IN recent interviews, Umno Youth-chief hopeful Khairy Jamaluddin has condemned party-hopping, and has been arguing strenuously for reform of Umno and the Barisan Nasional (BN).
However, after the recent BN takeover of the Perak government by defections from the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) camp, Khairy apparently made an about-face. When addressing a crowd of Umno Youth demonstrators in Ipoh, Khairy reportedly called for democratically-elected Menteri Besar (MB) Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin to be “banished” from Perak.
How does this square off with Khairy’s promises of a reformed and less controlling Umno? The Nut Graph held an exclusive e-mail interview with Khairy, and this is his response.
TNG: Many people have criticised you, some very harshly, for calling for Nizar to be “banished”, as reported in Malaysian Insider. How do you see your actions?
Khairy Jamaluddin: There are two considerations to be made here.
First of all, it is the view of Umno Youth and BN Youth that Nizar erred in disobeying the orders of the sultan of Perak. He erred when he refused to resign and halt going about his daily business, as though he was still menteri besar. What he did was not merely insubordination to the crown, but for many it was derhaka — which doesn’t have a literal English translation because “treason” doesn’t quite capture it.
In a constitutional monarchy such as ours, the rulers must be seen as the custodians of the constitution and the laws of the land. This is in addition to the special position they have in the Malay Malaysian community as heads and defenders of Islam. To violate the rulers’ wishes or to question the rulers’ manner of discharging their discretionary powers is to violate the spirit and basis of our constitutional monarchy.
Then there is the second consideration, regarding the content of my message. I dare speculate that many who criticise me for calling for Nizar’s banishment are the same people who were gleeful when it was recommended that I be incarcerated under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
I find this inconsistency quite puzzling; is it not significant that I asked merely for “banishment” and not outright incarceration without trial? If you had seen the mood of the crowd that day, you would appreciate the moderation in what I chose to say.
In fact, the Malaysian Insider piece reported that some in the crowd even called for Nizar to be killed for disobeying the sultan’s orders. Such was the passion amongst BN Youth members who felt that Nizar had trampled upon the sanctity of the institution of Malay rulers.
I hope that your readers will attempt to see my statement within context. A large section of the Malay Malaysian community especially, but also Malaysians in general, gets emotional when there is perceived disrespect to something as dear to their hearts as this.
How do you think your “banish Nizar” remarks are going to affect public perception on whether or not Umno can reform?
Once again, if one were to really look at what I said in the rally, one should not take it as contradictory to Umno’s efforts to reform. Reform in the party needs to take place in multiple areas, including the rhetoric employed, but this must exist within the framework of the party’s ideals and core principles. In fact, the party’s defining challenge has always been about pursuing the Malay party’s agenda within an ever-evolving multiracial context.
On one level, the institution of Malay rulers remains inextricably linked to the Malay Malaysian subject’s identity. Therefore, it is consistent with Umno’s agenda that we came out in defence of the monarchy.
However, it was equally important that Umno and BN came together to demonstrate solidarity for the institution that is supposed to protect the legitimate interests of all Malaysians, regardless of race and religion. The sultan is a ruler for all, not only for Malay Malaysians.
This is why I made it a point in my speech to say that this need not be seen as a racial issue as we had representatives from the MCA, the MIC and the People’s Progressive Party, too. The rally was a collective display of frustration and anger. But of course, the way the banishment remark was reported glossed over whatever multiracial dimension existed in my overall message.
In the reports, it sounded like you were encouraging the demonstrators to resort to whatever action they wanted to in order to prevent Nizar and his exco from entering the state secretariat. Isn’t that just encouraging thuggish behaviour?
Not unless you believe the demonstrators were thugs to begin with. When I said “use whatever means necessary” I took it that the members of the rally knew that when push comes to shove, they would not disobey the law. Their anger stemmed from PR’s transgression of the principles of Rukunegara to begin with, one of which is “kedaulatan undang-undang” or sanctity of the law.
Furthermore, after my speech the Ipoh OCPD asked me not to instruct our boys to be present at the state secretariat when Nizar and his colleagues showed up over the next few days. The OCPD gave an assurance that the police would not allow them (Nizar et al) in.
When I received the OCPD’s assurance, I promptly instructed the head of Perak Umno Youth to stand down since there was no need to be at the state secretariat.
Now that the BN has been sworn in as the Perak state government, do you still stand by your initial statement that crossovers are immoral?
Yes, I do.
A representative gets elected on the back of his or her own strength, but one cannot deny the role of the party’s machinery and voters’ identification with that party. Thus, the act of defecting whilst still holding office is difficult to justify morally.
Note though, that the three assemblypersons who left PR are now Independents who support the BN, not BN members. There is a distinction between what occurred in Perak and what Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was trumpeting for months leading up to [his] 16 Sept 2008 [plan to bring down the federal government by defections].
How do you think BN will fare in the two upcoming by-elections, the Bukit Selambau state assembly seat in Kedah and the Bukit Gantang parliamentary seat in Perak?
Both by-elections will test BN. As both seats were won by PR in the last general elections, they will start as favourites. However, we are confident that given the lessons learnt from both the Permatang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu by-elections, we stand a chance of springing a surprise and halting PR’s momentum.
The by-elections will occur after the Umno party elections and the handover of power from Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to Datuk Seri Najib Razak. This may also turn out to be an advantage for us, since there will be more certainty which will uplift the party’s morale.