The independent Member of Parliament (MP) for Pasir Mas started Perkasa in reaction to political rhetoric about equality and meritocracy following the 2008 general election. Today, in Perkasa’s ranks defending “threats” to the special position and privileges of Malay Malaysians are between 60,000 to 70,000 people whose applications are waiting to be processed. This is what Ibrahim tells The Nut Graph in a 9 March 2010 interview at his Kuala Lumpur office.
“I’m personally surprised at the support, and I didn’t set any membership targets. It is beyond my expectations,” he says. Asked who Perkasa’s members are, he says the majority are ordinary Umno members. There are also “a few who are MPs and a few supreme council members” whose names he can’t remember. Quite a number are retired top military personnel. Sizeable, too, are civil servants from the technical and clerical group. A handful are PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat members, he says.
Perkasa is established in all states and will next set up branches at the district level. Selangor Perkasa was launched in January 2010 by former prime minister and former Umno president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Ibrahim is Perkasa’s pro-tem president, but the group, registered as an NGO under the Registrar of Societies, is to hold its first annual general meeting and elections on 27 March. This is to be officiated by no less than the sultan of Selangor.
In this first of a two-part interview, Ibrahim defends Perkasa’s goals and the need for affirmative action for Malay Malaysians.
TNG: What is the best way for Perkasa to achieve its goals?
But now there are organisations, political leaders and parties who directly or indirectly erode this basic principle of Article 153. So we need to defend Malay [Malaysian] and native rights and we are not racist, because what we are doing is within the [constitutional] framework. We are protectors of 153. We will voice our opinion about anyone whose statements we interpret as affecting 153.
Secondly, we are a watchdog to the government. We observe whether policies are within the framework of the constitution. If they go beyond that, we will pressure the government.
What are some government policies you feel have eroded bumiputra privileges?
Scholarships, university intakes.
Liberalising the 27 services sub-sectors?
I’ve yet to see whether there is any improvement in the economy because of this. We disagree with people who say ethnic-based policies and affirmative action keeps foreign direct investment (FDI) away from the country.
We also disagree that we should do away with the subsidy mentality. When you say “subsidy”, it reflects on the Malay [Malaysians]. The years of the New Economic Policy (NEP) from 1974 until 1990 saw the country at its best economic growth. All we want is for the NEP’s objective for the economic cake to be 30% for bumiputera. Now, non-bumiputera control almost 40% to 50%. But the bumiputera share is still stagnant. You can’t include government-linked companies (GLCs). They are not owned directly by Malay [Malaysians] but by the government.
In terms of individual stakes, you see only one Malay [Malaysian], Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, among the country’s 10 richest men. So when you say there should be no more subsidy mentality, what are you really saying, because how did Tan Sri Robert Kuok become a billionaire? He was given a monopoly on sugar. There is an element of subsidy there, when you give someone a monopoly. And when the government subsidises sugar, there is no price difference for Chinese or Indian [Malaysians] who buy it. Everybody benefits. It’s the same with petrol.
So I don’t like Tan Sri Francis Yeoh‘s comment that there should be “brutal competition” in the economy. Why is he successful and not other Chinese [Malaysians]? There are a lot of Chinese [Malaysians] who need help, I don’t deny that. But he was successful because he was given independent power producer (IPP) licences. And he can enter into agreements with Tenaga Nasional Bhd which are lopsided in his favour.
And then there’s Tan Sri Ananda Krishnan, who monopolises Astro and 012 numbers. These big corporate people are telling us to give up subsidies and have brutal competition, but they are the ones who monopolise important economic sectors and also indirectly receive a lot of subsidies.
Then this is not a race issue, nor is it about erosion of Malay [Malaysian] privileges; this is more about class, or the capitalist system, or bad implementation of the NEP, isn’t it?
Ya, betul lah, but if you look at the bigger picture, I’m saying that you cannot blame ethnic policies. In a free market economy, normally the money will go to certain big companies. When the government presents the budget in Parliament every year, you see billions of money meant for infrastructure development. Where does this money go to? It goes to these tycoons. So of course they can compete.
You cannot say that because NEP was mismanaged or there was corruption, we have to stop its objectives. It must continue, regardless the failures. The policy should continue until you see the distribution of wealth in accordance with the 30% target. Only then can you talk about a level playing field.
Now the government wants to turn our country from middle- to high-income. But what happens to the poor at the grassroots? If there are no more subsidies, how are they going to compete or to even survive? This is what Perkasa is talking about.
If free market capitalism is the order of the day, then there must always be affirmative action to follow through. So that’s what we are fighting for. Not that we want to deprive other races. Affirmative action will also benefit other races. The NEP clearly stated that poverty eradication is regardless of race.
Really? Perkasa is supportive of affirmative action for all races?
Yes, yes! You should listen to my speeches. We discuss that. But people just accuse us. If I really did say racist things, if I did say “Fight only for the Malays, only this for the Malays, only that for the Malays”, why is there no police report against me? We don’t stop other groups from demanding things unless they go beyond Article 152 (on the Malay language as the national language) and 153.
Our politics is communal-based: Umno for the Malays, MCA for the Chinese, Hindraf for the Indians. They are also demanding all kinds of things. Why do they call us racist when we demand our rights? This is what I’m getting sick of. Only if we start questioning their citizenship, or if we really press the government to go for a one-school system and abolish vernacular schools … ah, then you can say we are racist. But until now, I’ve never had one police report lodged against me.
What does Perkasa want the government to do about business monopolies?
We just voice our opinions. I met (National Economic Advisory Council chairperson) Tan Sri Amirsham A Aziz to present our memorandum. We fully understand globalisation, the need for the country to be competitive, the need to bring in foreign investment. But I told him, don’t blame ethnic-based policies. It is a misunderstood policy. The reason FDI doesn’t come to this country? Because the perception is that the country is full of corruption and bureaucracy.
Then if corruption is the bigger problem, why focus on race and privileges?
That’s why I say don’t blame ethnic policies. It is corruption and bureaucracy. Even foreign investors benefit from the NEP. For example, if German or Japanese investors come, with people like me, they can immediately start their business.
I told Amirsham, we accept the democratic capitalist system. Like it or not, there’ll be people like Francis Yeoh, Syed Mokhtar, and the country also needs people like them. They can continue with what they’re doing. But they must not belittle affirmative action policies by saying “no more subsidies” and other sweeping statements. We’re just asking the government to consider that the majority should drive the national agenda. That is the meaning of democracy.
Part 2 tomorrow: On prioritising Malay Malaysians
Read previous Realpolitiker interviews