Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bringing back the real Malaysia | Free Malaysia Today

Bringing back the real Malaysia

Stephanie Sta Maria | January 14, 2012-FMT

Umno veteran and Amanah deputy president Kadir Sheikh Fadzir isn't bothered about hiding his allegiance to civil society even if it means being critical of Barisan Nasional.

Kadir Sheikh Fadzir may be an Umno veteran and former Cabinet minister, but he has no qualms about walking the tightrope between political allegiance and civic-consciousness.

“Help the opposition,” he said within seconds of settling down for an interview at his office in Sazean Holdings.

Then, perhaps accustomed to having such requests being laughed off, he reiterated his call: “Help the opposition, they need it. Especially when they are denied coverage in the mainstream media.”

Kadir doesn’t bother hiding his allegiance, which incidentally is to civil society.

Kadir left Parliament’s circle of top echelons seven years ago after holding six ministerial positions and a successful tourism campaign that put Malaysia on the world tourism map.

The former Tourism Minister, with a penchant for bow ties, has however spent the last few years in the quiet folds of Sazean, of which he is the executive chairman.

Last July, an NGO named Angkatan Amanah Merdeka (Amanah) trotted through Sazean’s doors. Kadir is now among a string of Barisan Nasional veteran politicians who make up Amanah’s central council and himself sits in the seat of deputy president.

The NGO is headed by another Umno veteran, Gua Musang MP, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, and aims to return Malaysians to the spirit and roots of togetherness that flourished during the early days of Independence.

Candid Kadir

And to Kadir that means taking a huge step beyond the 1Malaysia concept to create a level political playing field where the power to form a government lies solely in the hands of the people.

“People power” is a looping soundtrack played by Pakatan Rakyat and civil society groups but it is when a prominent figure from the other camp starts singing along that it takes on a whole new beat.

“Times have changed and the world is now in revolt,” Kadir said.

“The point to note in these uprisings is that the world belongs to its inhabitants and each country to its people. Many have forgotten this.”

“Our founding fathers respected the people’s rights and gave them freedom to analyse and debate before choosing their government. In those days the opposition was allowed airtime in the mainstream media, and political parties were given room for dissent and debate.”

“But over time the media fell under the ruling party’s control and only one voice was allowed to speak to the people.

“Their rights were slowly eroded to the point that there are no longer free and fair elections. So the elected government doesn’t represent the people’s true choice.”

It isn’t the first time that Kadir has been candid in his criticism of BN and commiseration for Pakatan.

His recent media statements have revolved around BN’s open secrets including media restrictions on the opposition, the use of government agencies to fish for rural votes and bribery during elections.

Najib’s aware of BN’s shortcomings

When it was pointed out that he too was once a part of this system, he readily acknowledged to having gone along with it in an effort to be a “good team player”.

“At the time it was easy because there was no viable alternative to BN.

“PAS and DAP were seen as extremists so we went along with whatever was available. But it is different today,” he said.

That difference is in the evolution of Malaysian politics into a two-party system where both sides are championing almost identical objectives.

The pertinent questions therefore are which is the better side and how can the people be given a fair system to make that decision.

The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) was set up for the purpose of answering the latter question and its report is expected to be ready by the end of March.

But Kadir will continue holding his breath until then for fear that talk of a general election being called before that will materialise. If that happens, he warned, it would not bode well for BN.

“The fact that (prime minister) Najib (Tun Razak) has set up the PSC shows he admits to serious shortcomings in the system.

“So if an election is held before the PSC completes its work and if BN wins, it will be a stolen election and all Najib’s efforts to form a PSC will be nothing more than a drama,” he noted.

Right now, however, the PSC has proved it is doing more than just giving lip service by pushing through the use of indelible ink for the upcoming elections.

Amanah isn’t a political entity

Bersih can now strike one demand off its list of eight but, according to Kadir, indelible ink isn’t the most important of the lot.

“What is of greater importance is fair access to the media,” he stated.

“The government should give the opposition at least 10 percent of airtime for the three to six months preceding an election.

“Then the people can give serious consideration to whom to vote for and we will be one step closer to free and fair elections.”

Kadir’s frankness is reflective of Amanah’s strife to be the voice of conscience and neutrality in Malaysian politics. But it has also given rise to various speculations of hidden political manoeuvring.

Talk is that Amanah has political aspirations despite its insistence on remaining an NGO.

Speculations are rife that it is aligned to the opposition and that its BN leadership are politicians who are struggling to remain relevant for the next election.

Kadir, however, brushed aside all three presumptions.

He agreed that a majority of Amanah members were in favour of the party shedding its NGO status, but said that no decision had been made on the matter as yet.

“We are very new and we’re unsure of where we are headed but right now we know that we have to bring the country as far as we can back to our roots,” he said.

“Tengku Razaleigh and I have gone through it all. We know that unless we bring back the people to the true spirit of independence, our country will shrink in its values.

“And we hope that more Umno members will agree to our views so that there will be change within,” he said.

Tunku’s wisdom guides Amanah

For now, Kadir claimed he has the support of many “dear Umno friends” who silently agree that the party’s “endemic” practices of corruption, nepotism and cronyism must come to an end.

Funnily enough, he also claimed to not have received any brickbats from those who are livid at his washing of Umno’s dirty laundry in public.

“If they want to criticise me, then they first have to criticise many of the Umno leaders,” he said.

“Najib and (deputy prime minister) Muhyiddin (Yassin) have themselves been shrieking ‘kita mesti berubah, jika tidak kita akan diubah’.”

“They are saying that the people are aware of Umno’s bad habits which is exactly what Amanah is saying. And if we are seen to be pro-opposition it is only because we support the issues that they raise.”

To further emphasise his point, Kadir launched into his favourite story of a conversation with former premier, Tunku Abdul Rahman, after the latter’s retirement.

At the time Tunku had left Umno to become a member of Semangat 46 of which Tengku Razaleigh also belonged.

Kadir, who was then deputy foreign minister, sought him out to convey a message from Umno members asking him to rejoin the party.

According to him, Tunku replied: “Kadir don’t you think I love Umno? Umno is the party that helped me gain independence for this country and made me prime minister. Surely, I love it. But if Umno has obviously gone astray and cannot perform its functions, then the country and the people should come first. Remember that, Kadir.”

Umno must do the right thing

Those words have undoubtedly burned themselves into Kadir’s memory as he uses them as a guidepost in taking Amanah forward.

He shared that the NGO’s next step is to open state and district branches so as to further spread the spirit of independence.

“In Amanah we are guided by Tunku’s saying that if we are all to live together as one family and under one roof, then we must be sincere to each other.

“The only way that Umno and BN can continue to be in power is to act sincerely and do the right thing,” he stressed.

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