EXCLUSIVE: Chua Jui Meng meets Malaysiakini (Part 1)-July 28. 2009
by Wong Pheak Zern
Former health minister Chua Jui Meng, the most senior BN politician to have defected to Pakatan Rakyat, has described Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak as a leader who conceals his iron fist in a velvet glove. “Najib is a decent man, I rather like him, he is a great PM, but he cannot be blameless because the PM calls the shots,” said Jui Meng.
“The PM in this country is too powerful – (he has) too much power over the institutions and parliament. I think it is time, and I hope that if Anwar (Ibrahim) ever becomes the PM, he will trim down these powers and give them back to the people,”, said Chua (left).
A former MCA vice-president and two-time unsuccessful candidate for party president, Jui Meng defected to Anwar’s PKR two weeks ago.
Jui Meng, who has the distinction of being the longest serving health minister – nine years in all – talked to Malaysiakini last week at his home in Bukit Damansara.
He said that despite having left MCA, he was still a friend of party president Ong Tee Keat. “I think he is a man that does what he says, and says what he does, a straightforward man, I like that kind of person,” said Chua, a four-term parliamentarian for Bakri in Johor.
But the same cannot be said about Chua Soi Lek, the deputy president who is said to be making clandestine moves to oust Ong. Jui Meng strongly hinted that Soi Lek is being backed by UMNO.
“I said very clear during an address in my division assembly that today there are two MCAs – one elected by the delegates of central committee, and the other by the external forces.
“I see that Soi Lek is using his position to garner support for a future fight, so there are two MCAs, you cannot get away with it. You ask the people on the street, they will tell you that there are two MCAs, not of Tee Keat’s making, but one made by an external force.”
The following is the first of a two-part interview.
Malaysiakini: On the timing of your crossover to PKR, why did you pick now?
Chua: Very simple. The opposition coalition is under threat, both from conflicts within, but most importantly, threats from outside.
Were you thinking about this (the defection) for long, or was it a sudden decision?
It was a very quick decision.
How quick? Was it within weeks?
It was very fast. It was almost as though I was meant to do that. You know how it works in life – you may think about it, and then you put it at the back of your mind. But I have been thinking – whether I should do this or not – for quite some time.
I love this country, and I have been in politics since May 13, 1969. In my heart, Malaysia is a beautiful country, with rich resources… then I see what is happening here. Why is it that there are still large segments of the Indian community poor, and the poorest states in Malaysia are the Malay states, why are the natives of Sabah and Sarawak suffering from poverty?
Hasn’t God created this country with so much wealth so that the people can flourish and prosper together and live as one nation? These are the thoughts that have been going on in my head.
How long have you been thinking about this disparity?
I have been thinking about this even when I was a MCA member from 2005 to 2008, when I was bidding for the MCA presidential election, I had time to think about it.
A combination of events is shifting in this nation. This country is so wealthy. Dr Mahathir asked about the huge revenue to the government from petroleum, where is the money? Why is there so much poverty in Sabah, Sarawak, Kelantan, Terengganu, Perlis, Kedah? It doesn’t make sense. Something doesn’t gel there.
What was the catalyst?
I don’t think you can say that there was any catalyst. A combination of events is shifting this nation.
When did (de facto PKR leader) Anwar Ibrahim talk to you?
Only recently. Approaches have been made to me, not by Anwar, but by others. I was offered a parliamentary seat even before the general election in 2008 and after the 2004 GE. I said to them, ‘Sorry, I had an agenda within the BN’.
I was hoping to reform in MCA … and hopefully there will be some respect for MCA under a new leader of UMNO, and MCA can have its own stand on policy matters.
When was your first meeting with Anwar?
Why didn’t you join PKR after the 2008 GE, after the MCA lost many seats?
Well, the thing is this, I lost at the national level, but I won at the divisional level after a hard fight. I can’t just leave my people and abandon them, and go over to one of the opposition parties, whichever it may be. I can’t just abandon them. I’d like to have a good start and a good ending.
Some people interpret that after the recent war of words between you and (MCA deputy president) Chua Soi Lek, you seem to have found a new alliance with (MCA president) Ong Tee Keat.
No, I did not seek a war with Chua Soi Lek. After he got himself in a big mess with the scandal of the (sex) video. I was the only MCA leader that said something to comfort and bless him, expressing my sympathy to his wife, children and family. And I had no reason to do that.
He allied himself against me for several years now. Various things developed, I could see him coming to Bakri, my constituency, when he was the state-level chairman of Johor. I knew he would marginalise me, but there are certain things which you just keep to yourself.
Did Soi Lek see you as a threat?
Perhaps. I wouldn’t know why he would do that. In politics, certain things are more obvious than other things. Then he came out with statements, undermining me, in Sin Chew Daily.
It was quite a big article in the newspaper, national edition, not Johor edition, saying that I literally sabotaged the Barisan Nasional during the general election.
You cannot impale my honour and get away with it for your own political motives, which is why I have to come up and defend myself. I didn’t seek a war, he did, and I just have to clear my name.
You have been a good friend of Tee Keat. But now that you have crossed over to PKR when he is facing internal problems, it does not look very good for him.
Before I leave, I made sure that I made my message very clear. On both occasions, when I was campaigning for the MCA presidential election, I came out – with no governmental and party position, except for my divisional chairmanship – with 36 percent (support) and the last one, 40 percent.
I have some standings in the party, and people recognised that. My reform was a statutory reform – it was not “play, play” reform, but real reform.
So you don’t think Tee Keat will be able to bring about reforms?
When I saw Tee Keat being threatened, I told myself ‘that is my friend, this is the guy who stood by me’, so I must do something to support him. When we fought in the presidential election, we fought on principles – no matter who wins, we remain as friends after the election.
Ong Tee Keat is still my friend, therefore I will stand by him. I think he is a man that does what he says, and says what he does, a straightforward man. I like that kind of person. So I said I will give him support, the central delegates will give him support. I did it not once, but twice.
At the last divisional AGM (annual general meeting), I told the people that this would be the last AGM that I would be addressing after 23 years. I sent very clear signals, my divisional people knew for some time that my heart is not in this local petty politics.
Some MCA sources claim that you are past your prime but you are still ambitious.
That was a fallacy first created by (former MCA president) Ong Ka Ting, (by) linking age to performance. This theory is nonsense, (it) forced all the young people to leave the party. You can be young and feel old, you can be old and feel young.
For me, if you have a passion for something, you are still young. I remember David Yeoh, a former senator, who said that, ‘I am 72 today, but I am prepared for a fight, I am prepared for the struggle. And when I joined PKR, I feel 27.’ This is because he have passions. Well, so have I.
Do you think there will be a huge number of MCA members who will follow your footsteps by joining PKR?
I have not asked anybody to do so. I came out, and came out myself, with my principles (intact). I had stated my principles clearly, they know that I had spoke about clear reforms in the MCA during the two presidential elections. They understand my heart. Those who are prepared to identify with my stand, about how I feel that this country should evolve, if they want to come, please come.
When people crossover, they usually evaluate the level of influence a leader has by looking at the number of members following his footsteps. To me, that is not the most important thing. Just be true to yourself. When you are true to yourself, you are a one-man army.
Are there any indications that members in your former division will follow you?
I don’t know about that. But I had signed an agreement with my deputy, who actually fought against me at the divisional election, saying that I will pass it on to him, with the condition that my divisional members can choose to go or stay. He will appoint my secretary as his secretary, treasurer, so on and so forth, which he did. So it was a happy separation from the division. My people are taken care of.
People are saying that you are unable to bring your own people across.
Does it matter? Only time will tell who will follow me. I do have calls. I would not pressure them to do it tomorrow, it is still early.
A big group of several hundreds of MCA people from Sungai Besar are coming to support Anwar in a function. You see what is happening in this country, more and more people are saying the two-party system is under threat.
Does that mean you have given up hope on Tee Keat in bringing reforms in MCA?
I am hoping that he would. Although when he fought for the party election … I can see that he’s trying, especially in the PKFZ (Port Klang Free Zone) issue. But in BN, there is only one dominant party, and they call all the shots.
In fact, I told Tee Keat, your presidency is going to be tough, the expectation of the people is very high… the options are very limited. For example, where is the PKFZ report, which he said he was going to distribute it to the members of parliament? MCA didn’t call the shots. As the minister of transport, Tee Keat didn’t call the shots.
Unless the big boss says you can release, you can’t release. I understand that Tee Keat is facing external forces, I told him to expect that.
I said very clear during an address in my division assembly that today there are two MCAs – one elected by the delegates of the central committee, and the other by the external forces. There are two MCAs, very clearly.
I see that Soi Lek is using his position to garner support for a future fight, so there are two MCAs, you cannot get away with it. You ask the people on the street, they will tell you that there are two MCAs, not of Tee Keat’s making, but one made by an external force.
That external force seems to be UMNO. In your speech the other day, when you were announcing that you are joining PKR, you had made it very clear that UMNO was undermining the two-party system.
How do they do that?
Very obvious. MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) goes into Perak, suddenly very hardworking, extremely competent, and arrested two of the Keadilan YBs – and the two are very critical – and charged them for corruption.
This shows how they are systematically using the institutions of this country. Perak has been a big blow for democracy. I was one of the MCA leaders who said back in the early days that we should call for an election in Perak.
Then we have so many other issues one by one, all the government agencies created by the constitution … the police and MACC are meant to protect the interest of the people … but they have been used.
I mean, it was so obvious, when you want to do something, do it cleverly, but they did not even try to hide it, they do not care anymore.
People are upset, that is the most stupid thing any government can do. The people will say, enough is enough, time is up for you, we are the ones deciding what will happen to this country in future, not the government.
In many ways, Najib has been told to change, if not the people will change the government. The March 2008 general election is a demonstration of change wanted by the people. For the first time in a long time, people from all races want change together.
The MACC was expected to be a better version of the ACA (Anti-Corruption Agency). Former premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi sought to create MACC as an independent agency.
I am sure Abdullah meant well when he created this organisation – to make sure that the interests of the people are protected, but the operators of the organisation had let themselves and the people down.
So is Najib worse than Abdullah in using government machinery?
Unlike Abdullah, we now have an iron fist behind the velvet glove. Najib is a decent man, I rather like him, he is a great PM, but he cannot be blameless because the PM calls the shots. To say that he does not have a substantial influence, I would not be telling the truth.
The PM in this country is too powerful – (he has) too much power over the institutions and parliament. I think it is time, and I hope that if Anwar ever becomes the PM, he will trim down these powers and give them back to the people.
Do you think Anwar will be able to do that?
I hope he can do it. I had address this to him when I join PKR. ‘There were some people who don’t think highly of you in the past. You must really implement the Malaysia agenda and manifesto’, he replied: “Chua, I went through six humiliating years in prison. I think one must go through the … experience in order for you to have a character change.”
So what kind of role will you play in PKR?
I have a great sense of freedom, all the shackles of the past – the MCA monoracial culture – have been broken off me. It was an amazing sense of freedom.
MCA – Chinese, Chinese, Chinese, we must have more Chinese people like in China, Chinese language must be our first and formal language, that kind of thing.
And now I have come to a multiracial party, I said: “Look! I love the Malays of this nation, I took good care of the Malays when I was the minister of health, I would like to do something for the Malaysians, I do not want to see poor Indians, Malays, and Chinese.
So you felt shackled by MCA because of their approach and their racial politics?
I am only using the word “shackle” to express how free I feel, but it doesn’t mean that I was shackled during the 23 years in MCA, but I felt restrained.
I love the multiracial approach, I see in PKR a unique opportunity to change this nation and the way the government has been working.
Part 2: Chua Jui Meng meets Malaysiakini (July 29)
At 65 and having served as a four-term parliamentarian, former MCA vice-president Chua Jui Meng believes that he can contribute to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat in a different role.
“Quite honestly, I will prefer to become a senator, not MP, who has to take care of a constituency,” he told Malaysiakini in an interview at his house in Bukit Damansara, Kuala Lumpur, last Tuesday.
Chua, who two weeks ago was the most senior Barisan Nasional politician to have defected to the opposition, reiterated that he joined PKR without setting any prior condition that he would be given a top post.
Asked to compare the prime ministers he had served during his long government career, Chua gave top marks to Dr Mahathir Mohamad but described Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as “the best friend of the opposition”.
“Mahathir was a class leader – his mind, the way he worked, the way he carried himself. I don’t have much to say about Abdullah, he had let down a lot of people and friends.”
While he said it is a too early for him to evaluate the performance of current premier Najib Abdul Razak, Chua warned that the government’s move to prosecute Anwar a second time for alleged sodomy would backfire.
According to the former health minister, Najib has done very well by BN’s standards but he stressed that “the standards of BN are no longer acceptable to the people”.
An edited version of the second of a two-part interview follows.
Malaysiakini: When you talked to Anwar (Ibrahim) before you joined PKR, there must have been some discussion about the role you could play in PKR. What is your future in PKR?
You may find it very strange … I joined PKR without (setting) any condition. I did not say things like, ‘Look, I want to become a MP, I want to choose this parliamentary seat, I want to become the vice-president after the next election, I want to become a minister once you have established a government’.
I felt this was something that I should not do. So I told Anwar, I’d come to PKR without condition. Anwar has an agenda to bring all the opposition parties and races together, he still has a long way to go.
Would you prefer to contest for a MP’s post in the next general election?
Quite honestly, I would prefer to become a senator, not a MP who has to take care of a constituency. Look, I am 65 – for 15 years, I was a member of the administration… Now that I am in PKR, my role is to make sure that Anwar is able to set up a government after the next general election.
There are rumours that former BN leaders are being marginalised after joining PKR…
I understand that. I have seen on the websites, where they say that I am going to be marginalised… They even ask ‘Do you trust a guy from MCA?’ I understand the sentiment. I do not get angry, I appreciate how they feel. It’s for me to work it out, to show them in future who I really am.
I do appreciate the fact that they are saying that there is a lack of experience in PKR. Anwar has to bring in different types of people, those who can burn a hole in your heart in their speeches, and those who know how to manage all the contradictions that occur on a daily basis within the party and administration. He needs to make a match of all these different people.
Some say Pakatan is only an alliance to gain political power and that there is no clear agenda within the coalition. The people have high expectations. Do you think PKR will be able to cope with this?
Any political force that is in the process of transition will go through some pain before it can really settle down and push the agenda forward. This is nothing strange. Look at BN – after more than 50 years, you still see contradictions within.
Within UMNO, huge contradictions have taken place, (and this has also happened) within MIC, within the Gerakan. But as long as you have the mainstream media on your side, these will be patched up by the press – they will know how to manage the news deliberately, how to present it.
For PKR, we don’t have that kind of main media, so when little pimples shown on their face, the media will take a magnifying glass and said: ‘Wow! That guy has cancer!’ But it’s only a pimple. But I understand where PKR is coming from, and there will be no more wild cards.
How is your relationship with DAP?
I would say quite good, considering the fact that I was a member of the administration of this country. To me, the key for everything is to have a heart to forgive – that is the secret of every successful politician, to look beyond the problems of yesterday and find a common mission.
I have learnt to let go, and I do not harbour anger and hurt towards to opposition, because once you do that, you can never bring yourself to work for the greatest good.
Any advice to PAS? You mentioned in a speech that UMNO is trying to bring PAS in on the issue of the ‘unity government’, which was one of the reasons why you joined PKR.
Yes, the other reason is the sodomy charge against Anwar. There will be no more ‘unity government’ talk. I will make sure that PKR will be a more cohesive force with clear policies – whatever you have promised, you must do.PKR and DAP are quite at ease with many Pakatan policies, but there is definitely strong opposition from within PAS. I think these problems have been resolved. The Manek Urai by-election was an eye-opener for PAS.
Some people say the by-election would further split the two factions in PAS…
They would be committing harakiri (political suicide)… PAS only won by 65 votes… your fifth straight win in the by-elections, just enough to make all of us humble.
Do you think the Pakatan momentum has stalled?
I do not think so. When I ran twice for the MCA presidential election, very few people commended me, the public didn’t come to me and say ‘Well done, I like your reforms, hope that you will win’. Never.
When I lost the MCA presidency, how many congratulatory messages did I receive? (But) for the messages I have received for my crossover, I would say that 98 percent were heart-warming, some of them have only one word – congratulations!
The people know what is going on, I had not been sleeping over the last three years, looking at the world in MCA’s eyes. I was really looking for reforms, and I have been talking to many Malays, and I was surprised to know that a lot of them want change.
Do you think PKR can take Johor in the next elections?
The menteri besar of Johor said ‘Chua Jui Meng is caged in Bakri’ (parliamentary seat), but the rules of the game have changed. I told Ghani (Othman, right) at the last GE that, despite UMNO’s (prediction of) a major sweep, a tsunami (would hit) our shores. But it did not come (to Johor) – it came all the way to Malacca and stopped there.
This was because Johor has always been seen by its communities as having a moderate government (which) never goes to extremes. Most of the time it is quite stable in its approach, so the tsunami didn’t hit (the state). The only place it really hit, out of the 26 parliamentary seats, was my seat (Bakri).
But during the elections, you did not really campaign for the opposition.
No, if you look back at all the general elections (and at) those people who were dropped, very few of them (have joined) the procession on nomination day. But I was there leading the procession. I was in the constituency throughout the GE. I spoke in a public dinner, asking the Bakri people to support the BN candidates.
So (MCA deputy president Chua) Soi Lek was wrong to accuse you of sabotaging BN?
He knows he was wrong. The newspaper reports were there, it was covered in the Chinese newspapers.
But do you see any approach or strategy that the Pakatan in Johor can adopt?
The government in Johor is moderate – but people were saying over the last one year, if only we knew that the tsunami would hit this country, we would have voted differently.
Why was Johor shielded from the tsunami?
Johor was well-known for having mixed constituencies, many of the seats have no predominant race. (In) my (former) seat, for example, the majority were Chinese – 53-55 percent, and Malays were 42-43 percent, the Indians were about 2 percent, so it is a ‘mixed’ seat.
When you have a ‘mixed’ seat and people interact more frequently than in monoracial areas, they are more moderate in their thinking. They are more supportive of the government of the day; they would not think that they have a choice. In Johor, they thought that it was to be the (same) old story again.
The opposition hasn’t got that kind of support from Malays, compared to all the other parts of Malaysia.
Yes, for example, in Bakri and Muar, the Chinese voted for PAS, and for the other places where BN won, the majority was not big. So I think that there were changes, but these were not amplified.
Do you think BN can regain momentum?
My campaign during the MCA party election was: enough of superficial reforms, we want deep reforms. For example, the New Economic Policy (NEP) came about the time of Tun (Abdul) Razak, Najib’s father, it was meant to give Malays a good push forward in the economic field, people accepted that (it is) a sacrifice the Chinese and Indians have to make.
A lot of people don’t realise that the 9th Malaysia Plan has made it even more burdensome for them to achieve their goals. There are little concessions here and there, (such as) the 30 percent of listed companies for bumiputeras. But from what I know, most people do not own listed companies, so the government has gained instead of the ordinary people.
The dismantling of the FIC (Foreign Investment Committee) is supposed to attract more FDI (foreign direct investments), but I can give you one example. China would never come to Malaysia to list its companies. Last year, it listed over 100 companies in Singapore, but not a single one in Malaysia.
Very simply, the Chinese think ‘no way they are going to give 30 percent of listed companies to one single race, no matter what race you are’ [...] As for the two stimulus packages launched by Najib, if you ask the people ‘Have you benefitted?’, they will say ‘I don’t feel it at all’.
So where has the money gone? Mahathir asked this brilliant question – he said his government in 22 years had only RM160 billion revenue from PETRONAS, and last year they had got RM268 billion, so where did the money go? These are very grave (questions) for which the people want answers.
Now Malaysians are fed up, they say: ‘We have had enough, using our names to create wealth among certain people’.
How do you see Najib’s ‘1Malaysia’ slogan? Some say there are a lot of contradictions in it.
A slogan will always remain a slogan. I have heard many slogans in my life. A slogan is the shadow of the real thing. We have had enough of beautifully-worded slogans.
What do you think of Najib’s performance over his first 100 days as PM?
By the standards of BN, he has done very well, but the standards of BN are no longer acceptable to the people.
What do you think the standard of Pakatan Rakyat should be?
High moral standards.
Critics say Pakatan has became arrogant and members of the Selangor exco are involved with gangsters. There are complaints against those who have gained government powers.
I am not able to make a judgment on that since I do not really know what is going on behind the play of the mainstream media. I would assume that the mainstream media is amplifying whatever little blemishes we have. I do not expect perfect people in Pakatan, but I would expect integrity.
How would you describe UMNO? Is it still the same?
There is no way it would not be what it is. The culture is deep inside. It will always come up with slogans and speeches.
What do you think of the performance of the government agencies, given your long time in service?
We need more independence in this country. Some of them are just taking orders from the government, even though their heart might not be there.
Having been the longest-serving health minister (nine years), do you believe in the ‘curse of MCA health ministers’?
I don’t believe in that kind of stuff like feng shui, it’s up to the incumbent. Even by standards of the world, minister of health usually do not last very long. In fact, I am one of the longest-serving health ministers in Commonwealth countries.
As a politician and a Christian, has there been any time when your faith clashed with your political role?
It will not clash with political views if you are consistent in what you believe. My personal faith is consistent with my political career. I can’t divorce it from my career. They must be one.
You are the second former cabinet minister who has joined Pakatan Rakyat. Do you think there will be more former ministers joining you?
I hope they will have the same passion as I have, to make this a beautiful country, it doesn’t really matter whether I am given a top political post or not.
You have served under Mahathir and Abdullah, what do you think of them?
I am talking here in terms of their performance. Mahathir was a class leader – his mind, the way he worked, the way he carried himself. I don’t have much to say about Abdullah, he has let down a lot of people and friends.
He was the best friend of the opposition.
What about Najib?
It’s still early to say, he had just past his 100 days (in office). He has not made it very easy for the opposition, he is different from Abdullah. But there will be huge tsunami in Malaysia, in terms of persecuting Anwar and the opposition.
Has Najib been copying a lot of Pakatan policies?
I do not see that. He can never copy the agenda of reform that Anwar has. With Anwar, we can see eye to eye, saying that NEP must go. I don’t think they can do that because it has been the source of their wealth. Can you imagine the Malay (Umno) voting against the NEP?
But many Malays are said to be going back to UMNO…
But many more are going to Pakatan Rakyat.
What do you think UMNO will do in future?
They will keep on trying to split Pakatan through PAS. This is the one thing that we should give credit to UMNO, it is very persistent.
There are not many unfavourable comments about you crossing over to PKR?
Once you forgive others, people also forgive you back. If I had taken a tone of bitterness and hatred when I lost for the second time in MCA presidential election, they would have blasted me equally when I decided to leave MCA.
What keeps you going on? You had been defeated twice in the presidential election, some people compared you to (former MCA vice-president, left) Yap Pian Hon, who was known to have ‘nine lives’, you chose to take an even bigger step by joining PKR. What’s your strength?
My strength is my belief in my country, in making it a better place. After my loss in the presidential election, I said: ‘Yes, I have lost, but the spirit will never die’.
Do you think MCA can end all the controversies it is facing now?
It is in the culture of political parties, that there will always be fights, you can’t stop the fights in UMNO, MIC or Gerakan or whatever party, people will always have differences in views, it’s unavoidable.
People are saying that MCA is facing one of the worst splits in its history.
It is a bad split, I would not be able to say whether it is the worst in its history, because there were very bitter fights in the past, in the early years of its formation.
The two-party system is under stress now, it is under attack, the principal source of the stress is the external attacks, trying to abolish the Pakatan Rakyat, to remove Anwar and ‘cage the tiger’. I strongly disagree with that move.
People may have believed the government when it was trying to (destroy) Anwar (with) the sodomy charge, but now a huge number of people, especially the Malays, do not believe that Anwar had committed sodomy. If you jail Anwar now, there will be a huge tsunami, especially among the Malay communities – (and it will be) greater than the 1999 incident.
How do you see the fight between (MCA president) Ong Tee Keat and (deputy president) Chua Soi Lek?