Monday, September 22, 2008

22-09-2008: What’s Tunku doing in DAP?

22-09-2008: What’s Tunku doing in DAP?

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Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim raised many eyebrows, not least from associates, when he joined DAP in August and was promptly named a vice-president of the party. The co-founder of the Malaysian chapter of Transparency International has no intention of being a token Malay presence in the multi-racial but Chinese-dominated party. He has found a new platform in the DAP to advocate transparency, accountability, justice and equality.

The Edge Financial Daily caught up with him recently where he spoke about the challenges facing the DAP, especially in reaching out to the Malay community, what ails the country, the spirit of the nation’s founding fathers and his plans in the party. While many would have rested on their laurels at age 74, Tunku Aziz, a former Bank Negara adviser and former group director of Sime Darby, has the enthusiasm of a young man, and is all geared up to help push the ideal of creating a better Malaysia.

The following are excerpts of the interview by Sharon Tan and Abdul Ghani Hamat.

Q: Tunku, why did you join a political party at this age?
A: Given what has been happening recently in our country and I thought that if you want to help make a difference, you have to be involved. What I have always wanted to see developing is a Malaysia which is multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious. Basically the values that the founding fathers of this nation bestowed on this country. Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, Tun Dr Ismail, Tun Sambanthan, Tun Tan Siew Sin, Tun Tan Cheng Lock, I mean these people believed in a Malaysia that was united and they could put aside differences for the larger interest of the country. Of course the loss of the independence was something that I have felt keenly... I have felt that since I joined DAP, many organisations that I have worked very closely with suddenly feel a little uncomfortable. Consequently, I am dropping out, because to me these associations are not important. We look at the larger picture.

Q: So it’s now more of an arm’s length approach in your dealings with other organisations?
A: Yes, in a polite sort of way. I think they have made it very clear that they will say hello to me from a distance. This is what’s so sad about our country. If you are not part of the ruling party then you are regarded as an enemy, which is not true because the whole basis of governance, if you like, or development, is inclusiveness. It doesn’t matter what a person’s political affiliations and religious inclination may be. That person, if he is a good citizen of the country and if he can make contribution, I think he should be embraced and not rejected. So this is something, I suppose, that will come about as we mature.

Q: But what finally clinched it for you... Tell us about the actual moment you decided to join the DAP?
A: Well, it has taken a long time... I saw DAP maturing over time. They started off as we all know as just an alternative Chinese party, chauvinistic, very crude in their approach but over time you have seen that these people have lived up to their own high standards. They have fought for justice. They have fought for equality in opportunity and one thing you can say about these people, the DAP leadership, is that they practise what they preach, unlike many other leaders in other political parties. So in the end, I thought that if I was thinking seriously about politics, then it would have to be DAP. In fact, I could have joined and fought an election for DAP years and years ago, because they asked me even then, invited me to join them and said that they would be happy if I were to stand for election on their ticket.

Q: When was this?
A: This was a long time ago. More than 10 years. Can’t remember which election now but certainly a long, long time ago.

Q: Obviously they have a high regard for you and you for them. Was the offer of vice-presidency part of the deal for you to come in?
A: No! Absolutely not (laughs). No. There was absolutely no deal of any kind. There was no discussion of any kind. I just said that I wanted to join, filled up my application form and paid my RM100 life membership and there was utterly not one word and I would not have asked for anything. I just wanted to be part of the party for what it stands. Because what DAP stands for coincides with my own personal views and beliefs. So that is as simple as that. So it is not a marriage of convenience.

It does provide a platform for me to continue to work against corruption because this has been what has driven me all these years, even before the word corruption was talked about in this country. Transparency International, which I helped to set up with like-minded people like Datuk Param Cumaraswamy, Raja Aziz Adruse, Datuk Ronald McCoy... felt that corruption would create all kinds of problems for our country. And I think you can see every day what is happening. No department of government is free of corruption. Every level of the civil service is tainted.

You may know that I was a member of the Royal Police Commission that looked into the police service and in our report which consisted of 125 recommendations, we made it very clear that every level of the police force has been touched by corruption. We are not saying that every policeman or every police officer is corrupt but every level. The report has been fully vindicated and that has confirmed what we have always known. To me this is crucial.

Malaysia has developed to such an extent and if you want this development to be sustainable, we have to change. We have to reform the government, we have to change the way we conduct our affairs. I am not just talking about the running of the country but also the way we do business in the corporate sector. So hence my position on good governance, on corporate social responsibility and all of these things, because I believe that Malaysia, given half our talents which are available but which are not often fully utilised, we could really be a great country.

If only we would use these talents properly irrespective of whether they are Chinese, Malays, Indians, Kadazan or whatever. This is part of my great dream and DAP gives me this platform. I could not have possibly joined any party. I could not go into Umno because Umno is race-based and I believe there is no future for race-based parties whether it is MCA or MIC. Fifty years after Independence I think we should be looking at probably the next 5,000 years of what is going to happen to this country.

Can we just go on as we are going on now? Barely tolerating each other? We must go beyond tolerance. We must go for national integration. We are not talking about assimilation. We are not talking about one race dominating another. We are talking about integration. We are talking about Bangsa Malaysia, but each ethnic group will retain its cultural identity. You cannot tell me I am not a Malay, I won’t accept that because culturally I am a Malay. I think we should allow people to keep that part, but in national terms, we are all Bangsa Malaysia.

This is how we have seen great countries developed. In the US, for example they are much more diverse than we are and yet every person is an American. Why is it that when we are abroad, we call ourselves Malaysians, but the moment you walk through KLIA, you become Chinese, you become Malay?

Q: Has DAP, the party, really changed that much from the 1960s and 1970s that you have so much confidence in it? A: I think change is a process, which by its nature will be slow. But don’t forget DAP has been in existence for some 40 years or more. And you can see they are changing and they are changing for the better. I have attended one or two of their meetings on the central committee and found that the whole process is very democratic. None of the formalities that you see on TV... (meetings of other parties). Many of these people are senior professionals, yet the whole approach is very basic in terms of formalities and so forth. They are much more interested really in substance rather than form.

One of the reasons why I had this idea to go into DAP is that, I think I can help to make them realise that one of the changes they have to make is to win the hearts and minds of the Malays while at the same time keeping their core Chinese membership happy. It’s a difficult balancing act... because they can’t just say we want more Malays. First the Malays must feel comfortable, must feel that DAP is capable of looking after their interests. And as we all know, the test of the pudding is in the eating. No point just saying this is what we will do for you. Let’s see you do it.

Now DAP is governing Penang and in control of at least two other states, this is the time to show that you want to improve the lives of those people who are currently marginalised, and many of these marginalised people happen to be Malays.

Q: But that is not the full extent of Malay interest. Can DAP reconcile their political principles and Malay interests as enshrined in the Constitution, and those that are not?
A: I think they are working on this because they realised that it is not all about poverty alleviation but also, as you put it quite rightly, the constitutional principles. I think speaking from my own point of view, what I would like to see is in fact our going back to the 1957 constitution. The original Malayan constitution. As we know over the years the constitution has been amended to such an extent that a lot of the original spirit has all but disappeared. I think this is again causing a lot of the problems today.

I think the important thing is one of legitimacy. While the special position of the Malays must be respected and protected as provided for in the constitution, we must at the same time not forget that if we really want a united Malaysia, the rights of the other races must also be guaranteed. I think the 1957 constitution does provide for this. And we should then work on making the provisions better instead of making them worse. I am not suggesting that these things can be done quickly. It will take time.

It will have to be a case of giving some and taking some. It is just not the Malays who feel that they are being asked to give but also the other races must do the same. You give some, you take some. I think this is the only basis in which we can build a sustainable future for Malaysia but otherwise you see disagreement all the time, and you get people making silly and dangerous remarks like ‘You Chinese are immigrants, you Chinese are squatters.’

I think all of us have to recognise that we are all in it together and the fact that some have come here more recently really is immaterial. The Malays have been here much longer but we are not talking about the past. And for that matter some Chinese have been here longer than many Malays. We don’t want to harp on the past. We want to talk about the present, where it leads us to from now on.

Q: You mentioned the likes of Sambanthan, Tan Siew Sin, the generation of leaders you admire. Where did the country go wrong? How did we flounder in our quest for a multi-racial, multi-religious country? What didn’t we do right?
A: I think where we went was, just to assume that simply because we said we are multi-racial, (therefore) we are united, etc. I mean it doesn’t really mean anything unless the policy we develop and adopt is seen to work in favour of a united Malaysian nation. When we adopted the NEP, yes there was some disquiet, but I think people who were fair, people of good will right across the nation realised that this was something that had to be done. And I commented a long, long time ago that the government, in trying to find a solution for this disparity, hit the nail on the head.

But then through the years, as I know and others know, very quickly the NEP was turned into a party mechanism to entrench political patronage. Really, it’s the implementation that people are not happy with. I think not just Malays but everybody could understand the political imperatives of the NEP. They could understand the social imperatives of the NEP. They could also understand the economic imperatives of the NEP. What I think upset a lot of people was the abuse.

Another example is the ISA today. Zaid has hit out. He is a staunch Umno member, you would have expected him not to say those things but what he is saying is what all of us are saying. There is a need for the ISA if the country is under threat to national security and public order. And it was put in place for a particular reason. But surely in this day and age, we have enough laws on our statute books to provide for every contingency, why do we need to use the ISA? And it has been abused in the recent three cases. Is this how you show the world and you show your own people that you are managing the country with fairness, efficiency, with equity, justice?

Q: How much of the problems of corruption and administrative abuses are due to the fact that there is seemingly little separation between the government of the day and civil service?
A: The damage was created by the Mahathir administration. When he came in, he had no understanding of the workings of the civil service, unlike the previous PMs who were all civil servants or former civil servants. Mahathir just dispensed with their advice. He wanted to do everything according to his own standards and civil servants were marginalised. They were under threat. They felt threatened, very senior people were demoted. They became de-motivated.

And there was no longer any separation. Because what happened was second guessing, they weren’t making decisions anymore. The top civil servants weren’t even making decisions anymore because they were frightened. I used to be invited as guess lecturer at Intan to talk to very senior people and on every course, they would complain about political interference.

So one day I said to them “look, sorry to hear that, but if you are asking me for sympathy, you are not getting any. It’s your own fault. First you know the powers that you have because civil servants have more powers than ministers.” And yet they allowed these powers to be taken, abrogated by ministers. Ministers telling them what to do. And yet there are some good civil servants who would say, “Yes, minister but would you give your instructions in writing?”

I’m told that very few ministers dare to do that. You know your power, you must also know the limits of ministerial powers so that you can stand up to them and say: “Sorry, minister. It cannot be done.” This is what civil servants used to do until the time of Tun Hussein. They would say, “Yes, we would love to do that for you but it cannot be done for these reasons....” So, I think this has been a problem.

Twenty-two years of Mahathir’s administration has done considerable damage to every important national institution. Emasculated completely the judiciary, the police, the AG’s chambers, the ACA, which claimed they were independent but we all knew they were not independent. So this is why a lot of us now want good governance. Good governance merely, if it means nothing else, is about going by the book. Performing your duties according to the rules. If you just do that, I think Malaysia will be a better place.

Q: Given that the line (separating politicians from civil servants) is so blurred and corruption is so entrenched, it will take a lot of time and effort to rectify things. Where and how do we start?
A: We must start with political will. Everything must start from there. But the ruling party does not have that. I know. So that is going to be a problem because unless they have the political will. Well, they claimed that they are providing leadership in this area, they want the ACA, after a lot of urgings on our part, to be made into an independent commission. Right now they say they are going to make it happen, but I doubt it.

Q: Why?
A: Because in the first place, they said it would all be done by the end of this year and on the Jan 1, it will all be there but it is not going to happen. The proposal should be made public so that people like us can comment. But we don’t know what ACA has given the government. In any case, it shouldn’t be just the ACA proposing this because they are an interested party. This is where conflict of interest comes in.

It should be a public document — these are the proposals for the setting up of an independent commission and public should be asked if have any comments to make. But at the end of the day, of course, when we talk about political will we are talking about the government’s willingness to put in place effective mechanisms for checks and balances.

Government must be prepared to make sure that enforcement is carried out effectively because the unfortunate thing about the country is that we are replete with laws. You name a law, we have it, and yet why is the country in such a mess? And that is putting it very kindly.

Because enforcement is ineffectual, enforcement is more honoured in the breach than.... As long as you have this situation, you are not going to get very far. And this why people are now talking about change, because the government is obviously not changing. If only they had taken the hint when they came into power in 2004, when they were riding extremely high. If only at that time they had made the necessary changes. I don’t think we would have this today.

Q: You seem to put the blame squarely on Datuk Seri Abdullah as the head of the party (Umno).
A: Absolutely! Who else do you blame?

Q: Apart from attracting more Malays to join the party, what are the other challenges facing DAP as it looks forward to a bigger role in the country?
A: How do you see these challenges unfold given that the party’s ability to rule has not been tested, except for the work-in-progress Penang. I think no party in this country, this is something we have to accept, effectively govern without the support of the Malays. Having said that, we obviously also need the support of all the other races. If we can have the multi-racial kind of support, that would help.

DAP has to work extremely hard quite apart from being democratic as a party to win the hearts and minds of the Malays principally, but also hearts and minds of the other races. Because don’t forget, although there are a lot of Chinese in DAP, they are a lot more Chinese who are not in DAP. So those people have to be won over and you can win over these people only if you have policies which are fair and just and which will protect the livelihood of the people, give the country a measure of stability and protect against crime and whatever have you. There are a lot of issues. There are so many outstanding issues that the DAP would have to concentrate on.

Over time, I hope we will be able to do that. One of the things which I am going to do as part of my remit in DAP is to set up the equivalent of an eminent persons group. People who are not necessarily even DAP members but people who want this to be a better country. We must tap the talents of a lot of people around us in terms of the economic development of the country, in terms of the political development of the country, in terms of race relations, in terms of any number of issues, sociological issues, instead of excluding all these people and developing your own plan... you are not going to get very far.

I think people must be involved. Up and down the line. Not just among us in KL but right out in the kampung, in the Chinese new villages, in the rural areas. Make people feel that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. DAP is not a monster. That it is a party that will in fact take care of their needs and be fair to them.

This is not easy. This is very difficult especially amongst the Malays who have been extremely suspicious for a very, very long time. They have to be won over. They can only be won over only if the see some evidence on the ground. I think they are trying to do that in Penang. So many years of BN rule in Penang and it has not moved much.

Q: Most Malays see the DAP as not having the legitimacy to represent the non-Malays as probably Gerakan did in Penang and MCA in the rest of the country. It is also seen as a party for the working class, rather than one that represents the intellectuals, professionals, people across the spectrum. As you said, the party is shedding the monster tag, so what do you think it should be doing to address this (membership composition) issue?
A: I agree entirely with you that it is still seen very much as a working class party, that it is not really a party for the white collar, the middle-classes if you like. Of course, they have to change and I think if they can start to attract a lot more professional people of all races, then it would be seen at a balance. Otherwise it always has the look and the feel of a labour party. Party for the workers. They have to change. This is one of the issues that they have to pay attention to.

Q: This is being addressed?
A: Yes, within the party there are debates going on all these issues. Because DAP has to re-brand itself and it has to develop. In business, if you are re-branding yourself, you should also have a good product. DAP must create a new desirable product which is the point you made earlier.

Q: How does it feel to be part of the change process?
A: I feel excited because we have been in this mould which was a comfort zone for many of us for a long time. But then we suddenly realised we have to break the mould in order to free ourselves, in order to take Malaysia into the new century and to put Malaysia at the top table of great nations. And there is no reason why we can’t be a great nation.

In spite of all the problems we have been through, we have achieved so much. I think a bit more effort should bring about unity, bring about political and economic sustainability. We don’t want a one-off thing, a flash in the pan. Anyone can do that. And we have seen this happened in many countries and what happened was that they all fizzled out. But we want sustainability particularly in race relations. This is terribly important.

Q: Do you see moderation in national politics after March 8?
A: Ideally that should be the case. But it is very difficult for a party or for BN which has dominated the politics of this country for such a long time to take its defeat graciously.

Q: Let’s look to the future of Pakatan Rakyat. What is your take on power-sharing between the component parties, given that DAP and PAS sit at different ends of the political spectrum. My own thinking on this is that all the race-based parties should dissolve themselves. Is it the same for religion-based parties?
A: (Laughs) Let’s take the easy ones first. Umno can still continue to retain its acronym “UMNO” but it would be United Malaysians National Organisation. In fact, they already have a membership base. The Malays are already there. The Chinese, MCA is already there, MIC is already there. They become the founder members of the new UMNO. So its multi-racial. On the other side, PR is already multi-racial. All they have to do is to combine among themselves, because they have to learn how to share power. Similarly on this side, if they become the government, I think this will then eventually make it possible for Malaysia to have a two-party system.

We leave PAS for a while out of this situation. You have a two party system which is basically what we need. If the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy is our choice, which is what we have adopted for 50 years or more, then the two party system should be the basis. Now where do we put PAS in it? PAS, I think, is changing. It will still say that it wants to see an Islamic-based Malaysia, etc. Here again, PAS would have to find accommodation and vice versa.

As long as they can find accommodation, I can’t really speculate on how this will be achieved but I am sure (it will). PAS has in its ranks some very outstanding people. They have some great thinkers. People who are highly, highly educated, so we are not dealing with pondok religious teachers. Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that PAS is just a group of extreme Islamists. No, they are not. These people are very shrewd. They understand the realities of the 21st century and beyond. So we have to sit down with them and thrash out some of these things.

Q: Aren’t they the biggest power broker in the country?
A: They are. You are right. Absolutely right. They are.

Q: In a way, PAS is a mirror image of DAP, except that it is religion-based. They have clever people at the top with their own ideas of the right way forward... How do you come to terms with having to settle for a compromise in PR?
A: Here again they would have to find a middle way. PAS must realise that on its own it cannot be an effective government. Similarly the other parties must recognise they cannot do without PAS because PAS, in fact, represents the spiritual values of the Malays because of their religion. And while many Malays are prepared to accept a political system which is not religious based, they are also very conscious of the fact, more so than the other races. The Malays put their religion at the very centre of their existence. I think this has to be recognised by all. These are the complexities and the nature of our society.

Q: Something that DAP would have to grapple with?
A: Something that you will have to grapple with. It is not something that can be swept under the mat.

Q: Do you see the possibility of PAS supplanting Umno as the dominant Malay-based party?
A: That is a possibility. In fact they say politics is the art of the possible. So I cannot rule out that they could supplant, but then that would be reversing the order of things we would like for Malaysia.

Q: DAP does not believe in the NEP and wants to do away with it. NEP is important to the Malays. How does DAP assure the Malays that none of their rights would be eroded?
A: I think we should extend NEP not just to the Malays but to everybody. The main purpose originally was to redress the (economic) imbalance. The extreme poor just by accident happened to be Malays. And now we have added to this end of the spectrum, Indians and of course there are Chinese who are poor. The whole purpose of the original NEP was to improve the condition of the poor, not just in monetary terms but in terms of employment, in terms of education. If we can continue with this, I think the Malays will support it because many Malays themselves have been opposed to the NEP, because of the way NEP has been applied. And they could see that the NEP has been used as a party tool. It has been used to reward division chiefs, to buy votes. Surely this was not the intent to begin with.

So if we can have use of NEP in a way which is seen as fair and just, which meets the basic requirement of alleviating poverty, I think it would have the support. So it got to be re-worked. The whole thing has to be re-worked so that it meets the aspirations of the people. I can honestly claim that I have not benefited from the NEP because I made a conscious decision not to go in cap- in-hand to ministers asking for projects or contracts, and so on, because I feel that first the NEP was not intended for someone like me who could still earn a living without having to ask for government assistance.

And there are a lot of Malays who are like me. Those who have benefited are those who are close to Umno. You have to be very, very close to Umno. In other words, just a few people benefitting from this, and this is again one of the reasons for Malays in rural areas not voting for Umno. This was unheard of.

Q: Do you think your entry into DAP will be a prelude more Malays joining the party?
A: Well, I wouldn’t be so vain as to think that this would happen. People just don’t join an organisation simply because their friend is in there. I think people do make a conscious decision about things like this. Hopefully they will realise that times are changing and there is no reason why a multi-racial party should not be attractive in terms of meeting the needs of Malaysia in the future.

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