Can you tell us the real story on how you joined Umno?
By Ezam Mohd Nor
There is a huge difference with what is being said about me meeting Umno leaders before the recent general election and the one before the 2004 election on my decision to join Umno. In 1999, after I was arrested under ISA (Internal Security Act), there were no efforts to pull me back into Umno. Later, there were attempts to get me to leave PKR and join Umno. I reject it at that time. My principle was that I will not make a deal while I am still in prison.
I was released in 2003 and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became prime minister. He is different from Dr Mahathir (Mohamad). Mahathir’s approach is to pressure where by the more you fight him, the more he will pressure you. But Abdullah’s approach is to pull. That is why during the 2004 election, there were attempts to pull me back to Umno.
I saw that as an opportunity then to deal for Anwar Ibrahim’s freedom, at least to allow him to seek medical treatment overseas. At that time, Anwar was in critical condition. After discussing with other party members, they felt that priority must be given to save Anwar’s life. So we decided to initiate discussions with Umno leaders.
Those I met included Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, Muhammad Muhd Taib (both former Selangor MBs) and Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin (former minister). This was carried out with Anwar’s knowledge. In my second meeting with Khir Toyo, Anwar told me to bring along PKR leaders to the discussion as witnesses - Kamarul Baharin Abbas, Abdul Rahman Osman and Johari Abdul. Four of us went to meet Khir Toyo and I led the discussions. This was all before the 2004 general election.
So we met at Khir Toyo’s house and our stand was any deal must start with freeing Anwar, at least to get him medical treatment. When Khir Toyo could not commit, we backed out. He told us to contest and join the party but we said no. We are not interested in what we will get. Our focus is clear.
Then we met with Aziz with 12 other people and the same thing happened. He could not commit so I ended the conversation there. Some friends carried on the negotiations and joined Umno but I can understand that those were tough days and they had financial problems. I could not stop them but we’re still friends. I see that as a form of betrayal.
After the 2004 election, Anwar’s health got worse. BN won big and Dr Wan Azizah (Wan Ismail) then asked me to work on getting Anwar out and to open negotiations. We tried all sorts of ways. I met with Rahmah Osman (former deputy minister) who was then close to Abdullah and who was sympathetic to us. We sent a group of people to see the Muslim muftis (clerics) and Umno leaders close to the PM but the message did not reach him.
One day, a foreign reporter told me, ‘if you want to get to the PM, you get Khairy (Jamaluddin)’. I didn’t know Khairy. I must put this on record since there are so many allegations about me and him. This was about May or June 2004. So I tried to find Khairy through contacts in London and in the end I got it and I met him. That’s where my relationship with Khairy started.
I told him about our concerns for Anwar’s health and to pass this message to PM. After two meetings, he arranged a meeting between Wan Azizah and PM at PM’s office. I don’t know the details as I did not go in but it was basically about Anwar’s health. The first concern was to put Anwar permanently in hospital because at that time he was being tranferred in and out of prison. Right then, Abdullah picked up the phone, called the health minister and ordered to take Anwar out on the spot. We also asked for Anwar to receive overseas treatment but he was non-committal about that. Then lastly, we asked Abdullah not to interfere with Anwar’s trial unlike Mahathir. He gave his commitment not to interfere with the trial.
I still met with Khairy after that to get Anwar overseas medical treatment. Khairy tried and there was an agreement to send Anwar for treatment in Singapore instead of Germany. At first Wan Azizah did not agree but when I met Anwar, he said okay. According to Khairy, Abdullah agreed to this but the attorney-general challenged that it was against the provisions of the laws. So it did not materialise.
After a while, the court fixed a date for the appeal so we ceased discussions until the judgment. As it turned out, Anwar was released so as a courtesy I told Khairy about it and he asked if there was anything else he could do. I asked Anwar and Anwar said he wanted his passport back. So I told Khairy and that night alone, Khairy came over to Anwar’s house with the passport. So that is the incident when Khairy visited Anwar’s house.
I want to stress, the entire process was about saving Anwar’s life, not about any deal. I thought Anwar would come to my defence when people linked me to Khairy because they all knew. In fact I rejected all offers and remained steadfast to get Anwar out. After Anwar was free, there were no more dealings. I did not meet Khairy again. In fact he was afraid to see me because he was suffering from fierce criticisms at that time. We ceased our relationship.
In 2005, I had problems with the party and I started to distant myself from the party and set up Gerak (People’s Anti-Corruption Movement). There was no deal until this general election in March. Before this, friends tried to get me back into Umno but I rejected them all. Friend from PAS sincerely wanted me to contest in a safe seat in Kelantan but I rejected that too. Why? Because I was focused on reforms.
In 2008, there were invitation for me to run but I rejected those offers because I did not see any reforms in Umno worth joining back. At that time, I felt I was pushing for reforms more effectively through civil society with Gerak. After the new election tsunami, efforts were made by Abdullah and that is a significant move for reforms on the judiciary and corruption. I said these reforms are fundamental and I’m confident that it will open up the space and that’s why they arranged a meeting between me and Abdullah about a month ago.
If you want to call it a deal then, that’s the first deal to join Umno. After a two-hour meeting, I truly believe he is committed to reforms and he asked me to join Umno. It took me a week to discuss and talk it over with friends and family, so I made my decision in the end to join Umno. This is the whole process that took place.
Comments: In Malaysia, 99% of the rumors end up to be the truth. 1% unsure but also likely to be the truth.
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