March 31, 2016
Thayaparan interviews DAP’s Lim Kit Siang–Embracing a long time adversary
Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson
INTERVIEW: Very few Malaysians can say they have they lived up to the second part of the famous John F Kennedy quote “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” as DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang has.
After decades of wrestling with his political adversary, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, for the soul of Malaysians after years of being on the receiving end of the all-encompassing power of the Umno state, the honourable gentleman from Gelang Patah, found himself part of a joint declaration along with Mahathir, calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
While the DAP has enjoyed a political resurgence with a newly awakened electorate, the long struggle against the UMNO state has not diminished the enthusiasm and vigour of one the few people who can credibly claim title to elder statesmanship.
Here in two parts, Lim Kit Siang, explains what is at stake when it comes to the machinations of the Najib state, boldly answers questions from a sceptic (the writer) and reminds Malaysians that while we must never excuse the sins of the past, we can move beyond them.
Does “saving Malaysia” mean “saving UMNO”, because Mahathir has made it clear that his agenda is to save UMNO from Najib?
Interestingly, I issued a statement in Abu Dhabi on April 19, 2015 en route back to Malaysia after a DAP MPs fact-finding visit to Jordan and Egypt, where I differentiated between the “Save Malaysia”, “Save UMNO” and “Save Najib” concepts.
This is what I said in my statement last April :
“When I said in my speech to Malaysian students in Alexandria on Friday that I am prepared to work with Mahathir on the ‘Save Malaysia’ agenda, I was not thinking of ‘Save UMNO’ or ‘Save Najib’.
“In fact, there is nothing for me to work with Mahathir or anyone else as far as ‘Save UMNO’ or ‘Save Najib’ is concerned, as UMNO is an incorrigible party set in the ways of money politics and abuses of power, and the greatest contribution UMNO can make to the healthy development of democratic politics and Malaysian nation-building is for UMNO to go into the opposition benches to allow Malaysia to become a normal democratic country where the transition of power from one political coalition to another is not regarded as a national catastrophe but a necessary rite of passage from a country to graduate to become a normal democracy.
“I believe the First and Third Prime Ministers of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Hussein Onn would agree with me and this was why both of them refused to join UMNO Baru which was formed by Mahathir in 1988 and both remained outside UMNO Baru till their last breath…
“I stand by what I said to Malaysian students in Alexandria that the focus of the present must be unwaveringly to ‘Save Malaysia’ from the present roller-coaster policies which threaten to plunge Malaysia down the slippery slope, whether in nation-building, politics, economics, education or other aspects of national life, to that of a ‘failed state’.
“I have said that for this formidable task, we must be prepared to put our differences in the past to one side and concentrate all our energies on one common agenda, to save Malaysia from all centrifugal forces to tear the country asunder.”
As far as I am concerned, “Save Malaysia” means saving the country, and not an individual, be he Prime Minister Najib Razak or a particular party, be it UMNO.
How can meaningful reforms be carried out by anyone who has Mahathir’s imprimatur?
When Mahathir suggested that political and civil society leaders gather to sign and proclaim the Citizens’ Declaration to Save Malaysia, his first draft focused on concerns over the deteriorating political, economic and social conditions in the country and the damage done to the country under Najib’s premiership, in particular by the RM55 billion 1MDB and RM2.6 billion “donation” twin mega scandals.
However, as the problem is not just about the man but also the system, Mahathir agreed that apart from Najib’s resignation there would also be “much-needed democratic and institutional reforms” to restore the important principle of the separation of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary and ensure the independence, credibility, professionalism and integrity of our national institutions.
This was highlighted in the last paragraph of the 37-paragraph Citizens’ Declaration, which has to be elaborated in the second step of a national consensus.
The original 42 signatories to the Save Malaysia Citizens’ Declaration, as well as all citizens I hope will endorse the Citizens’ Declaration, have our separate political and national agendas – but the salvation of Malaysia lies in our ability to agree on a core common agenda to save Malaysia, and to enlarge this core common agenda.
Could you describe the processes which led to the declaration and what was your reaction to potentially working with your long-time political adversary?
The country has reached a historic watershed where Malaysians must rise above racial, religious, regional and political differences to take a united stand on a common national agenda – to save Malaysia from hurtling down the slippery slope of a failed and a rogue state.
There have been historic examples, both international and in our country – from Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai Shek forming a common front to fight a bigger common enemy in China, to the United States President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russian dictator Stalin uniting to fight Germany’s Hitler in the Second World War, or the British colonialists teaming up with the Malayan communists under Chin Peng in the Malayan jungles through Force 136 during the Japanese Occupation.
What the Citizens’ Declaration to Save Malaysia sought to do is to spark off a national movement involving the unity all Malaysians, regardless of race, religion, region or politics to save Malaysia – the highest form of patriotism at this time.
You have said that we can’t undo the past. But how do we secure a future with someone who has been the cause of much of the damage of in the past, who has refused to even acknowledge the role he played, in destabilising our public institutions?
The March 4, 2016 Citizens’ Declaration is not Mahathir or Lim Kit Siang’s declaration – it is a declaration by citizens of Malaysia, regardless of race, religion, region or politics to save Malaysia.
The historic and unprecedented gathering on March 4 to sign and proclaim the Citizens’ Declaration is not about Mahathir or Lim Kit Siang, Muhyiddin Yassin or Mohamad Sabu or Ambiga Sreenivasan, but about 30 million Malaysians, their hopes, aspirations, dream and future.
How do you counter the perception that this declaration gives legitimacy to Mahathir and his decades long rule of Malaysia?
The declaration is a statement about the future as to how Malaysians can unite at present on a common platform to save Malaysia, not a judgement or verdict of the events of the past. The question of legitimatising or criminalising any individual or event in the past does not arise.
I am aware that questions have been asked as to how Lim Kit Siang and Mahathir can sit on the same table, considering the decades of differences and Mahathir’s responsibility in sending me and Guan Eng into incarceration, twice not once in Guan Eng’s case.
In my 50 years of politics, I have been accused of all sorts of things – of being a Chinese chauvinist; communist; cause of the May 13, 1969 riots; anti-Malay, anti-Islam, all completely baseless and pure defamation.
For my joint appearance with Mahathir for the March 4, 2016 Save Malaysia Citizens’ Declaration, I have been accused of being Mahahtir’s puppet and Mahathir accused of being my puppet.I am used to all these epithets and abuses, but it must be the first time that Mahathir is being accused of being my puppet.
I am no puppet of Mahathir, just as Mahathir is no puppet of mine. It was not easy for me to appear on the same table with him just as it was not easy for Mahathir to appear on the same table with me.
This is a testimony of the exceptional times we are in, where Malaysian patriots must rise above their differences to reach an accord in the higher national interest, which is why the March 4 Citizens’ Declaration marks a historic watershed in Malaysia’s political development.
Although there seems to be a cautious optimism amongst the general vote base of the opposition, what do you think of the scepticism from certain quarters of civil society with regards to this declaration?
I can understand such reservations and even skepticism.I can imagine similar debates before the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Kuomintang decided on a united front against the Japanese invaders in China, or in the capitals of Washington, London and Moscow before the conclusion of the “Grand Alliance” of the Big Three against Nazi Germany or by the British colonialists who had retreated to India during the Japanese Occupation and the Malayan Communist Party in the jungles before they cemented their operation and the infiltration of Force 136.
I believe many of the signatories also have doubts and reservations about whether what they had embarked upon will lead to success.For the sake of saving Malaysia, it is better to have tried and failed than never to try at all.
If Najib carries out another Operation Lallang, do you think that politically the opposition can survive?
I was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) twice, first time for 17 months in 1969 after my first election as member of parliament for Bandar Melaka and the May 13, 1969 riots in Kuala Lumpur and second time, under Operation Lallang for 18 months.
Although the iniquitous ISA has been repealed, the country appears to be heading to a new period of repression with new draconian legislative measures likely to be presented in the current meeting of Parliament, with new draconian provisions and increased penalties for offences under the Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act as well as giving the Prime Minister dictatorial powers to virtually declare emergency in the country without checks and balances from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Parliament.
While we must stay vigilant to safeguard our fundamental liberties entrenched in the Constitution and not allow these human rights to be diluted or taken away in any manner under any circumstances, we know that we are in situation where we must be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.
The acts of repression, oppression and persecution have been the game of Barisan Nasional in their effort to maintain power. And as I mentioned, I too am a victim of the vicious ISA, and even the Sedition Act. But whatever bad things done to the opposition, we have always come back stronger, with the people’ support. This is the magnitude of the task and challenge confronting Pakatan Harapan.
How does the DAP counter the perception that their efforts to reach out to the Malay community is not an attempt to subvert “Malay” political control and do you think that compromising on core secular values to court the Malay vote is in the long run detrimental to the progressive agenda of the DAP?
There are two dangerous fallacies played up by some UMNO leaders and their cybertroopers. Firstly, that the defeat of UMNO in the next general election will result in Malay losing political power in country, and secondly, the defeat of UMNO will result in the defeat of Islam in Malaysia.
Let me quote our national laureate A Samad Ismail, who is also a DAP member, who has asked UMNO many times: how would the Malays lose political power if UMNO is defeated in a general election? He also asked: “How are Malays under threat? How can religion (Islam) and Malays be threatened when those in power have been Malays for over five decades?”
Pakatan Harapan will ensure that the defeat of UMNO will not be a threat or disaster for Malays or Islam, or for that matter, for any race or religion in the country. Will UMNO’s electoral loss in the 14th General Election be such an unmitigated disaster than it will end in UMNO’s demise?
I do not believe UMNO is in such a terminal stage of political cancer that it will die and can never recover if it loses the 14th General Election. Both DAP and our Pakatan Harapan partners have been explaining the issue in all our ceramahs and forums, and our views are disseminated through our respective party publications.
On the question of compromise, let me reiterate the fact that people support DAP because they believe we can lead them to a better Malaysia. However, we cannot lead them to a better Malaysia unless we are a part of a coalition to be able to govern, formulate and implement policies for the whole country.
We are in need of change and we must dare to reach out, and to do that, we must dare to transform the DAP into a truly Malaysian party, with the support of all Malaysians, including Malays, Ibans and Kadazans as well as Chinese and Indians.
Nobody is suggesting that we betray or compromise or sell out our principles, ideals and objectives. What we need to change drastically is our modus operandi, and not our ideals and principles, to be more inclusive to appeal to all Malaysians. We have always been a constitutional secular social democratic party fighting for all Malaysians based on the fundamentals of freedom, justice and solidarity.
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”–– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
INTERVIEW: This is the second part of an interview with DAP leader Lim Kit Siang on why he is willing to work with his nemesis, former Premier Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, in the ‘Save Malaysia’ campaign.The first part appeared yesterday.
DAP has always struggled with the perception and UMNO propaganda that it is a “Chinese” entity. Do you think that the DAP has made some missteps that gives credence to this perception?
DAP had never aspired to be a Chinese or non-Malay party. Right from the beginning during DAP’s formation in 1966, DAP had pledged itself to pursue a Malaysian Dream, not a Chinese Dream, an Indian Dream or a Malay Dream.
This is why DAP is the first political party in the country to be Pan-Malaysian, establishing branches in Sarawak and Sabah before any other political party in the country.
All through the past five decades, DAP had been accused of being anti-Malay and anti-Islam by UMNO, because of UMNO fear that the DAP will be able to make inroads into UMNO spheres of influence with our Malaysian political appeal, transcending race, religion or region.
No political party seeking support from all Malaysians can be anti-Malay or anti-Islam, or for that matter, anti-Chinese, anti-Indian, anti-Dayak, anti-Kadazandusun or anti-Buddhism, anti-Christianity, anti-Hindiuism or anti-Sikhism.
The battle against such lies and falsehoods had been a particularly uphill battle for the DAP because we had to face the full onslaught of the UMNO juggernaut with its control and ownership of the mass media, particularly in the era before the advent of Internet, news portals and the social media.
However difficult the terrain, DAP had never wavered from our objectives and principles that the DAP had been formed not to fight for any one race but for all races and Malaysians in the country! This is why right from the beginning, starting from the first general election in 1969 contested by the DAP, the party had always put up a multi-racial and multi-religious slate of candidates.
In fact, in the 1969 general election, two Malay state assemblymen were elected, one in Perak and the other in Negri Sembilan. In the past 11 general elections, DAP had elected Malay members of parliament and state assembly representatives in peninsular Malaysia.
In the 2013 general election, we elected a Kadazan state assemblyman in Sabah and we look forward to the election of the first Dayak state assembly representative in the forthcoming Sarawak state general election.
As in the 1969 general election, DAP has now more Indian MPs than MIC. It is because of the DAP that there is an Indian Deputy Chief Minister in Penang and the first Indian speaker in the Perak state assembly after the 2008 general election.
All these precedents and breakthroughs are testimony that DAP had never aspired to be a Chinese or non-Malay party.DAP does not apologise for its objective and commitment to be a party representing Malaysians regardless of race, religion or region – whether Chinese, Indians, Malays, Ibans, Kadazans or Orang Asli.It has not been an easy road in a country where the politics of race and the politics religion have played such a dominant role in the Malaysian politics.
Where does pragmatism end and political opportunism begin?
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There can be no room for opportunism as principles and ideals cannot be compromised, but the tactics and strategies to “Save Malaysia” from hurtling towards a failed and a rogue state must be pragmatic and flexible.
After the acrimonious split with PAS, is there a lesson to be learnt on the folly of engaging with an Islamic party and if so, how could this be applied with DAP’s political alliance with Parti Amanah?
Political Islam is a reality we must live with, whether in Malaysia or the world, and I do not agree that it is folly to engage with an Islamic party. The split with PAS and the rupture of Pakatan Rakyat is not because PAS is an Islamic party, but because it has failed to honour its compact on the Common Policy Framework and the consensus operational principle reached when Pakatan Rakyat was formed.
The political alliance with Parti Amanah Negara in Pakatan Harapan is fully justified if the component coalition parties can learn the lesson from the rupture of Pakatan Rakyat, that any political coalition is only viable and sustainable if the component parties of the coalition abide by the common policy programmes agreed among them, for there is no other basis for a genuine political coalition of equals to succeed.
Pro-establishment bloggers and news portals have demonised the DAP as a pro-Christian political force. Do you think that religion has a role to play in the political discourse and if so, how does one maintain the balance in pursuit of a secular society?
The majority of DAP leaders and members are not Christians. How can DAP become a pro-Christian political force? This is why the allegation of UMNO-BN propagandists and cybertroopers that DAP wants to create a Christian Malaysia is even more bizarre and ridiculous.
Right from the very beginning, the DAP stand is clear and unequivocal that we fully accept and respect the fundamental constitutional provision of Islam as the official religion while other religions can be practiced peacefully anywhere in the country.
The stand taken by the DAP, that Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as the official religion, is the same and consistent with the public positions taken by the first three Prime Ministers of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Razak Hussein and Hussein Onn.
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Is it seriously suggested that the first three Prime Ministers of Malaysia were enemies of Islam because they uphold Malaysia as secular nation, which does not mean anti-Islam or anti any religion but respect for all religions?
When you said you would even work with Prime Minister Najib Razak if he was serious in reforms, you received much public opprobrium. I took that particular statement as a sign of that you were willing to work with anyone to save the country but more importantly as a sign of frustration. After decades in the forefront advocating change, how frustrated are you with the direction this country is headed in?
I had clarified in Padang Besar why I said in Sungai Petani on March 12 that I was prepared even to work with Najib to save Malaysia. I said in Sungai Petani that I believe that the overwhelming majority of Malaysians, regardless of race, religion, race or politics, love this country and can subordinate self-interest to national interests and support a Save Malaysia campaign to stop the country hurtling down the slippery slope towards a failed and a rogue state.
I listed some of the things which Najib should do if he is to come on board the “Save Malaysia” campaign, like freeing Anwar Ibrahim and restore to him all his political rights and civic enfranchisement so as to fully participate in a national consultative process on the democratic and institutional reforms necessary to restore national and international confidence in Malaysia; an independent and credible royal commission of inquiry to carry out comprehensive and far-reaching investigations into Najib’s twin mega scandals; halt the lurch towards dictatorial trends by withdrawing all draconian legislative proposals, including proposed amendments to the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act, the Penal Code and the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the withdrawal of the National Security Council Bill, and the withdrawal of all charges and investigations against opposition and civil society leaders under a variety of repressive and undemocratic laws; and the immediate suspension of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), and end wasteful government expenditures and corrupt practices.
I believe there will be many Malaysians who will agree that with some of these initiatives, Najib will qualify to come on board the “Save Malaysia” campaign. I do not think I am the only one frustrated and even exasperated with the direction this country is headed to, which is why the Citizens’ Declaration to Save Malaysia deserves full public support to give it a chance to succeed.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng is currently facing in my opinion a politically motivated witch-hunt regarding the purchase of his house. Do you see this as a prelude to more insidious manoeuvrings to cripple the opposition?
Yes, to distract public attention from Najib’s twin mega scandals, which are virtually making headlines all over the world and completely beyond the control of Najib’s minders and the impact of the Citizens’ Declaration to Save Malaysia.
From the television time and the newspaper space given to the issue of Guan Eng’s bungalow, the government and UMNO-BN media, without being able to show that there is any element of corruption, are creating the impression that the allegation about Guan Eng’s RM2.8 million bungalow issue is 1,000 times more serious than the worldwide allegations about Najib’s RM2.6 billion “donation” scandal.
There is a general perception that the DAP cannot accept legitimate criticism without deflecting or engaging in victimhood. Do you think this perception is justified?
I do not think DAP leaders have any objection to legitimate criticism. If there are DAP leaders who bristle over legitimate criticism, they have to learn to live with it as an integral part of a democratic society.Our problem is baseless and biased criticism stemming from dishonourable agendas, and this seems to be a season for them. I have been criticised for things I had not said, and this appeared in what was until recently a reputable media. What is one to make of such scurrilous attacks passing off as legitimate criticism?
How do we nurture a more productive form of discourse with BN supporters when UMNO is using the instruments of the state to neutralise the opposition?
Although UMNOO leaders are demonising DAP in their attempt to portray DAP as its “main enemy”, it doesn’t mean DAP and Pakatan Harapan will not respond in kind to such attacks. DAP does not regard those three million Umno members as “enemies” but only as Malaysians with different political inclinations.
We are always prepared to engage with them for the common purpose and objective to save the nation and all Malaysians comprising different races and religions. It was for that reason alone we agreed to the Citizens’ Declaration.
I know it is tough to even engage with UMNO leaders and members to discuss on such matter because their top leadership would never allow such meetings. Yet if we can promote the campaign on the declaration and efforts to save Malaysia, I believe that would be one of the many ways to engage with UMNO and Barisan supporters, even when Umno leadership is using the state apparatus.
We know that the top UMNO leadership is afraid of DAP because UMNO is losing support of Malays and Muslims as it is not prepared to stop the rampant corruption and injustices of its policies, like Najib’s RM2.6 billion and RM50 billion 1MDB twin mega scandals.
What do you think the consequences would be if the agenda to remove Najib fails?
The Citizens’ Declaration is work-in-progress to save Malaysia. Nobody is so naïve to believe that just because 42 political and civil society leaders can bridge the political divide to reach consensus on the Citizens’ Declaration on March 4, Najib will heed the call of the Citizens’ Declaration and will resign the very next day.
The journey to save Malaysia is going to be a long, arduous and most challenging one. There is no game plan. We have to take one step at a time. I favour the Chinese saying “mo zhe shi tou gua he” or “cross the river by groping the stone under foot” to describe the approach we have to take to carry out the challenging mission to “Save Malaysia”.
We must be prepared for the long haul. This sounds rather odd coming from a 75-year-old, who does not have many active years left. But the message and task of “Save Malaysia” must be borne particularly by the young generation of Malaysians because we are a youthful nation.
I, therefore, call on all young Malaysians to step forward to take over the baton to save Malaysia from becoming a failed and a rogue state.