February 13, 2018
In Conversation with Tukatube’s Hishamuddin Rais
By Rosli Khan
Hishamuddin Rais–A Civil Society Icon and Malaysian Rebel with a Cause.
Meeting Hishamuddin Rais is always a refreshing experience and a candid affair, both rolled into one. As a social activist and critic, Hisham is not only knowledgeable and a forward-looking thinker, he is also equally at ease in digging out his past and colourful experiences. Our lunchtime conversation last week, however, centred on politics, another subject matter on which he has strong opinions.
Never a disappointment, Hisham is always full of new ideas. He strongly advocated that a number of well-known Malaysian bloggers, political writers and social critics be given seats to contest in GE14 by Pakatan Harapan component parties.
He argued that what they have written over the online media and the number of followers that they command are sufficient considerations to determine their acceptance and popularity among voters. Meanwhile politicians, more often than not, tend to toe their party lines and speak up only when their leaders say so, especially on controversial social issues.
Hisham singled out Zaid Ibrahim, an old friend from his student demonstration days, as a good example due to his popular site, ZaidGeist.com He appeared firm and very serious about the three popular electronic media operators that tend to focus only on three bloggers for political news: Dr Mahathir Mohamad (chedet.cc), The Scribe Kadir Jasin (kadirjasin.blogspot.com ) and ZaidGeist (www.zaid.com).
ZaidGeist, which contains Zaid’s writings on current political and social issues, has proven to be a very popular site and going by the comments, it seems to resonate with the current thinking and political outlook of readers.
From UMNO to PKR and on to DAP
As a matter of fact, Zaid has been consistently true to his beliefs and principles, according to Hisham. Hisham’s measure of Zaid’s consistency, taken from their student demonstration days in the 1970s when he first met Zaid, the events that led to his resignation as a minister in 2008 and his writings on many topics, views on politics and social development ideas that continue until today, represent a man of zero deviation from the basic principles he has espoused from then until today.
For his consistent beliefs and principles, Hisham argued that DAP should give Zaid a comfortable parliamentary seat in GE14.
DAP, of which Zaid has been a member since Febeuary 7, 2017, is busy preparing for GE14.
Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and DAP’s Lim Kit Siang–Strange Thing happens in Politics. A foe yesterday, an ally today. Common purpose –getting rid of corrupt Najib–brought these two giants of Malaysia together.
As a party, DAP has suffered from a mismatch of identity, poor perception and wrong publicity due to adverse propaganda by government parties. A common perception is that DAP is a Chinese-based party, the leaders only look after Chinese voters and their interests, and worst and perhaps most damaging of all, that DAP is anti-Malay and anti-Islam.
Even though DAP has consistently had more Indian MPs than MIC at any given time, no one sees DAP as an Indian party.
The fact that DAP has had a few Malays in the party as state assemblymen in the past does not seem to count. Several Malays who won under DAP tickets in the past include politicians such as:
- Ibrahim Singgeh, DUN Tapah Road, Perak (1969)
- Hassan Ahmad, DUN Si Rusa, Negeri Sembilan (1969)
- Daing Ibrahim, DUN Pasir Puteh, Perak (1974)
- Mohd Salleh Nakhoda Itam, DUN Guntong, Perak (1974, 1978)
- Fadzlan Yahaya for Pasir Bedamar, Perak (1982, 1986 and 1990 for Lahat)
- Mohd Asri Othman DUN Dermawan, Perak (1990)
- Ahmad Nor, first Malay DAP MP, Bayan Baru, Penang (1990)
- Mohd Ariff Sabri, second Malay DAP MP, Raub, Pahang (2013)
- Zairil Khir Johari, third Malay DAP MP, Bukit Bendera, Penang (2013)
- Tg Zulpuri, Mentakab, Pahang (2013)
For many Malay supporters, the fact remains that with the exception of those three, there have not been many prominent Malay leaders joining the party. Many of the state assemblymen in the list above have been seen as a token representation of the Malay community when compared to the number of Indian or Chinese MPs or state assemblymen in DAP since 1969.
Fault finding is easy. As there was no internet then and the mainstream media was government-controlled, DAP succumbed to an onslaught of UMNO’s propaganda. The repeated lies, as rightly pointed out by Nazi strategist Joseph Goebbels, and probably copied by UMNO’s strategists, stuck badly on the party. DAP, which also controlled most of the urban seats including those in Sabah and Sarawak, could not get the chauvinistic Chinese party tag off its back.
Ahmad Nor, the First Malay MP for DAP, honored by Penang
But now, 28 years after Ahmad Nor became the first Malay MP for DAP, in an age of internet technology, a more educated group of readers and obviously in an era of a failed BN government tainted with corruption and financial scandals, DAP’s struggles and fight against corruption, embezzlement and injustice seem to be seen in a better light.
DAP leaders, therefore, should seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get rid of the monkey on their backs, once and for all. A major publicity campaign to introduce a top Malay leader into the GE14 arena could nullify this racial slur and at the same time correct the racial imbalance in the party leadership.
DAP must not only be seen as trying to rectify this particular issue, it must be seen as taking a big step towards correcting this major flaw in the projection of several intellectually-minded and capable Malay leaders, of whom Zaid is one of them.
Iskandar parliamentary seat
If the news about fielding Zaid in Gelang Patah (to be called Iskandar in GE14) is true, then YB Lim Kit Siang has indeed made a very bold and honourable move to end this anti-Malay tag that has been hanging around DAP’s neck for so long.
This strategy, coming from a top leader in the party, will be seen by many voters as him making a big sacrifice in order to promote a Malay leader within DAP. This form of sacrifice will lead DAP into the hearts and minds of many Malay voters not only in Iskandar, but also throughout Johor and possibly the whole country.
Such a tactical move will reflect positively on the sincerity and trust of the DAP leadership, two formidable qualities that will touch the emotions of many Malays. In one stroke, Lim would turn the Malay doubts in him into trust, and suspicion into sincerity. This would be a major boost to DAP. How could you continue to be branded as anti-Malay or anti-Islam with such a big sacrifice being made to honour a Malay candidate?
This strategy must be fully supported by other DAP leaders, big and small, a reflection of their seriousness in winning the Malay votes and support. At the same time, the party’s publicity machinery must also be geared towards this objective.
According to Hisham, for many obvious reasons: Zaid is a successful Malay lawyer albeit an entrepreneur who built the biggest law firm in the country. As a lawyer, he is a person of high repute and high moral character (which is indeed very rare in Malaysian politics). A liberal-minded person, he is clearly endowed with a non-racist disposition and fights for all Malaysians regardless of race or creed. He is a Malaysian first and not part of the old race-based party politics.
In UMNO for instance, it seems that the more racist a leader is, the more support the person can command from the members. DAP is certainly not like that, which means a person of Zaid’s stature could progress further.
In parallel, DAP leaders must demonstrate their true commitment to the Malaysian Malaysia concept by:
- Fielding more Malay candidates in the GE14
- Ensuring that a few of the semi-urban seats where Malay voters are in the minority are given to Malay candidates to fight against BN candidates.
This would be similar to the approach adopted by BN where seats which have had Malay majorities were given to MCA or MIC candidates to contest. Examples of such seats are Tapah, Cameron Highlands, Hulu Selangor, Bentong and of course the famous Air Hitam in Johor.
If Malay voters voted for MCA or MIC candidates in the past, why can’t Chinese voters vote for Malay (DAP) candidates? As Hisham put it, Malay voters are no different from others. The significance of sincerity and trust factors play an important part in their psyche and logic, in the same way that they now no longer trust Umno and BN. There is no better time than now for DAP to start the ball rolling.
Rosli Khan is an FMT reader.