, is a
function of instilling in the hearts and minds of beneficiaries a set
of new behaviours, around the capacity and desire to take personal
accountability, to trust one another, to be achievement-oriented, to
develop a sense of curiosity, a sense of solidarity that go beyond our
own ethnic clans and groups; so that together, we are to be able to
build this country. We must do away with unprincipled politics, with
Machiavellian methods but instead seek to change with reforms that
encourage the development of a viable democracy and a prosperous
country for all.

The government says it hopes to amend up to 33 laws, which involve
discretionary powers to the Home Minister, beginning with the
controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) in the next Parliament
session. Let’s hope and see if this will bear fruit. Authoritarianism
in government will continue albeit in a different guise, unless the
whole of the ISA, Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act and similar
such laws are abolished. This would be an example of good governance.
However authoritarian policies will most likely continue while
corruption is rampant when the elites need protection from their
misdeeds. Najib will not be able to change any of these.

Perak State Government

The whole cloak-and-dagger story of intrigue about the overthrow of
the Pakatan Rakyat government gave rise to much suspicion about
Najib’s style, well before he took office. He could have allayed fears
that he would not be one to resort to below-the-belt tactics in his
leadership by calling for fresh elections. Najib’s unwillingness to
dissolve the Perak Assembly has gotten the country deeper into a
political quagmire. By doing so he will also help the Federal Court
judges from having to come up with a convoluted legal reasoning, like
that of the Court of Appeal, to please the Prime Minister.

Malay Unity Talk

This is again Najib’s idea to strengthen himself. If PAS were to
support UMNO under the guise of a ‘unity government,’ a viable
alternative to Barisan Nasional at the next elections will be
seriously undermined. Najib wanted the internal difficulties between
Pakatan Rakyat parties to continue and fester as the mainstream media
went full steam ahead to ensure Pakatan’s demise. Let me assure you
that such a scenario will not happen. Pakatan will only get stronger.
Pakatan has its weaknesses but we do not have the culture of hegemony.
We do not suppress dissent. Hence you will hear of occasional
disagreements. You will hear of occasional flare-ups; but PAS,
Keadilan and DAP are committed to finding ways to strengthen their
partnership. They will not break up. Instead they will form a
formidable coalition that will be ready to provide an alternative
government to the people.

Today Malaysians are suffering the deleterious effect of a stagnating
world economy, and the GDP will contract by 4.4 percent according to
the World Bank. FDI’s continue to fall while talent is being lost. The
standard of education and the skill sets including the command of
English, necessary for the workforce to remain globally competitive
continues to plummet. Now after spending billions on teaching Science
and Maths in English in the last 6 years, the Government has announced
the reversal of the policy effective 2012. One wonders if the farcical
National Service programme, which is neither a national service nor an
educational programme will be scrapped too.

Crimes and home security issues have increased since 2003 and these
remain major concerns of the people. In the 1998 case of Anwar
Ibrahim, allegations by the investigating officer himself of tampering
with evidence by the IGP and the A-G have not been answered
satisfactorily. Of course the government had formed a certain panel
comprising three ex-judges deliberating in a secret place. Not
surprisingly the Panel cleared them. The findings of the Royal
Commission in the Lingam case have not been acted upon in a
satisfactory manner also. And many high profile cases reported to the
Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) remain unattended. Such is
the state of the Rule of Law in Malaysia. Will Najib attend to these
issues? Certainly not.

All he can do is to announce the scrapping of some outdated policies
that he had little choice but to do it anyway, as part of the demands
of the international and ASEAN trade agreements. After decades of the
NEP, the 30% equity requirement in companies listed amongst the 27
services sub-sectors are taken away. Also the Foreign Investment
Committee regulating investments in Malaysia, have been scrapped. The
reasoning of the government, which is disputed by many Malays, is that
the Bumiputra participation in the relevant services sub-sectors are
satisfactory and hence the removal of the quota requirement. Whilst
the move has made Najib popular in the short term, it will come back
to haunt him. Economics and social justice require him to address the
larger question of disparities in income of the people. The plight and
grievances of ordinary people will not be redressed by one or two
populist policies.

On the question of the preservation of the Rule of Law and Democracy,
he did nothing and probably will continue to do nothing. He should
have acted as if he has only 100 days before his reign comes to an
end. He should have embraced Roosevelt’s dictum, “there is nothing to
fear but fear itself,” and embarked on far-reaching policies to give
back judicial power to the Courts, to give back integrity, trust and
respectability to governmental institutions like the Police, the
Attorney-General’s Office, the Election Commission; that of which
Malaysia desperately needs. In doing so, he can show the people he was
prepared to sacrifice his neck if that is required of him.

He should not have started the Perak Debacle but since it had already
gotten under way, he should have had the courage to win back the
support of the people by allowing for the dissolution of the
Legislative Assembly. Instead of embarking on the inane idea of
UMNO-PAS unity – confirming the suspicion that he is like his Deputy
who only understands UMNO-PAS unity at the expense of everything else
– Najib should have called for a national debate amongst all leaders
of major political parties for a serious discussion on key and core
values for the country.

The problems in our country are not race or religion based but BN has
worked very hard to make them so. It’s always about the Rakyat against
the elites or the powerful oligarchs that run and control the
country’s institutions and wealth. The Rakyat for too long have become
pawns in this political game where the race and religious issues are
being played out to divide them.

Najib should have started his administration with pushing through a
Race Relations Act that will punish racism and racist speeches and
writings from all quarters, even if it’s from leaders of his own part
and from Utusan Malaysia. This single greatest impediment to
Malaysians being united and working together for the common good is
racist policies in Malaysia. Racism here is not the same kind that the
Anglo Saxon whites have over blacks and coloureds (or vice-versa) for
many years. It’s not the apartheid kind of racism where whites
generally believe they are superior to blacks and coloureds in
genetics and all spheres of life. Our racism is driven more by ethnic
distrust and ethnic rivalry for the economic cake. They are mainly
economic and culture in nature based on the fear that the wealth of
the country will be taken away by the Chinese and vice-versa. But it’s
just as divisive and dangerous. It refers to both institutionalised
racism and those exhibited by individuals. Malaysia needs to combat
this problem because it’s particularly acute. Because we have three
major races that did not have the luxury of time for natural
assimilation or the time to gel and live in harmony, we need
legislation and governmental support to push through the unity factors
and manage the divisive factors found in the community.

To bring about a truly united ‘1Malaysia,’ our Prime Minister must not
always refer to the deprivation of the Malays suffered under the
British.. No amount of wallowing of the past can change history nor
can we just tell the Chinese and the Indians how grateful they should
be for events taking place 100 years ago. Equally he cannot just be
happy that he has the MCA and the MIC taking care of the non-Malays.
He has to do more to make sure that the non-Malays are equally
responsible and generous with the Malays. Will they open their
businesses to the Malays? Will they give credit on the same terms they
do to their own clans?

But at the same time, the people, including the Malays, must be
convinced that democracy and a functioning bureaucracy are good for
them. That they have a better chance of realising their potentials and
benefiting from their rights and privileges under a government that
respects just laws. They must resist corruption by all means at their
disposal. The notion of Bangsa Malaysia will not detract or take away
anything from them but instead they become a part of a larger and more
diverse community where they too can experience the generosity,
beauty, strength and richness of Malaysian cultures. They will benefit
from the solidarity of people from all walks of life and their
worldview will change to make them stronger and more confident of

A Prime Minister of this country must not succumb to the idea that
force and repression will prevail over the people’s will. The Prime
Minister of this country must not suffer from the delusion that the
Police, the Army, the Courts, the Election Commission and the
Attorney-General could strike fear in the hearts of the people to the
extent that they will and must retreat. No leader in ancient and
modern times has survived the outrage of the masses. Today we have
witnessed a new sense of outrage; outrage against the abuse of power,
against inequality, outrage against the continued persecution of Anwar
Ibrahim, and outrage against the policies of divide and rule.

Ladies and gentlemen, the winds of change have never blown so strong.
Today the rakyat has spoken and they want their voices heard. They
want a new beginning, so that this country, which we all call home,
will be transformed into a dynamic, open and vibrant democratic
sanctuary. A sanctuary where we live without fear of police
harassment, without fear of wearing black or yellow, without fear of
detention without trial, without the nausea of reading newspapers
whose editors have to toe the line to keep the papers alive. We will
make this country such that we have room and space for all of us to
have our dreams and hopes come true.

But the window of opportunity has opened for one central reason. And
that is because the people now have a choice; between the
establishment that has led the country astray over the last 50 years
or a viable alternative in Pakatan Rakyat that can inclusively carry
the hopes and aspirations of all Malaysians, no matter they be Malay,
Chinese or Indian. For without this alternative, the self-indulgent
and delusional sense of self-importance of UMNO and its cohorts in
Barisan Nasional will continue to impose itself.

No doubt Keadilan is a new party, and Pakatan Rakyat is in its
infancy, and the coming together of different political parties to
find a common thread with which to build meaningful solidarity to work
together, is a long and arduous journey. Let us not kid ourselves.
Many challenges lie ahead to make it a truly viable alternative
political force to Barisan Nasional and acceptable choice to all
Malaysians. And the traps and snares to trip up this fledgling
alternative are being laid everywhere; the ‘Unity’ talks being just

My colleagues and I in Pakatan Rakyat must be cautious and yet
courageous, patient yet purposeful, tolerant yet principled, to ensure
that Pakatan Rakyat steers clear of these traps, and that we build a
truly robust and secure alternative from which the electorate can
choose to form government. We must desist from any temptation to go
back to the ways of the past, in which opposition parties represent
their own narrow factional interests, only to grant a walkover victory
to the status quo.

As for Parti Keadilan Rakyat, it must soldier on come what may, as a
party that will protect the people regardless of race and ethnicity.
The ‘special’ position of the Bumiputras and Islam as mandated by the
Constitution will be honoured but will do so in an open transparent
manner, as a democratic multi-racial party that observes the Rule of
Law will be obliged to do. Keadilan will not champion racial politics
and will not seek racial hegemony. We are a lot more humble than UMNO
but we will be fearless in the defence of the rights of the Rakyat
against powerful oligarchs and vested interest groups. We will make
the public institutions in this country respectable and full of
integrity. These institutions will regain the respect and the trust of
the people.

Ladies and gentlemen, we do not live in a world of black and white. We
live in a world full of different colours, shades and textures. No
truer is this than in Malaysia. I can stand here and tell you of my
immense sense of pride and affection in being a Malaysian, just as I
can do the same about being Malay. And I believe that we all are just
as capable of feeling that way about being Malaysian and yet similarly
proud of being Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan or Iban, no matter who
we are.

And it is this mix of seemingly conflicting values, which when blended
and tempered with courage, tolerance, good faith and framed by
universally held moral and civic values, that makes the canvas of
Malaysia so rich, so powerful and so full of potential. Let us
preserve this living piece of art and ensure that it continues to
beautify and enrich our personal lives, as private citizens.

For if we fail, then the providence with which we are blessed today to
make a breakthrough change, will disappear as quickly as it came; and
we will be back to square one.. Our future and that of our children
and their children, depends on our success. Failure is not an option.
God favours the brave.

Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Thank You, well prepared speech. Keep it up



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