Pak Lah, how would you like to be remembered? As the man who abandoned the nation in its hour of need or as the man who stayed and fought and who completed the job?
THE CORRIDORS OF POWER
Raja Petra Kamarudin
Yang Amat Berhormat Dato’ Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi
Prime Minister of Malaysia
Prime Minister’s Office
Perdana Putra Building
Federal Government Administrative Centre
Dear Pak Lah,
First of all, allow me to address you as Pak Lah, as you prefer your friends to address you. I may not be your friend in the real sense of the word — seeing that I am bent on cutting UMNO and Barisan Nasional down to size, plus your government has detained me under the Internal Security Act and is still trying to appeal the court’s decision to free me so that I can be sent back to Kamunting, not to mention the four criminal charges I still face which, if I am found guilty, can result in a total of more than ten years in jail if the sentences were to run consecutively.
Nevertheless, this open letter is not about me. It is about the future of this country. And my opposition to UMNO and Barisan Nasional is exactly that, about the future of this country, nothing more and nothing less. My aspiration is to finally see the emergence of a two-party system where no one party has a hegemony that has been the political landscape of this country for half a century since Merdeka.
I regard you not as the Prime Minister of UMNO, like how the UMNO members seem to think, but my Prime Minister as well. Maybe the UMNO members have forgotten that you are the Prime Minister of all 26 million Malaysians and not just of the 16 million Malays, or worse, the three million UMNO members. This is why I take it upon myself to write you this open letter seeing that you are my Prime Minister as well.
I know this may sound puzzling. Why do I still write to you and regard you as my Prime Minister when I oppose you so violently? Well, I also opposed Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he was Prime Minister for 22 years, plus Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim when he was number two to Mahathir. This is no secret and is, in fact, well documented. Under Mahathir I was also detained under the Internal Security Act plus taken in by the police a couple of times. But ever since Mahathir retired I treat him as a friend and did not carry any grudges about our past animosity. I would go so far as to say that I treat Mahathir with the respect due to an elder statesman and one-time Prime Minister of this country — hand kissing included.
Political maturity means we must be able to set aside our personal differences for the greater good of the nation. And we must be able to agree to disagree in a respectful and civil manner. This is what education means and going to school does not mean you have received an education. It just means you went to school. Education is about what you become after you leave school. And I would like to believe that I did not just go to school but received an education as well.
Pak Lah, your paternal grandfather, Syeikh Abdullah Badawi Fahim, was one of the founding fathers of PAS. This means PAS exists today because of your family. And the fact that Syeikh Abdullah went on to become the first Mufti of Penang is no small achievement. This proves your grandfather was able to set aside his political differences and serve the government he opposed for the sake of Islam and the nation. Today, how many are able to do this?
By the way, your grandfather served under my grandfather, Raja Sir Tun Uda, the Governor then, and Datin Seri Endon Mahmood’s family was close to my family even before you married her. So, in that sense, we are ‘family friends’, although political adversaries, and maybe you should be my Abang Lah rather than Pak Lah.
Your maternal grandfather, Ha Su-chiang, was a Chinese Muslim from Hainan. Your late wife, Endon, is said to have Japanese blood while your current wife, Dato’ Seri Jeanne Danker a.k.a Jeanne Abdullah, is of Portuguese descent. Have we ever had such a multi-cultural Prime Minister before this (notwithstanding the four Prime Ministers before you were also not ‘pure’ Malays, if we really want to get technical)?
I feel your family background is unique and can serve as the best example of what a multi-cultural Malaysia should look like. If I had my own way I would ban same-race marriages. Malaysia should pass a law that you must marry outside your race and not marry someone from your own race. Anyway, that would certainly not be realistic and is just my wishful thinking.
If there is something Malaysia really needs is an end to racism. What is currently happening is alarming. What’s with these demonstrations by the ultra-Malays protesting the non-Malays questioning ‘Malay rights and privileges’? Are these Malays trying to push Malaysia to the brink of race riots like what we saw in May 1969? Have they forgotten the concept of freedom of opinion? Are they implying that only Malays have the right to speak and all others must shut up?
Pak Lah, you must no longer keep quiet. You must call for an end to all this racist rhetoric before the fire burns out of control. Have you forgotten that you too have Chinese blood and that the non-Malays are as Malaysian as you and me? Malaysians, Malays or otherwise, have equal rights and this means the right to speak their mind, without fear or favour.
Anyway, back to the purpose of this letter. I am of the opinion that you should not retire in March 2009 as you had planned to do so. When you made that decision to retire, Malaysia had yet to face a severe recession, which we can’t deny is going to hit our shores like a Tsunami and earthquake both rolled into one in the months to come. Since you made that announcement to retire, the situation has changed so drastically that it may be prudent for you to reconsider your earlier decision.
Pak Lah, how would you like to be remembered? As the man who abandoned the nation in its hour of need or as the man who stood and fought and who completed the job? A captain is never the first to abandon ship. He must be the one who leaves last and goes down with the ship if need be. That is the mark of a good captain and is what you should also strive to be.
The recession is not your fault. It is a global thing and Malaysia is merely a victim of circumstances. But it will be your fault if you do nothing to address the impending doom. There are times we can’t avoid crashing. But the captain should not keep the passengers in ignorance while he seeks the safety of retirement. You, Pak Lah, can afford to retire. You have the financial means to do so. But I can’t say the same for the rest of the 26 million Malaysians who are surviving from hand to mouth.
You have never been to jail, Pak Lah, not even to a police lockup. I have, more than once, and the reality of the suffering of this nation is very prominent behind the high walls of a prison. Do you know that prison warders and policemen earn less than RM1,000 a month? How do they survive? How will they survive in three month’s time when their Ringgit will be worth less than half the value today? And I am not yet even touching on the life of the most unfortunate prisoners who are in prison because they had to steal just to fill their bellies that had not seen food for days.
You will probably be jet-setting around the world by the time all hell breaks loose next year. The rest of us, however, will be forced to stay back in Malaysia, pondering on where our next meal will be coming from. And many will be forced by circumstances to resort to a life of crime just to stay alive. And Malaysians will remember and curse you, the Prime Minister who abandoned them and retired to an easy life while they tighten their belts to ward off hunger or go steal from their neighbours if they can’t stand the pangs of hunger.
It is time politics is set aside for the good of the nation. You need to bring in to your government people who know what to do in times like these. Your Finance Minister said that Malaysia is not facing a recession and never will. This is like a pilot telling his passengers that all is well while he slowly creeps to the back of the plane with a parachute strapped to his back. Come on, Pak Lah, the country is sliding down a slippery slope. Please tell the people this and ask them to brace for the crash. And, at the same time, get the government to do something about it and not keep announcing good news to lull everyone into complacency.
It is your patriotic duty to stay and fight the recession, not to abandon ship. But you can’t do it alone. And the nincompoops you have in government can’t do it either. If you are not prepared to ask the opposition for help by forming a ‘unity government’, at the very least bring in people from outside UMNO to do the job like how Singapore normally does. Why do you think Singapore is much better run and its Dollar is stronger than the Ringgit? Singapore doesn’t care if you are a PAP member or not. They bring in the best brains for the job even if you are not a ruling party member.
The people you have in government are archaic and outdated. They are goods with an expired shelf life. And the only reason they are in government is because they are UMNO warlords. This must end. We need to see some meritocracy. People must be given the job because they are capable and not because they are UMNO gangsters who can rouse 10,000 people and get them to march on the streets. That would be the only way to save this country when the Tsunami cum earthquake hits our shores around the time you want to leave in March 2009.
Barisan Nasional won the election on 8 March 2008 because you are the Prime Minister. If you had announced, before 8 March 2008, that you would be retiring a year later and would be handing the country to your Deputy, then the results would have been very different. Barisan Nasional would have been kicked out and, today, Pakatan Rakyat would be running this country. You would be betraying the voters by leaving in March 2009 when they gave you the mandate to rule till midnight of 7 March 2013.
If you want to leave then dissolve Parliament in February 2009 and call for fresh elections in March 2009. Let the voters decide if they really want Najib Tun Razak as their Prime Minister. This is the right of all Malaysians. Who are you to choose the Prime Minister on our behalf?
Mahathir retired on 31 October 2003 and handed the country over to you on 1 November 2003 — just before the election, which should have been called by November 2004. He gave you one year to get a fresh mandate from the voters. And you held the elections five months later where you received your mandate, the best ever in the history of Malaysian elections. Then you obtained a fresh mandate in March 2008 and, one year into your second term, you leave without consulting the voters as to whether they agree to the change in Prime Minister or not.
If you want to leave, then either hold fresh elections first, or else wait one year before the next election, say sometime in 2012, and then call for elections a few months after that. This way the people can decide whom they want as Prime Minister. The way it is done now is like the people were tricked into voting for one Prime Minister and suddenly discovers they are getting someone else they never chose. As I said, it is not up to you who becomes the Prime Minister. It is up to the voters. And the voters chose you, not Najib.
You can retire as the UMNO President. That is your prerogative and is an internal UMNO matter. But you need not also retire as Prime Minister even if you are no longer the UMNO President. The Federal Constitution of Malaysia does not stipulate that the Prime Minister must also be the UMNO President.
Article 4 (1) of the Constitution says: This Constitution is the supreme law of the Federation and any law passed after Merdeka Day which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.
This means the Constitution takes priority and precedence over all other matters, such as what UMNO desires. UMNO does not appoint the Prime Minister. The Agong does. And the Agong appointed you and not someone else as Prime Minister. Who are you, therefore, to decide who becomes Prime Minister? Are you above the Agong? On this matter Article 40 of the Constitution says as follows:
2) The Yang di-Pertuan Agong may act in his discretion in the performance of the following functions, that is to say:
(a) The appointment of a Prime Minister;
(b) The withholding of consent to a request for the dissolution of Parliament;
This means it is not up to you whether to dissolve Parliament and whether to appoint a new Prime Minister. You can only request this but the matter is entirely up to the Agong. So you need to first consult the Agong and see whether His Majesty is okay with your idea or not. And if the Agong says, “Beta tak pekenan”, then you go back to your home in Putrajaya and continue running this country until, the latest, midnight of 7 March 2013.
Most people have had enough with UMNO throwing its weight around to the point of even ignoring the powers of the Rulers. We need you to restore the independence of the four branches of government that we used to have up to 20 years ago — the Executive, the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Monarchy. That should be your first task and you should stay until you get that done.
Next, we need to reform both the general election system as well as the UMNO party elections. The gerrymandering is ridiculous. How can an ‘UMNO’ seat be just 5,000 voters while an ‘opposition’ seat is as high as 120,000 voters? If the gerrymandering is eliminated and the variation between seats is not more than 15%, like how the Reid Commission recommended, then the opposition would not need to garner 60% of the votes to form the federal government. Even back in May 1969, when the gerrymandering was not yet that bad, the opposition garnered 55% of the votes and was still not able to form the federal government.
The 58 nominations to qualify to contest the UMNO Presidency and Deputy Presidency is another ridiculous ruling, which makes a mockery of democratic elections. And we are yet to touch on the corruption in Umno, which has erroneously been called ‘money politics’. Even the UMNO Disciplinary Board is sighing and lamenting and is saying that UMNO is in its death throes all because of corruption. UMNO is on self-destruct mode and no one dare deny that.
You see, we from the civil society movements do not want to see UMNO dead and buried, as what the opposition would like to see. What we want to see instead is an UMNO minus its arrogance and high-handedness and a strong opposition in Parliament and the State Assemblies. Who that ruling party may be and who is the opposition is not of too much concern to most of us, as long as they are almost equally matched and both respect the wishes of the voters. Currently, the ruling party that you lead has no respect for the voters and treats the voters with contempt. You insult the intelligence of the voters and think that we are all fools. And we are worried that your anointed successor will be even worse.
Sure, you are not the best Prime Minister we ever had, that I do not deny. But you are also not the worst. And we believe it can get worse if you hand the reins over to Najib. Let’s not pretend that Najib does not have any baggage with the many allegations of corruption made against him and that huge question mark of the Altantuya murder hanging over his head, which has yet to be satisfactorily settled.
It is not that we want you so much. It is more that we don’t want Najib. And we resent the fact that you are deciding on our behalf that Najib is going to be our Prime Minister. Let the voters decide this in 2012 or 2013 during the next general election. If the voters still give Barisan Nasional the government, knowing that Najib will be taking over soon after that, then I rest my case. If that is the voters’ choice then I have no quarrel with that. But, as it stands now, the voters voted on 8 March 2008 on the basis that you, and not Najib, would be the Prime Minister.
I think I have already rambled on far too long and maybe I should stop here. Anyway, my friends don’t call me ‘cheong hei’ for nothing, so forgive my long-windedness. I hope you will seriously consider what I have said. This is not just my personal opinion. This is the feeling of most Malaysians.
I would like to end my open letter by wishing you a Happy New Year and hope that, next year, when I again write to you on New Year’s Eve, it will be still as Prime Minister and not as ex-Prime Minister.
Raja Petra Al Haj Bin Raja Kamarudin
Bukit Rahman Putra
30 December 2008