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Lunch, lies and an audio tape

Aminah at EC Penang
Aminah at the Penang Election Commission

REPORTERS have shared many an exasperated laugh over the clucking and cackling of chickens in independent candidate Aminah Abdullah’s 13 May 2009 audio recording of an alleged attempt to bribe her. In the 47th minute of the recording, even Lim Eng Nam — the special assistant to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s Bukit Tambun assemblyperson Law Choo Kiang — is distracted by the chickens.

“You don’t rear them for eating, right?” he can be heard asking. Aminah’s husband, Mohd Rofi Osman, says, “They’re pets — they have no meat on them anyway.”

Barely into the one-hour mark, the first of many offers is made by Lim and Cheah, “You could withdraw from the (Penanti) by-election and say it’s a gesture of goodwill to (Penang PKR chief) Datuk Zahrain (Mohamed Hashim).”

They then say that PKR candidate Dr Mansor Othman could counter offer Aminah with an invitation to rejoin the party.

Aminah retorts, “Do you think this will get past Zahrain? You know (PKR adviser Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim is partial to him?”

And over the remaining couple of hours, Lim and Cheah suggest a combination of “packages” that could be offered to Aminah in accordance with varying scenarios. They discuss at length her options:

    If she withdraws before nomination day on 23 May;

    If she withdraws within three days after 23 May; or

    If she contests and defeats Mansor.

In this sense, Aminah is truthful in saying she was offered the posts of Penang deputy chief minister 1, president of a local council, and reimbursement of her RM80,000 campaign expenses. Lim can be heard explicitly offering these options to Aminah and Rofi.

But at the same time, Cheah and Lim are also truthful in saying that they were talking as personal friends who have known each other for nearly a decade. In between plotting about politics, they joke, talk about Aminah’s daughter’s upcoming wedding, and as Cheah emphatically says to the press, “everything under the sun”.

PKR’s internal bickering

Nevertheless, after listening to the entire recording, what is also noteworthy is that the “bribing” is but one of many complex issues that have brought this, yet another PKR spat, to public attention.

For example, immediately after enjoying a home-cooked fish head curry lunch, Lim launches into some serious ribbing of Zahrain.

In minute 54 of the recording, Lim says, “I asked Zahrain jokingly — I heard you want Mansor to lose in Penanti. Zahrain was seriously shocked, and said (PKR’s Penang government exco) Abdul Malik (Abul Kasim) is the one sabotaging Mansor!” Everyone has a good chuckle over this.


And hence, what has not been reported is that the more than three-hour conversation is also a lament by four grassroots party veterans about what has happened to the party. They talk about Zahrain’s dictatorial tendencies and alleged corruption; about Zahrain’s strong connections to Anwar; about Mansor’s incompetence; about Malik’s disgruntlement within the party; about party activities having gone quiet ever since Anwar was released from detention.

It is clear from the recording that the four are united by a common enemy — Zahrain. But as Cheah and Lim try to explain to Aminah, her quitting the party in 2007 has not helped dislodge Zahrain.

Several times during the party, Lim can be heard telling Aminah, “Lebih baik Kak Nah masuk balik parti, lawan dari dalam. (It’s better for you to rejoin the party and change it from the inside.)”

But why should such internal politicking be more damning to PKR than any other party? This is, after all, not only politics, but politics at a time when the Malaysian political landscape is shifting very rapidly. PKR has gone from a party with merely one seat in Parliament in 2004, to the biggest parliamentary opposition, and the leading Pakatan Rakyat partner in the Selangor government.

Perhaps this is also what Cheah, Lim, Rofi and Aminah are trying to grapple with. Time and again, Aminah says, both in the recording and to the press, “PKR is not the same anymore. Gone are the days when we used to shout ‘Reformasi’ slogans and served the party selflessly.”


The insinuation seems to be that the party has grown too quickly — old friends have become political rivals, and young upstarts have joined the party and displaced party elders, all under Anwar’s gaze. And perhaps the four are also yearning for a return to Parti Keadilan Nasional (KeAdilan), not the new party that was borne out of a merger between KeAdilan and a faction of Parti Rakyat Malaysia.

The mystery of Aminah’s motives

The question now is, why did Aminah need to betray the trust of her friends and expose them to the country the way she did? She tells The Nut Graph, “I know Cheah and Lim are my friends, but there are just too many rotten people in PKR and I am sick of the party.”

So although the spat between Aminah and PKR is now degenerating into he-said-she-said kindergarten-speak, perhaps this episode is a blessing in disguise for PKR. As the party contemplates how it is going to grow and be a democratic alternative to the Barisan Nasional (BN), it would be useful for the party to take stock of how it has evolved so far. As Lim says in the recording, “I don’t want the party to be another Umno.”

And whether or not Aminah is “sponsored” by the BN or ex- or even current PKR elements, the party still needs to reflect on why she was driven to do what she did. She was there when the party was born, and it is clear she gave her heart and soul to it. It is also clear that Cheah and Lim have the party’s best interests at heart. And yet it has come to this.

Aminah, Rofi, Cheah and Lim sound genuinely fond of each other in the recording. In fact, during Aminah’s 26 May press conference at the Penang Election Commission in Komtar, her eyes became wet when reporters pressed her on questions about Cheah and Lim.

“I’ll need to call Kah Peng after all this is over to clear things up with him — I really do care for him and Lim,” she said.

Similarly, when asked if he would still be friends with Aminah, a consistently defensive Cheah seemed suddenly vulnerable when he confessed, “I have mixed feelings.” Lim, who earlier confessed to feeling “sad and hurt”, was downcast and silent.

It would be too convenient for PKR to deflect all responsibility and blame towards the BN. It would be more constructive, though, for PKR to genuinely reflect on whether its internal democratic processes and mechanisms are strong and functioning.TNG favicon

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20 Responses to “Lunch, lies and an audio tape”

  1. Well, there you go! Now, where are those naysaying [supporters] of PKR from the article before….?

  2. Andrew I says:

    You wouldn’t get fairer reporting than this in the mainstream media, that’s for sure.

    Well written, Shanon. I’m not the type to bodek, and if I was, it wouldn’t be at the expense of insulting my own intelligence.

    If I were in trusted company, I wouldn’t expect things said in passing, let alone in confidence, to be aired in the public domain. My only crime would be having bad judgement in the company I keep.

    We all know how to deal with fair weathered friends like these.

    Nuff said.

  3. John Tan says:

    When will all this sandiwara in Malaysian gutter politics ever end?

  4. salehuddin yeaccob says:

    LOL? This is for certain not bribery. More like a masterplan to dislodge Zahrain to me.

    Lunch, lies and an audio tape – pretty catchy title, by the way.

  5. asrir says:

    I have and will always believe in strong fundamentals. Why is this happening to PKR and not to PAS or DAP ? The answer is simple and just to remind everyone again and again. If your struggle is genuinely for the people and without any personal agenda, none of this would happen. So what is the difference between PKR and Umno or BN for that [matter]? This is something for PKR to ponder on (and perhaps be warned about) in order to stay relevant in the eyes of educated Malaysians. We don’t just vote lawmakers blindly.

  6. garfunky says:

    The article is very well written and I agree wholeheartedly. There are simply not enough good political leaders in Malaysia. The only thing that really seperates BN and PR is that BN leaders are MORE corrupt, selfish, greedy, and power hungry.

    But in saying that, I still sometimes think neither has capable leaders…

  7. tay says:

    This is merely a trap. But nothing is serious. Offering “something” to Jelapang Hee and the two others is more serious and so far nothing has been done by the relevant authorities.They have no more dignity. Let’s not pay much attention to Aminah and just vote for PKR .

  8. ks says:

    Level headed and perceptive article.

  9. James Loh says:

    Regardless about the truth about the bribery, we need a strong PKR. It’s important that PKR does not become another MCA, Umno, etc. We need a two-party system and PKR is part of the puzzle. I only hope all these obstacles faced by PKR will make it into a stronger party that walks the talk.

  10. kim wang says:

    We do not know Lim and Cheah. Who are they exactly, taking the initiative to negotiate on the party’s behalf? Do they really think that this independent Aminah can win? And the need for serious negotiation, as if it is a 50/50 chance? My contention is, they are a gang of four, out to discredit PKR. Lim and Cheah should be suspended with immediate effect. Further indication is, on your interview, the reply was ‘I have mixed feelings’.

  11. Shamaun says:

    I commend you on a good piece of reporting, stating facts without prejudice. From the tone and words of the conversation (and the transcript that can be read from other websites), it appears that this conversation is one among friends about their political power struggles. This is normal (although not entirely acceptable) in political parties.

    But the thing that tinges this whole episode with something more sinister is the fact that Aminah had obviously planned the recording. This shows either she suspected a bribe coming from Cheah and Lim or she wanted to steer the conversation such that they would offer the bribe. But in a related report posted on another website, Aminah said she did not even realise what Cheah and Lim said to her constituted a bribe until the MACC told her it was. That means she could not have suspected a bribe coming. Therefore, it is more probable that Aminah planned to entrap Cheah and Lim in their words by steering the conversation such that they offered the bribe.

    The fact that the duo fell for it does not absolve them of guilt. The fact that they uttered words that the MACC can constitute as a bribe makes them guilty.

    So everyone in this sordid episode has to shoulder some blame. Let’s hope PKR cracks the whip on their leaders to get them to shape up so that it can be the party that Malaysians hope for.

  12. jo says:

    When things are against the opposition or when someone stands up and tells the truth, why does it always have to be “Maybe he/she is being sponsored by the BN for doing this and that”?

    This is just so lame…don’t blame others for your own wrongdoings!

  13. Hoyhoyo says:

    I think this is a great rebuttal to those who pressed on saying how “factionless” and without infighting PKR is, or how great and impartial and meritocratic Anwar is, in contrast with, say the DAP’s Lim dynasty and long history of infighting, or PAS’s current factional battle.

    I think it is perfectly normal that some fare better than others in a political party… It is called “political” party for a reason… Political party without factional politics is perhaps unknown of…

    What is important for a political party is however, an ideology, and a constant never-ending push to achieve the ideology…

    It is however true that the PKR’s ideology is getting more and more unclear ever since Anwar’s release…

  14. Noname says:

    Corruption happens in every country around the world……… now you can see it’s inside PKR…… and exposed by PKR people itself…..when did you see Umno-BN admit to corruption?

  15. grape says:

    Totally misleading… sounds like propaganda writing with hidden intentions. Minah ronggeng obviously prepared the trap with all the evidence that she could produce. Why else would there be pictures taken by several family members, audio recordings, etc. Tears in her eyes? [Yeah, right.]

  16. victor tan says:

    The men were trying to compensate your loss for withdrawing from the contest. If you do not understand what is a bribe and what is not a bribe, then, better stay at home.

    Next time, ask for RM80 million. It would be more convincing.

  17. siew eng says:

    Thank you for the refreshing angle and content that reflected the time and effort put into listening to the whole recording in order to understand the context enough to objectively tell what really happened – you won’t find such unbiased perceptiveness and care in mainstream media reporting (sadly).

  18. LTH says:

    PKR now needs to come out and say categorically whether the “offers” made by Cheah and Lim had the party’s tacid endorsement, for them to dispel any suspicion in the public domain that these two were despatched on a special mission.

    And if they were not, PKR must take action against these two to give a clear message to their rank and file and the general public (especially those who support and care for the party) that it is dead serious in ensuring that the leadership and the people they put up for elections are people of integrity and conviction.

    Sueing her as they have done only serves to add to the sandiwara. Turn this episode into a blessing to purge those undesirables within the party leadership.

  19. vsvsv says:

    Obviously, the only innocent one is the chickens. The other four are just politicians/angel who wear devil mask. Both Lim and Cheah are the first two found guilty by offering compensation. I don’t know if it’s bribing or not, but still Aminah has a point.

    But then again, what is the ulterior motive of Aminah taping the friendly lunch session?
    In her house? Chee…..I don think I want to be her friend or whatsoever. She is good in playing the friendly role and yet backstabs her friends.

    And her motives? I really don’t know. Is she taping it knowing she will be offered something and if the amount is big, keep the tape so she can expect the party will eventually keep their promises and pay up? Or in the other hand, since the amount is so small, she can use this to topple the party? Whatever is it…only god knows her motives but I am very sure I don’t think I want to be her friend. Scary …. How can we trust her since she wears the mask so well??

    To Lim and Cheah, didn’t your parents tell you not to keep tigers as pets? Why? Cos if your food offering is big, your tiger pet will protect you but if your food is small, the tiger will eat you up when the tiger is hungry.

    All politican are tigers . Aminah is one friendly cat with her motives. She might have found the compensation is too small and insulting.

  20. Reza says:

    This has been my long and painful dilemma. I’m not a fan of BN. But, the opposition is also full of monkeys, as is evident from the recording. I had always suspected that PKR would turn out to be just another UMNO. And, as a liberal Malay Muslim, don’t even get me started on PAS. Ideologically, I prefer DAP since they are pro-secular, but unfortunately they are allied with Tweedledee(PKR) and Tweedledum (PAS). Also, although ideologically favourable, I doubt DAP’s leadership capability. So how is a guy like me to vote? Who to vote for? Thank God I was in Australia during the 2008 general election; saved me the trouble of deciding who to vote for.

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