A crisis of credibility
Raja Petra Kamarudin
Let there be no misunderstanding about this. Politics is about the attainment of power, plain and simple. If anyone tells you otherwise, then he or she is either a bad politician (in that he or she does not understand politics) or a good politician (in that he or she is lying through his or her teeth).
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that lying is wrong. Okay, as far as religion and morals are concerned it is wrong. But lying, or what I would call ‘telling your version of the truth’, is very much part and parcel of the political game. A good politician, meaning Machiavellian politician, must master the art of ‘lying’, or spin doctoring (that is giving the masses your version of the truth).
But then you must know how to lie. ‘Zam’ is hopeless. He is such a novice that he trips over his own lies and digs a deeper hole than the one he is trying to cover up. President Clinton is however superb. He denied all along he told Monica to lie. When cornered, he said, it is true he did not tell her to lie. Okay, maybe he told her to bend a little, but never to lie (baring in Malay). Alright, maybe it did not quite happen like that. But then you must always have a fallback when your lies are discovered.
Anyway, back to the issue of the day. Firstly, politics is about the attainment of power. It is not as many politicians will tell you: to serve the people. But this is what politicians will tell you: “I want to serve the people”. Sure, that’s what they all say. And that is what I meant by ‘lying’. Secondly, politics is about perception. It is not what you are that is important. It is how people perceive you that counts (Of course, as far as religion and morality are concerned this is not honest. And that is why religious or moral people should not become politicians; because they have to mislead and fool the people with false perceptions).
You can be the biggest slime-ball, but if people perceive you as a saint, then that is all that matters. On the other hand, if you are a saint but people perceive you as a nut, then you would not go far in politics.
Anwar is perceived as an Islamic leader. In fact, until today, many non-Muslims still fear Anwar because of his fiery Islamic past. Many still refer to him as an ‘Islamic firebrand’. Whether this is true or not is not the issue. This is not important in politics. What is important is that he carries the image of an ‘Islamic leader’, and some view him as a radical Islamic leader.
Dr Mahathir Mohamad is Machiavellian. He recognised Anwar’s strong Islamic image and he knew that if Anwar had gone to PAS and eventually took over the leadership of the party, as the late Fadzil Nor had planned, this would be bad news for Umno. So he agreed, at Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s prodding, to allow Anwar into Umno.
Mahathir’s strategy was two-pronged. Firstly, he would deny PAS Anwar’s leadership. Next, he would assist Anwar to climb the Umno ladder, first as the Youth Leader and later as one of the Vice Presidents, so that he could use or ride on Anwar (‘kudakan Anwar’, as the Malays would say) for his own political gain. But by the time Anwar became the Deputy President -- again with Mahathir’s help who instructed Shahidan Kassim to lead a revolt of Umno Parliamentarians to pass an unofficial ‘vote of no confidence’ against Ghafar Baba in Parliament -- he became too big for his shoes. He thought that his meteoric rise up the Umno ladder was because of his ‘strength’ and he decided to pitch this strength against his ‘creator’. As they say, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. And Mahathir took back what he gave Anwar, his political career, and Anwar fell flat on his face.
For his ‘service’, Shahidan was rewarded with the appointment as the Perlis Menteri Besar and the takeover of the privatised Bernas, an extremely lucrative cash cow by virtue of the rice monopoly and rice import permits it holds (now you know why rice in Malaysia costs more than in Thailand).
No one had any reservations that Mahathir made Anwar. Anwar was not a self-made man as he visualised himself to be. Somehow, only Anwar did not seem to realise this. Or maybe he thought that that was all in the past and now he is already his own man -- like the Space Shuttle that scuttles its ‘mother ship’ and moves forward on its own steam once it reaches outer space. Mahathir gave one tug of the carpet below Anwar’s feet and that was the end of him. He never saw it coming. He never even felt it coming. It is like when a Samurai warrior’s sword lands on your neck. You can actually walk a few more steps before you fall down and die. You may have lost your head but your body takes a few seconds to realise you are dead before it plays the role of the deceased.
Everyone is clear what Mahathir is. Either you love him or you hate him. Either you perceive him as the most corrupted Prime Minister in Malaysian history or you perceive him as a giant amongst men who gave pride to this nation and placed Malaysia onto the world map. No longer is Malaysia ‘near Singapore’ or ‘south of Thailand’ like how one would have to explain where Malaysia is to the uninformed westerner in the days before Mahathir took over as Prime Minister. Whether for the right or wrong reasons, Mahathir made Malaysia famous.
But what is Anwar? Is he an Islamic firebrand? Is he a moderate Muslim? Is he a liberal ‘lover of the West’? Is he an educationist? Is he a capitalist? Is he the champion of farmers, fishermen and the homeless? Is he opposed to corruption, nepotism and cronyism? Is he the biggest benefactor of cronies and in his time many became filthy rich? Is he all the above? Or is he none of the above? Yes, which is the real Anwar? Will the real Anwar please stand up!
You can hate Mahathir or you can love him. One thing you are sure though, you know what he is. The problem with Anwar is; it is very difficult to decide whether to love him or hate him because you don’t really know what he is to be able to love him or hate him.
Anwar, for all intents and purposes, is suffering a crisis of credibility. He lacks credibility. In fact, he never did have any and he became popular and achieved great heights merely because he was Mahathir’s blue-eyed boy -- no different from the Khairy Jamaluddin situation today. Many do not actually love Khairy. But they know that he is the Prime Minister’s son-in-law and the most trusted adviser, so they all want to hang onto his coattails -- though they don’t like him.
Anwar has been released from prison almost 20 months now. But he is yet to make his move. And this is affecting his credibility. What in heaven’s name is holding him back? Simple! Money! You need money to play politics in Malaysia, or anywhere in the world for that matter. But money is something Anwar does not have yet. And the reason for this is because of the crisis of credibility that he and his party, Party Keadilan Rakyat, are suffering from.
It is not that they never had money in the beginning. They did. But the sources have all dried up. Generous donors who once used to give no longer want to do so. And this is because they no longer know whether the money is being put to good use and for the intended reason or whether the money ‘leaked’ along the way and has been ‘hijacked’.
This is not a new problem or something that cropped up only recently. It has been an inherent problem since the party was formed in 1999. Much money has flowed into the pockets of the party leaders. But it stayed in their pockets and never filtered down to the ground. In the meantime, those on the ground have had to sell off their assets to finance party activities. Some had to borrow from loan sharks (ah long) to finance the last election. Many went into debt and until today are still hocked up to the eyeballs. Some are facing bankruptcy. Some used up all their life savings and pension fund (EPF) and now have to face the remaining years of their life with no guarantee of how they are going to feed their families.
The horror stories are endless. Suffice to say, many sacrificed and suffered financial ruin because of their commitment to the cause and to ensure that the party moves forward.
As Hanafiah Man, one-time keADILan Youth executive secretary and chief editor of the party newspaper, said, “I don’t mind if we are all poor and suffering. But when we at the bottom suffer while those at the top live a life of luxury, then this hurts.”
Hanafiah and the acting youth leader (during the time Ezam Mohd Nor was in the Kajang Prison), Zahid Md Arip, took the party to task on this matter during the party’s annual general meeting in Sungai Petani. They took the floor to slam the leaders for not being sincere to those at the bottom who are struggling and sacrificing for the party. They pointed at the leaders assembled onstage and warned them that the party’s youth movement will not tolerate leaders who receive money in the name of the party but use it for personal purposes. If the money was collected in the name of the party and for party purposes, then the money should be filtered down to the ground to finance party activities.
Many donors were shocked when they learnt that the party was broke. Millions had been donated to the party, they said. How can the party be broke? The telephone bill went unpaid and the telephone line got cut numerous times. The water connection also got cut because of years of unpaid bills and for about two years those working in the party headquarters had to visit the public toilet in the car park to answer the call of nature. Suppliers’ bills were not paid and some even threatened to bankrupt the party if they did not receive their payments. No printers would take party jobs unless one of the leaders personally guaranteed the debt. Invariably, the guarantor would end up paying off the debt the party could not service.
Whenever the party president, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, was confronted with this and when it was pointed out that it is public knowledge that many had donated generous sums to the party, she replied that one must differentiate between ‘personal’ donations and party donations. No doubt some people had donated some money, but this was meant for the family and not for the party.
Eventually, Hanafiah, Zahid and ten other youth leaders got so exasperated they decided to resign from the party en bloc, as did the party information chief, Ruslan Kassim. Even publicly chiding the party leaders during the annual general assembly about the mismanagement of party funds did not seem to work. They wrote off the party entirely and called it a day. Of course, the official spin is that these are traitors who were bought over by Umno. But they -- and many others who shared their view but decided to still remain in the party nevertheless -- did not see it that way. If there was any betrayal, it was the party leaders who had betrayed the members in the way they mismanaged the money donated to the party.
One day, around August 2004, one of Anwar’s lawyers called me aside and asked me, “How much money has the Free Anwar Campaign (FAC) received from donors?” Not one cent, I replied. Okay, Wan Azizah did donate RM1,000 at the launch of the FAC in August 2000 and Anwar’s brother gave RM2,000 once in the five years that the FAC was in operation. Another supporter donated a notebook computer to replace the one that was confiscated by the police in March 2001. But that was about it.“
But there are those who claim to be directors of the FAC who have received a lot of donations from all over the world. Don’t tell me they did not give you anything.”
“With God as my witness, not a cent,” I replied.
“What the hell!” the lawyer said. “They are using FAC’s name to collect money. If they are not passing you any, then you might as well just close the FAC. Why let them use the FAC to make money?”
“I will close it the day Anwar walks free and not a day earlier,” I told the lawyer.
“What if Anwar remains in jail 15 years? Are you going to keep going for 15 years and allow these people to use you to make money?”
“I suppose so,” I replied.
“You are so stupid. People are using you. They are making money while you are suffering.”
I in fact already knew this even before the lawyer informed me about it. Earlier, one of the PAS leaders told me he met one of the FAC directors in the UK. He was with a Malaysian millionaire who now lives there -- a man who became a millionaire during the time Anwar was in power. The PAS leader mentioned the name of the FAC ‘director’ and the Malaysian millionaire, both whom I knew.
The so-called FAC ‘director’ is a member of Anwar’s inner circle and the man who runs Anwar’s propaganda unit plus his personal website, anwaribrahim.com.
“What were they talking about?” I asked the PAS leader without hinting that the FAC director was in no way representing FAC in that meeting with the Malaysian millionaire. “About some funding for FAC,” said the PAS leader. “That was what I managed to pick up as they did not speak openly in front of me.”
So I knew even before Anwar’s lawyer informed me about it that ‘certain people’ were collecting funds in the name of FAC. And I even knew who they and the donors were.
One day, I received a phone call from the United States asking me to confirm whether it is true that keADILan would need a lot of money to be able to win the next general election (which was held in 2004). “Of course,” I replied, quite surprised at this sudden question. “That goes without saying. But who told you this?” I asked the American chap at the other end of the line.
The American then informed me he just had a meeting with four keADILan party leaders to discuss funding for the party to face the next election. And he told me who the four were.
I was not upset about the party soliciting election funds. But the man who phoned me was a FAC contact, not a party contact (and I never asked for or received one cent from him in all the time I knew him). So clearly they were using the FAC network to collect funds for the party and I was being kept in the dark. But my FAC contact in the US would not consider any funding unless I confirmed that the four were legitimate and not fakes. I informed the American that the four are actually members of Anwar’s inner circle (not the one who met the Malaysian millionaire in the UK) and therefore extremely legitimate.
I knew only one man could have introduced these four to our US contact. And this would be my fellow FAC director in Australia. I immediately phoned Australia and asked the chap there whether he knew about the four party leaders who were now in the US to negotiate funding for the party. “Four?” he replied. “I know about the three. Who is the fourth?” I ran through the names of the four but did not question him any further on what was going on. From his reaction it was apparent that he was the one who had arranged the meeting.
These two incidences were those that were personally brought to my attention. There were of course many more such cases which were related to me through third party sources. And most know who these people are -- both donors and recipients -- but no one wants to rock the boat by talking about them. Those who know and could no longer tolerate the shenanigans quietly left the party without revealing the real reason for their resignations. And the party lost many of its leaders over the years from 1999 till recently when Datin Saidatul Badru Said Keruak also resigned.
At the last public rally (ceramah) Anwar addressed in Sungai Buloh recently, he lambasted those he said who expect money or payment before they would do any work. If you are not prepared to sacrifice but want to be paid before you will work, then we might as well all just go home and forget everything and allow the present government to rule till doomsday, argued Anwar.
Anwar just does not get it. It is not that people want to be paid before they will work for the party. They are quite prepared to struggle and sacrifice, even spend their own money for the good of the cause. What they do not want is to be made suckers. They hear about the money flowing into the party leaders’ pockets and remaining there. This is what they are fighting against, corruption. And then they find their own leaders no better than those they wish to replace. Why bother to replace them then? Might as well, as Anwar says, let them rule forever.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s future lies in it getting sufficient funding. As it stands now, that would be most difficult. Many who once gave now know that the money has been mismanaged and they no longer want to be suckers. This is the huge crisis of credibility that Anwar and his party are facing. How Anwar is going to overcome this is not known yet at this stage. Anwar is heading international agencies whose job is to ensure transparency and good governance. Charity, as they say, starts at home. Back at home, in Anwar’s own party, there is a need for transparency and good governance. How does one preach honesty when one’s own honesty is being questioned?
As what one of the party leaders said, Mao had his Gang of Four who brought about his downfall. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has his Gang of Four as well, also known as the Four-Ks (Khairy, Kamaluddin, Kalimullah and Kak Endon, now deceased), who may also bring about his downfall. And Anwar too has his own Gang of Four. And it is this Gang of Four which is causing much unhappiness and an exodus from the party. Anwar will have to choose between his Gang of Four and the future of the party. As it stands now, the Gang of Four seems to be Anwar’s favoured lot. And this could mean sayonara for Parti Keadilan Rakyat.
Monday, July 03, 2006
Politics, politics, politics
Raja Petra Kamarudin
One of the previous Italian Ambassadors to Malaysia once said that Italian politics is very complex. I mean, just read Julius Caesar to understand what he means. It seems, according to the Ambassador, Italy has had 40 governments in almost as many years. That is how complex Italian politics is. Nevertheless, added the Ambassador, how complicating Italian politics may be, they still can’t beat Malaysia. Malaysian politics is even more complex. The Past-President of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) told me once that Malay politics is very ‘matured’, not like Chinese politics. Chinese politics is ‘rough’, he explained, while Malay politics is very refined and polished.
I suppose both the Italian Ambassador and the MCA President are right. It is not easy to comprehend Malay politics as much as you may think you are able to read it correctly. What you see is not always what you get. But then maybe this is because the Chinese do Kungfu, which believes in a direct hit to the jugular with one strike to end the fight. Malay politics, however, is fashioned after Silat, which is plenty of dancing and circling before one moves in on the opponent. Even then, sometimes the strike never comes, especially if the Silat is done during a ceremony, which would be only ‘show Silat’.
One of my Chinese classmates from secondary school, Teh Yim Seng (don’t where he has disappeared to since), told me a joke back in 1966, the days before the race riots of May 1969 when ‘racial’ jokes were not yet considered ‘sensitive’.
“When you see one Chinaman,” said Yim Seng, “He would set up a business. When you see two Chinamen, they would set up an association. And when you see three Chinamen, they would set up a Mah Jong table and gamble.”
“When you see one Indian,” added Yim Seng, “He would drink. When you see two Indians, they would form a union. And when you see three Indians, they would fight.”
Then came Yim Seng’s punch-line: “When you see one Malay, he would play politics. When you see two Malays, they would play politics. And when you see three Malays, they would play politics.”
Yes, very racial indeed if you go by today’s standards. But in those days, whether you are Chinese, Indian or Malay, we would all roar with laughter at this very accurate reflection of Malaysian life 40 years ago. Hmm....come to think of it, has anything changed in 40 years?
Well, as my late mother was fond of saying, “Many a true word is said in jest.”
Malays need politics like a fish needs water. You can take the Malay out of the kampong, but you can’t take the kampong politics out of the Malay. If you want to kill the Malays it is very easy really; just ban politics and the Malays would wilt (layu) and die. Maybe that is why Malays are called Melayu (wilting).
During the early days of the Reformasi Movement in 1998, one of the chaps in our clandestine meeting that was plotting the demonstrations all over Kuala Lumpur said that since he and his wife got involved in Reformasi they have been having a better sex life. It seems they had become hornier. Well, who says one cannot get an orgasm through politics?
Yes, politics can act as an aphrodisiac. So those who face ‘problems’ should get involved in politics, in particular in movements out to topple the government, and become a stud again.
Okay, without revealing too much about my own sex life, can all those who are puzzled as to why I am so passionate about opposing the powers-that-be now understand what drives me? What? You thought it was all about human rights, free speech, justice, and all that crap? Well, that too I suppose. Anyway, I think I had better change the subject before I get a PG18 rating.
The expected happened. As soon as word broke that Malaysia Today was hosting Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to a dialogue, and even before the dialogue proper could happen, I received many phone calls from all and sundry. Many of these callers had either not phoned me in a long time or had never phoned me in my entire life. All of a sudden my phone would not stop ringing.
The Top Ten questions these callers asked were:
Who is paying for the event?
Who is sponsoring Malaysia Today?
Where do we get our money from?
Has Mahathir ‘bought’ me?
Why am I doing this?
Did they ‘turn me over’ during my ISA detention of 2001?
Do I now believe Anwar is guilty of sodomy?
Am I sulking (merajuk) because Anwar does not care about me anymore?
Is this a gimmick to promote Malaysia Today?
Is Mahathir using Malaysia Today or is Malaysia Today using Mahathir?
Notice that the top four questions all relate to money? These are the most ‘popular’ questions. The insinuation is: we must be doing this only because we are being paid a lot of money to do it.
How insulting. And I just fly off the handle when insulted. If there is one thing I cannot tolerate and will not compromise on is insolence. My wife can testify to the fact that I go berserk when confronted with biadap (insolent) individuals. I don’t know why, but somehow I can take most things in my stride, even solitary confinement. However, when someone is insolent towards me, I tend to retaliate with a most pompous and indignant stance. Okay, be warned, I did not start this, they did, and I am not about to let them off lightly -- even at the risk of being accused of being overly emotional.
I wonder why no one asked me these questions, or at least the ‘top four’ questions, back in 2000 when I launched and headed the Free Anwar Campaign (FAC). FAC was my fulltime job and I travelled the length and breadth of Malaysia, plus to the United States, in my campaign to spread the word. But no one was concerned then about where I got my money from, how I financed the FAC, or whether, since I had no income-generating job, I was able to feed my family.
I eventually had to send some of my kids to the UK because I could no longer afford to support them. Since I was born in the UK and therefore had Right of Abode to the UK for the next two generations, my kids could work in the UK plus get free education. Without Right of Abode they would not be allowed to work and it would cost them about RM100,000 a year each to enter university, living expenses included. And I have five kids mind you. Now, not only could they work in the UK and get to go to school free, but they can also enjoy benefits and receive all sorts of financial aid from the UK government.
It broke my wife’s heart to have to part with her kids but she realised it was for the better. Being ‘unemployed’ (since as the Director of the FAC I earned no salary), there was no way we could support them and send them to university. And it would be five years before I could get my hands on my EPF savings. Even then, my meagre EPF savings would only last a year if I used it to finance my kids’ education. As it is, according to the EPF, most retirees finish their savings within three years after they retire if they depend solely on their savings to finance their retirement. Your EPF savings is just not enough to last till you die if you live another ten or twenty years after you retire. But if I die before I reach 60, then the problem would solve itself, though that would mean I die broke and would leave nothing for my wife to continue her life with if she outlives me a few more years.
Anyway, that is my problem and no one else’s. But no one asked me all these questions then. It was of no concern to anyone whether my unemployed status and my fulltime non-income generating job as the Director of the FAC was a financial burden on me. In spite of that, I stayed on until the last day, 2 September 2004, when Anwar was finally released and saw freedom. Only then did I ‘officially’ relinquish my post as the Director of the FAC. And I never sent Anwar Ibrahim or his family a bill for the many years work I did. Even if I just calculate the ‘lost’ salary on the job my wife and I resigned from so that I can head the FAC fulltime, which was RM7,500 per month, Anwar owes me RM450,000. And I am not including the other expenses, such as travelling all over Malaysia, or else the bill would easily come to RM600,000.
When Anwar was finally released, and therefore my job as the Director of the FAC came to an end, no one from Anwar’s family phoned me to say thank you. Well, to be fair, Anwar did shake my hand at 5.30pm on 4 September 2004 and he did say thank you. His brother-in-law, Pak Lang, also told me that the FAC has done a great service to Anwar and he attributes Anwar’s release to the efforts of the FAC. I told him that even if the FAC did contribute in any way it was a small contribution and not the only contributor. Many other factors must also be taken into consideration such as Anwar would never have seen freedom if Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi did not wish for it to happen.
I promised my wife I would never bring this matter up as it goes against Malay culture to do so. We did this not for the money, argued my wife, but to see justice done. Yes, I agree, and I promised her the matter rests and we would never raise it ever. But now I have to break that promise to my wife. I toiled for years with no salary and without grumbling about it. But I host Mahathir to just ONE event and they raise the issue of money, suspect that I have been paid by Mahathir, ask who is financing me, and much more, right down to the allegation that I have been bought off, sold out, ‘turned’, etc.
Okay, if they want to talk about money, then let’s talk about money. And I now ask them: who paid me or financed me when I headed the FAC all those years?
Actually, that was supposed to have been the first and only event Malaysia Today organises for Mahathir. However, seeing that it has attracted so much controversy, I think I will organise a few more just to rub it in to the critics that I do what I want and no one is going to tell me what I can and cannot do. Hey, I am a loose cannon aren’t I and loose cannons are supposed to be like this are they not? And loose cannons just love a good fight and presently it appears like Mahathir is the only one giving the government a run for its money. The opposition, Anwar included, seems to have gone to sleep.
Do my comments sound too harsh? Hey, this column is called No Holds Barred and no holds barred must sound harsh. If not it will not be no holds barred.