Tuesday, November 16, 2010


COMMENTARY: Zaid on new political journey

Kuala Lumpur (The Star/ANN) - Former United Malays National Organisation (Umno) rebel Zaid Ibrahim is ending his 16-month sojourn with Malaysia's opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Anwar Ibrahim and setting off on a new political journey with an uncertain future.

He leaves bitter, unfulfilled and disillusioned with both the PKR and its de facto leader and their alleged failure to carry out their stated dogma - reformation.

Zaid, 59, believes reformation is both necessary and inevitable but thinks neither Anwar nor the party could be agents of change for the country.

"I can lead the change better because I understand the country and its aspirations better," claims Zaid, who was sacked from Malaysia's ruling and largest party, Umno, in December 2009.

Coming into the PKR as a reformasi hero, he was chosen to carry the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition banner in April in the battle for the Hulu Selangor parliamentary seat.

The Barisan won despite Anwar's superhuman effort in campaigning for Zaid.

Pakatan leaders who had defended Zaid tooth and nail were hard pressed now to explain his criticism of the PKR and Anwar.

Zaid is expected to gather followers who are unhappy with Anwar and the coalition and form what his supporters say is "a third political force that is independent of both the Pakatan and the Barisan Nasional."

This force, they say, would speak for the people and for democracy in an open and forthright manner and without the political expediency and double-talk that is plaguing the PKR and Pakatan.

Only time can tell how this political experiment would measure up.

Zaid leaves Anwar nursing a badly-mauled PKR and an angry and upset Pakatan alliance that is counting the damage his (Zaid's) statements and decisions have done to their movement.

An Umno non-conformist, the former de facto law minister made a name for himself during the 2004-2008 perestroika when Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (the then premier) presided over a society that was eager and willing to discuss and debate.

Ironically, he was one of the first Umno leaders to say that Anwar should be released from prison.

However, he lasted less than six months after being made senator in 2008 and brought into the Cabinet as a minister in the Prime Minister's Department overseeing legal matters.

His colleagues said he ran into a brick wall with his uncompromising approach to sensitive and contested issues, like apologising and making payments to former Federal Court judges.

"He does not know the art of diplomacy or compromise... how to be happy with half the loaf," said a lawyer who knows Zaid well.

He was later welcomed as a hero into PKR and given key tasks like formulating a common policy platform to tie the Pakatan components of PKR, PAS and DAP.

He was never accepted and treated as a stranger and neither was he considered a potential usurper by the close-knit world that Anwar had built around him.

Supporters saw his dramatic entry into PKR and his alliance with Anwar, 65, as the precise combination to propel the Pakatan grouping into Putrajaya.

However, the once promising alliance has since turned out to be damaging and destructive for Anwar who, against rising odds, is trying to revive the fortunes from his sterling performance in 2008.

It has been an uphill task for the Opposition Leader to regain the political momentum ever since Najib Tun Razak took over from Abdullah as Umno president and Prime Minister in April 2009 and launched his 1Malaysia initiative as well as his economic and social transformation plans.

Anwar's coalition had also suffered defeats in by-elections that were held after Najib began his reforms, except in Manik Urai and Sibu, where PAS and DAP won with narrow margins.

On the other hand, the Barisan chalked up handsome victories in other polls, including the just-concluded Galas and Batu Sapi by-elections.

Zaid's departure could compound the woes for PKR, which is already blighted by serious internal dissensions and defections and members, unhappy over numerous issues, drifting away.

Besides that, his accusations -- that Anwar is irrelevant and incapable of leading the party's reformasi charge and should step down -- will have deep a psychological impact on the minds of voters.

Zaid's exit has kicked up a fierce firestorm in Pakatan. Supporters have lashed out at him accusing him of many things including being a Trojan horse sent to break up PKR, criticism Zaid says he does not deserve.

After such open mudslinging, it is too late for both Pakatan and Zaid for remorse.

In retrospect, the Anwar-Zaid marriage was doomed from the start not only because of the personality differences but also because of ideological divergence.

For Anwar, reformation is probably a lifelong political struggle, but for Zaid it is only an intellectual construct.

My vision has not wavered
Nov 9, 2010


My announcement yesterday to withdraw from the contest was not meant to belittle the effort of party members and supporters in preparation of these party elections, as this is not just about my circumstance. The truth is, these Keadilan elections are a shambles. Hundreds of complaints have been submitted, but Anwar Ibrahim continues to deny them proper investigation. There are over a hundred candidates who wish to see a proper and fair election process in place. This is as much their fight as it is mine. For it is important to remember that these issues exist and they are very real.

Yesterday, Anwar Ibrahim had demanded that proof be brought forward of election fraud and malpractices to the Central Election Committee. But this has already been done. The Central Committee is well aware of what’s going on; Anwar should stop playing politics and the pretending must stop. A summary of these malpractices have been furnished to members of the media present today.

The disappointment I referred to yesterday is reflected in the party leadership not being able, or willing, to conduct free and fair elections. It is not because our politics have failed, but rather because our leaders have failed. Anwar Ibrahim, as the de facto leader of the party, has failed to hold the party together. Like how he has failed to move the Opposition forward with new policies, like how he had failed on September 16, like how he had failed to keep the Perak Opposition intact by allowing his own MPs to jump ship, like how he had the Opposition humiliated and in disarray in Batu Sapi. The litany of his failures are plenty. There have been too many external problems and internal complications, resulting in no real focus towards moving the party forward. How these elections have been conducted is a manifestation of that weak leadership and lack of focus. Of course, he can continue to blame me, political conspiracies and BN to explain his failings but the people know better.

Keadilan has to be a genuine political movement. We cannot just be an emotional response to the politics of Malaysia. This party should neither be used as a platform for personal political agendas, nor should it be a space for power plays and politicking. We need a party that is forward looking, based on issues that affect the people, and dealing with actual problems that are facing the country. Keadilan has an option: to ask Anwar to step aside and let someone else takes over the helm. He has enough personal problems of his own to manage. As for Azmin, the verdict is still out on his leadership: he seems so focused on trying to conquer Putrajaya, that he has forgotten how to be of service to the members of the party and the rakyat. Pakatan Rakyat is running the risk of being a one-term wonder. It needs to be acknowledged that Pakatan Rakyat will make no further progress with Anwar at the helm.

I do not wish to get into a slinging match with him because I am behind in the polls. I do not criticize the party because I am not getting my way, as some of you would like to believe. That is far too simplistic a notion. I have not quit because I have given up. It is as Abraham Lincoln once said, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.”

My vision has not wavered. It was the reason I ran. It was made clear in my manifesto. I was running to move PKR away from the old politics of this country. To decentralize the leadership of the party. To ensure that every voice is heard and that every member of the party can serve and contribute. Those who say that I have exhausted my options in Malaysian politics cannot be further from the truth.

When I set out to contest in the party elections it was to offer the members of Parti Keadilan Rakyat an option; a new vision, for both the party and the country. I still have a very clear vision of how the politics in this country needs to be transformed and very definite views on what leadership means. I still believe the people of this country deserve better politics and better leaders.

If I am not able to make headway in transforming Keadilan in these elections, it doesn’t mean that I have failed. It means that I will try another way and will explore all possible options and avenues to ensure this transformation is achieved. I will continue to do so because I am committed to the task at hand and for the work that lies ahead. The members of the public, deserve better. And I will try and try again until we achieve our cause.



Withdrawal from Deputy President contest
Nov 8, 2010

I wish to announce my withdrawal as a candidate from the contest of Deputy President of Parti Keadilan Rakyat and my resignation from all posts held in the party.

I was offered to join this party under the belief that I could promote enlightened and progressive politics; nurture and develop principled political values and culture that I consider indispensable to the development of democracy and good governance in this country. I was mistaken.

Over the course of the party elections, events have shown that the leadership actively condones malpractices and electoral fraud to achieve its designed objectives. I am certain that any political party with such hypocritical and false values will not be able to offer meaningful reforms to the people of this country.

I have made this decision because there is no attempt on the part of the party leadership to address the various issues of manipulation and unfair electoral practices, although these issues were raised repeatedly.

I wish to thank all the members who have supported me and placed their faith in the cause of reform. It is of utmost disappointment that I am unable to continue in this flawed election process. I remain committed to the Opposition’s cause and will continue to speak about the issues of the common people. Together, we will continue our unabated struggle towards a better government for the people.

Finally, I hope those adoring fans of Anwar Ibrahim will no longer regard me as a “spoiler” standing in the way of their march to Putrajaya. I wish them well.



Bakri Musa’s Review of Zaid Ibrahim’s “Saya Pun Melayu”


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posted by din merican–April 25, 2009

Saya Pun Melayu and Me too
by Dr. M. Bakri Musa
Morgan-Hill, California

Book Review: Saya Pun Melayu (I Am Also A Malay)

Foreword by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

ZI Publications Sdn Bhd, Petaling Jaya, 2009. 312 pages. RM 35.00

saya-pun-melayu-cover-lo-resThe Annual UMNO General Assembly is also the season and reason for the release of new books on local politics written in Malay. It must be a profitable venue and time, for the number of new titles keeps growing each year. Foreigners may mistake this to reflect a healthy intellectual discourse, or at least a vigorous political debate. The reality however, is far different. With such titillating titles as “50 Dalil Mengapa XYZ Tidak Layak …” (Fifty Reason s Why XYZ Is Unfit For … ) and the promiscuous use of “half-past six English,” this “genre” poisons the political atmosphere, quite apart from degrading our national language. As for content, these books are nothing more than warong kopi (coffee shop) gossips transcribed.

Observers and political scientists hoping to gain an insight on Malaysian politics would do well to avoid these books. And they have. These books will never be cited in reputable publications or quoted by respected commentators. Enter Zaid Ibrahim’s Saya Pun Melayu (I Am Also A Malay). It too was released to coincide with the recent UMNO General Assembly. There the similarity ends. This gem of a diamond sparkles with insights and wisdom.

Zaid Ibrahim’s book, Saya Pun Melayu: Greater Impact Than The Malay Dilemma

Like a diamond, Zaid’s book too has innumerable multifaceted sharp edges that cut through rock-headed politicians. I would be insulting Zaid if I were to compare his thoughtful and well written book to the thrash that littered the hallways of Dewan Merdeka, Putra World Trade Center, Kuala Lumpur, where the recent UMNO General Assembly took place.

A more appropriate comparison would be Mahathir’s The Malay Dilemma, written some 40 years ago and also at a time when UMNO and Malays were going through a critical crisis. This book will have an even greater impact than The Malay Dilemma.

Like Mahathir’s, the first run of this book quickly sold out, but unlike Mahathir’s, this book has not been banned. This is not due to any greater enlightenment on the part of the authorities today, rather a tribute to Zaid’s skillful and subtle approach. Whereas Mahathir is frontal and polemical, meant more to shock if not insult readers, Zaid, ever the accomplished corporate lawyer, takes a softer and polite approach.

In contrast to Mahathir’s anger and indignant rhetoric, Zaid is more sorrowful — with disappointment too—over UMNO’s current malaise. Zaid persuades us with his rational arguments; Mahathir barrages us with his accusations. Mahathir caters to our baser emotions and sense of victimization and guilt; Zaid to our intellect and pristine values of our culture.

Our culture goes for Zaid’s “halus”(refined) ways, of subtleties and obliqueness. Thus he is devastatingly effective, as, for example, in upbraiding his former cabinet colleagues who are lawyers. Rais Yatim, Syed Hamid Albar, Hishammuddin Hussein, and Azalina Othman, among others, are chastised for failing to live up to their professional ethics and obligations as shown by their disrespect for the due process of law and basic human rights.

Written in the Malay language, Zaid’s polite criticisms are very damning. It would be difficult to maintain this tone in this style had the book been written in English. The translator should ponder this point.The book is in three parts.

The first is the author’s reflection on and prescription for our nation’s current predicaments. Zaid tackles such “hot” issues as Ketuanan Melayu (Malay hegemony), the rule of law, and the role of the monarchy in a democracy. It also includes his very brief tenure as Abdullah Badawi’s Law Minister.

The second is an memoir of sorts where he traced his humble origin in a village deep in Ulu Kelantan to become a highly successful corporate attorney who created the nation’s largest law firm. It also includes his tenure in UMNO politics and his current philanthropic projects, where he has been recognized by Forbes magazines as Asia ’s Inaugural Heroes of Philanthropy. The last part contains short profiles of Malaysians he admires (which includes former Chief Justice Salleh Abbas, Nik Aziz and Anwar Ibrahim), his hopes on the future of Malays, and the current state of Malay politics, specifically UMNO’s.

UMNO No Longer Represents Malays

One could be readily misled in assuming that those rent-seeking, keris-brandishing, and race-taunting types that infest and polute UMNO represent the best if not the essence of the Malay race. Or that the angry menacing Mat Rempits, the jungle version of Hell’s Angels so eagerly being embraced by UMNO Youth, are the future of Malays. Zaid’s ideas and approaches are the antithesis of UMNO’s.

In deliberately choosing the simple title, Zaid is emphasizing that his is also a legitimate if not the prevailing viewpoint. To me, Zaid represents more of the essence of Malayness while those corrupt pseudo modernized UMNO types just happen to be Malays. They are the ones who soil our culture, give it a bad odor, and annihilate Malay honour and dignity.

Zaid Ibrahim writes teasingly that he has already set a record of sorts by being the shortest serving cabinet minister! Here is another observation also worthy of the record books. He is the only minister whose reputation is enhanced on leaving office! Not to belittle Zaid’s own fine personal qualities and considerable achievements, that says a lot on the caliber of the people leading Malaysia today!

He takes to task UMNO leaders for presuming to speak on behalf of all Malays. It is clear now that they do not. In the chapter “Masa Depan Melayu” (The Future of Malays) in Part III, Zaid suggests that Malays must be outward looking, willing to learn from others, and not be obsessed with empty slogans like Ketuanan Melayu or Satu–Malaysia. The road to Ketuanan Melayu, he writes, is not by shouting your lungs out at every gathering, rather through diligence, hard work, and most of all, superior education.

Zaid relates his experience as a university student leader on a three-month trip to America visiting the top campuses (“Memburu Cita Cita, (Pursuing You Dreams) Chapter 8 Part II). This was in the 1970s, the height of the anti-Vietnam protests. He was struck that even though America was at war its government was still tolerant of dissent. I have met many Malaysians who have lived for many years in America and yet they miss this important aspect of American exceptionalism. Their America is the shopping malls, porno shops, and blighted downtowns.

Decades later as Abdullah’s Law Minister, he was appalled when the government of which he was a part detained dissenters like Raja Petra and Teresa Kok under the ISA. Not surprisingly, Zaid’s departure from the cabinet soon followed.

Zaid’s ideas and observations resonate with me, as well as many Malaysians. Here is the voice of a successful Malay professional and a member of the political elite. That he now quits UMNO is a loss for it but a gain for Malaysia. Another blessing is that he is now free to pursue his philanthropic works as well as his involvement in NGOs. And being an effective critic of the government!

In my opinion, the most valuable part of the book is his brief memoir (Part II). Zaid clearly subscribes early to the values he writes about. His divorced father took him away from the village to live with him in Kota Baru where he could attend an English school ( Sultan Ismail College ). When he reached secondary level he felt the urge to leave, to see the greater world beyond.

He chose English College in Johor Baru, at the very opposite end of the peninsula. The school, however, accepts new students only if their families were transferred there. So he wrote to the principal stating that indeed he had a “family” (his distant cousin) transferred to the Army base there. His father willingly signed the letter for him and supported his decision.

Unlike in Kota Baru where his classmates were almost exclusively Malays, down there he had an environment more reflective of Malaysia. From there he went on to Sekolah Tun Razak in Ipoh for his Form Six, where he excelled in debates, and then to UiTM for his law studies.

Except for about seven months in London at one of the Inns to qualify for the Bar, and the earlier trip to America , Zaid spent his formative years in Malaysia . It is remarkable that he could have such an open and receptive attitude. We have many who spent years at the best British universities only to return quickly to their old kampong mentality upon coming home.

Zaid Ibrahim has what the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck refers to as a “growth mindset,” in contrast to a “fixed mindset.” Those with the growth mindset believe that their fate is dependent on how adaptive they are in seizing opportunities, and on their ability to grow and gain from their experiences. They do not believe that their fate is dependent on what nature had bestowed upon them, the benevolence of some remote emperor, or what had been written in the book of life. The “fixed mindset” view their talent and ability as fixed, and that their lot in life is ultimately tied to their innate nature, especially their intelligence and ‘giftedness.’

The former UMNO minister is always learning from others and improving on what they had done. He writes of his early experience articling in a prestigious law firm where he was offered a position. That was definitely a career coup, a young lawyer’s dream. What soured it were the whisperings among his colleagues that he was offered simply because the firm wanted to increase its Malay representation. After much soul searching, Zaid declined the offer. That must have shocked those senior partners. Another “dumb” Malay refusing to seize opportunities, they must have thought!

Zaid too must have questioned himself a thousand times in the years following that tough decision, especially when he had difficulty trying to borrow from MARA (a measly RM25,000.00) to start his own firm. In the end, he created ZICO, a law firm that easily bested the one where he articled. Not only is it the largest, it is also one of the few that could handle the complex needs of multinational corporations, and the first to venture abroad. That is where a growth mindset could lead you.

Going back to MARA, an institution I am a never a fan of, Zaid relates an incident visiting his alma mater soon after being appointed Law Minister. He wanted to spend a few minutes to give the students a “pep talk.” On the appointed day, he was surprised by the overflowing crowd. Then as is typical, the Vice Chancellor, one Ibrahim Abu Shah (a “Dato’ Seri Prof. Dr. ” no less! and a Laksamana bodek at that) hogged all the allotted time, pouring embarrassingly effusive praises on Zaid. He was left with a scant few minutes!

A few months later, after Zaid resigned as a minister and gave his talk at the Asean Law Forum where he challenged the wisdom of Ketuanan Melayu, that same Ibrahim called Zaid a traitor to our race! As Zaid says, our intellectuals are also now speaking like politicians. Zaid may not realize this; they do so because they are essentially politicians who happen to wear academic robes. Scholars and intellectuals they are not.

I wish all Malaysians would read this book. Our policy makers would benefit more from reading this instead of the World Bank’s dense treatises on rural poverty. The tribulations of his childhood that Zaid so well described are still very much the reality today for a vast number of young Malays.

Zaid was fortunate in that his father saw the value of a good education. Many parents are trapped between needing their children to work to lessen the family’s burden and going to school. If our government were to adopt programs like Mexico ’s Progresa where parents are being paid for keeping their children in school, then we would help those parents make the right decisions that would benefit them and the nation in the long term.

If UMNO members and leaders were to read this volume they might just be disabused of their delusion of Ketuanan Melayu and ethnocentric mindset. On the other hand, they might not like it when they realize their own stupidity. For young Malays, Zaid is an inspiration and aspiration of what is within their grasp if only they could see through the skulduggery of Ketuanan Melayu that is being perpetrated upon them. For non-Malays, this book might just erase some of their negative stereotypes of Malays they harbor.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book not only because of the remarkable personal story but also for the style of writing. Malays writers writing in Malay (and often also in English) tend to use non-declarative sentences. Thus instead of saying, “I like vanilla ice cream!” they would write, “On matters of ice cream taste, I like vanilla!” The latter takes nearly twice as many words, and the reader also has to shift gears.

This book is a valuable contribution to the political discourse, and it comes at a time when it is badly needed. Rest assured that this book will be talked about for years.

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