Sunday, January 14, 2007

A tribute to Raja Petra Kamarudin

Petra survives the bad press

By JOCELINE TAN (TheStarOnline)

Raja Petra Kamarudin made his name championing the reformasi cause in cyberspace. But he has fallen out big-time with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and, more stunningly, has become quite chummy with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

RAJA Petra Kamarudin has had an image makeover. He has dumped his Che Guevara-like beard for a clean-shaven look, his long hair has been replaced with a buzz-cut – what his barber called the No. 2; No. 1 is shaved even closer to the scalp – and the pipe was nowhere in sight.

Dressed in a grey print shirt and slacks, he looked every inch the middle-class resident of the gated community where he and his wife Marina Abdullah live in Sungai Buloh, Selangor.

Man of many labels: Raja Petra has been called a maverick, loose canon, hired gun, ultra-liberal and he doesn’t give a hoot.“It was too hot with the long hair especially under a helmet,” he said.
The black beret was still around though and he kept it on throughout the interview.

Raja Petra is, of course, the man behind, one of the most established news portals on Malaysian politics and issues. But he made his name via an earlier portal,, which as the name suggests was aimed at promoting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s release.

The freeanwar site closed down when Anwar was freed by the courts in September 2003. By then, Raja Petra, who had predicted Anwar’s release two weeks earlier, had launched malaysia-today.

Since then, he has gone from being an Anwar supporter to falling out big-time with Anwar and the Parti Keadilan Rakyat people.

“He has been attacking us and Anwar. That’s bad,” said Keadilan information chief Tian Chua.

Apparently the Keadilan leadership is still upset with Raja Petra for the stories he has spun about Anwar wanting to rejoin Umno, that Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin would arrange it and that Anwar would then vie to be Prime Minister with Khairy as his deputy.

“It’s all totally untrue, and it was very discrediting for Anwar. Anwar is staying put in Keadilan but for one whole year, we had a hard time explaining to our supporters,” said Chua.

Raja Petra had also claimed that Khairy wanted to be Prime Minister by 40, which those familiar with the technicalities of Umno politics would know is impossible but the notion was so romantic that some people just wanted to believe it.

Last year, he caused a stir when he hosted a forum for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to air his quarrel with Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Even though Raja Petra and Keadilan had gone their separate ways by then, party leaders fumed over the fact that Raja Petra would work with the man he had vilified more than anyone else in his websites.

Since then, he has been labelled a maverick, loose canon, opportunist and even hired gun.
Raja Petra is cool about all the name-calling. He has not survived all those years of living dangerously, including an ISA arrest, without strong nerves and a thick skin.

“I don’t care. I’m not a Keadilan member, what do I care what they say? They don’t pay me. It’s up to me what I want to do and they can say what they like,” he said.

Besides, as he pointed out, it is not as though he has been grovelling at Dr Mahathir’s feet. He had apparently lectured the former premier on press freedom and democracy.

“Our first meeting lasted two hours and he complained about the Government and how he was denied space in the media. I told him he was telling me what I had been saying all the time when he was the PM.

“He told me he had a dirty mouth and that he could not keep it shut. I told him, that makes the two of us. We are two loose canons, well, maybe more like machine guns.”

There is obviously a symbiotic thing going on there.

Dr Mahathir is a maestro at using the media and he sees Raja Petra’s portal as a means to an end. Raja Petra, on his part, freely admits that Dr Mahathir’s controversial image brings in the visitors to malaysia-today.

“It’s like selling a product. Who’s going to read malaysia-today if it’s not controversial? I am not apologetic about it.”

Raja Petra, 56, is no johnny-come-lately in politics.

His interest in politics began in the mid-1970s when he and Marina moved to Terengganu where they owned a noodle factory.

He was soon moving around in PAS circles there and got to know the party leaders so well that he performed his haj with PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang.

He stood out with his mixed parentage (his father was Malay, his mother Welsh and his uncle the late Selangor Sultan) and most of all, his gregarious and garrulous nature.

He is not exactly an intellectual but he is certainly part of the Malaysian intelligentsia, someone who is interested in and thinks about issues. Whether or not one agrees with what he thinks is, of course, another matter.

And because of PAS’s then cosy relations with the Muslim Youth league Malaysia or Abim, of which Anwar was president, Raja Petra found himself co-opted into Abim activities.

He was part of the Abim campaign that helped Anwar secure his Umno Youth and then vice-president posts.

But when Anwar decided to go for Umno deputy president in 1991, he decided he had had enough.

“I felt Anwar was taking a different road. Umno had changed him, he was seeking power for the sake of power.”

In 1994 he moved back to the Klang Valley where for several years he wrote columns for The Star on cycling and motorbiking (he still owns two Harley-Davidsons).

When PAS’s Harakah began its English section, they invited him to write for them.

He actually had little sympathy for Anwar when he was sacked. At the height of the reformasi protests, he was motoring all over Europe with his wife.

“I thought, to hell with politics. That was how detached I was from the whole thing.”

He only started working with the Keadilan people when Anwar’s trial began because, like many people, he was disgusted with the proceedings. The rest is history.

Raja Petra is known as Peter to his family, RPK to his political and web associates, and Pet in his SMSes.

But as one regular visitor to the site said: “Some of the stuff there, it’s like the The Da Vinci Code book. Bits of facts here and there held together by fiction. But it’s good reading.”

That is probably what his most successful series of articles known as The Khairy Chronicles was – a clever weaving of fact and fiction.

The articles, since compiled into a book, are full of cryptic, fanciful and cliff-hanging twists and turns about the supposed life and politics of the Prime Minister’s son-in-law.

Yet, Raja Petra has never once met nor spoken to Khairy.

Khairy’s opinion on this was suitably ironic: “The central character in the book has the same name as me. The photograph on the cover strikingly resembles me. But the stories inside have nothing to do with me. It is full of lies.”

Raja Petra is recalcitrant about the things he has written on politics and people. He said he is writing about things the mainstream media is unwilling to go into.

That may explain why the malaysia-today portal ranks among the top 10 political sites in the country in terms of hits – it gets some 1.5 million hits a day.

Like him or hate him, one has to admit that Raja Petra has his sphere of influence. The old look: Raja Petra complete with beard, long hair, beret and pipe.

Quotes from RPK:

1. I told you so! - No Holds Barred and The Corridors of Power.

2. They are using us (Malaysia Today) as prostitutes, if you wish - referring to UMNO infightings during a speech on the freedom of expression.

3. Yes, I appear a tough no holds barred kind of person with a hard heart. In reality I share my soft heart with my feline friends - regarding the demise of his pet cat, Blackie.

and many more...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

RPK please help us(oversea students) to voiceup the not true statement by Pm on the increase of the oversea allowance for all JPA sponsered in Britain,Canada and USA. The increase is conditional whereby all students are required to find/search for the accommodation outside the campus.The 60/40% policy for stay in caumpus hostel is ceased. So the actual increase are not enjoyed by the students, it is more to pay for the increase hostel fees. If so WHY table that in the BUDGET 2008 without checking the fact. JPA act as if they have done enough for all their sponsered oversea students. They love being posted and making tips over here but doing nuts to are for the students'welfare. Please RPK do something about this for the goverment(PM) and Jabatan Pekhimatan Awam Malaysia to NOTE efficent they are!!!!