IT’S been 14 months since Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim took the hot seat as Selangor menteri besar (MB) after the Barisan Nasional (BN) was swept out from power in the state in the 8 March 2008 general election.
Since then, the 62-year-old corporate-captain-turned-politician, who is also the Bandar Tun Razak Member of Parliament (MP) and Ijok state assemblyperson, has been kept busy trying to steady the helm of the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)-run state.
He was chief executive officer of Permodalan Nasional Berhad and Kumpulan Guthrie before joining Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and trying his hand at politics. Undoubtedly, he brings his vast corporate experience to bear in his new role.
As menteri besar, Khalid has had to master the art of compromise by getting the state assemblypersons from three parties within the PR — PKR, DAP and PAS — to work together. He has also had to ensure that the state administration’s promises to the electorate are kept.
Some of these promises such as the declaration of assets have come to pass, albeit a year after he took office. Others such as the Freedom of Information Act and local council elections have yet to take off.
In a rushed interview on 29 April, Khalid, who is also Selangor PKR’s liaison committee chief, spoke candidly to The Nut Graph about various issues, including on his nemesis, Datuk Seri Mohd Khir Toyo.
In this first of a two-part interview, Khalid discusses the challenges facing the PR state government, balancing state interests and party concerns, and the upcoming Penanti by-election.
TNG: After one year in power, how would you rate your administration?
It’s a relative thing. But I think we are much clearer to the people about what our programmes are, and what we are to be, than the previous state government. We’d love to say we are much better than [the BN]. [And] this can clearly be seen in how much we want to give to the people, and how much we have already.
We take our responsibilities very seriously. We are also more accountable and more transparent in what we are doing. We are more open, in terms of our decision-making. We are not corrupt. That’s quite clear.
You say that, but in terms of transparency, it took almost a year before one of PKR’s campaign promises — the declaration of assets for state government leaders — was carried out.
We had to go through some soul-searching to come up with a standard that was acceptable to everybody. Among the major reasons why we deferred was the argument that while it is best for the people to know the nett worth of their elected representatives, nobody is willing to protect them from the side-effects of that declaration.
For example, somebody said, “If I declare that I have a few million in my own assets, are you going to protect me if my children or close relatives are kidnapped and held for ransom?” We felt that we needed to resolve this.
The second reason was that the declaration had to be voluntary. At last we asked ourselves, “What is a fair deal?” Everybody agreed that the most important thing was our income and assets during the tenure of our stay as MB and exco.
I personally wanted to declare much earlier, but it took a bit of time.
I heard there were some concerns among some of your exco members, especially one in particular.
There were a number [of excos who expressed concerns]. But I think they were willing to do it, provided it served the purpose of transparency and responsibility. If, during our stay as an exco member or MB, we accumulated a lot of assets, the public has the right to question us.
It has to be based on the assets accumulated during your time in office, and not the assets you had prior to this. You have to report first, but if you have accumulated your assets before [taking office], then of course … you cannot also use your position to further accumulate it.
In the end everybody agreed with it, and now it has become quite acceptable.
Could it also be a standard that the other PR governments in different states would adopt?
We don’t want to speculate. But I think it will be the case. The public’s demands are respected by the PR — and I hope that it will also be respected by all politicians and people in power.
The three coalition partners, PKR-PAS-DAP, have different ideologies and goals. How does it affect the functioning of the state administration?
Fortunately, management is a very universal concept. You’ve got to work together. Teamwork is a prerequisite of your success.
When you manage a state, it is much easier to reach a consensus. Because everything you do affects the people.
How we got everybody together was the challenge. As a result of 8 March, all three parties felt that they must rely on each other, to show to the people that they have a common platform.
In the past, it was very hard to imagine that the DAP and PAS could — in the Australian term — have a drink together. You would not have imagined PAS people running with DAP flags, or vice versa.
But it became real. And this gave us the opportunity to level off all the extreme things in our three parties, to arrive at a common way of tackling society.
At the state level, is it putting the state first or the party first?
I think some of the Selangor exco have been bombarded by their own party for accepting things in the common interest of the state. But when we are the MB and exco, we are talking about state interests. While there is the political part of it, it is not dominant.
Talking about interference from political masters in state administration. In Penang, the post of DCM (Deputy Chief Minister) 1 has been left vacant — what are your thoughts on this?
We must accept that there are certain ways in which a team is formed. If you talk about an MB and exco, this is formed out of reconciling the strength of all parties. For example, in Selangor, while PKR got 15 seats, the DAP 13 and PAS 8, we try to galvanise strength.
Sometimes there is a give and take. If you’re talking about the ratio of state assembly seats, this would not give PAS three places in the exco. But the DAP allowed it, to get balance in the state. PAS would have loved to have their speaker in the state assembly. But no, there are acceptable reasons why the DAP should take the speakership, in spite of some initial feelings.
That’s all understandable in trying to create a coalition government. I expected much worse than this, but things turned out to be much more — we cannot use the word “civilised” — but proactive than people expected.
But, at the same time, each party may have [its] own agenda. In the case of Penang, that is an internal agenda of PKR. PKR had fairly good reasons why we asked the DCM1 Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin to resign, and to also vacate his state seat. As the PR, we have to accept each other.
But I thought it was his decision?
It was a discussion, and as a result of that he decided to resign. At the end of the day, we are satisfied he supported the party.
Will you be going to Penanti to help campaign for PKR?
Oh, yes. While we are going to be very tired, but we think that this will be a challenge to us, to prove that the parties of the PR work together.
Do you personally think that the BN will put up a candidate for the by-election?
It would be strange for them not to do that. Very strange. If they didn’t, there will be more than 10 other candidates filling the place for the BN.
But to most of our party members — PKR as well as the PR — if it’s okay, there shouldn’t be a contest. They should give us a walkover. But I do not think, for one moment, that that will be likely.
See also — Part 2: “BN has not forgiven us”