Updated 12 July 2009 at 11.05pm
KUALA LUMPUR, 10 July 2009: In a blistering speech last night, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim attacked Datuk Seri Najib Razak on almost every score of the prime minister’s100-day administration.
The former minister and former Umno member said Najib should have acted in his first three months of office “as if he has only 100 days before his reign comes to an end”.
Zaid Ibrahim (file pic)
Among others, Zaid said Najib should have enacted far-reaching policies to give back the judiciary its independence, and to reform institutions like the police, Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Election Commission.
“He [should have shown] the people he was prepared to sacrifice his neck if that is required of him,” Zaid said in his speech titled Preservation of Democracy and the Rule of Law in Malaysia at the Oxbridge Malaysia Dialogue Dinner Series, hosted by the Oxford and Cambridge Society Malaysia. His speech was made available to The Nut Graph.
Najib was sworn in as the nation’s sixth prime minister on 3 April 2009. His 100th day in office is tomorrow.
Zaid said Najib should have started his term by pushing through a Race Relations Act to punish racism and racist speeches and writings “from all quarters, even if it’s from leaders of his own party and from Utusan Malaysia“. Zaid was referring to the Umno-owned Bahasa Malaysia daily.
“The problems in our country are not race or religion-based, but BN has worked very hard to make them so.”
Zaid, who was sacked from Umno in December 2008 and joined Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) on 13 June 2009, also questioned the 1Malaysia slogan as to whether is really meant that all Malaysians were equal.
“The acceptance of equality of rights as citizens is central to the success of our Malaysian journey.
“When the PM announced his 1Malaysia slogan, I asked if that meant he would make a declaration that all Malaysians are equal. The answer was not forthcoming till today. All he said was rights must be understood in the context of responsibilities. Another fuzzy reply.”
What Najib should stop doing, Zaid said, was to “always refer to the deprivation the Malays suffered under the British. No amount of wallowing in the past can change history”. In the same vein, Malay Malaysians should stop telling other races to be “grateful”, Zaid said.
He said racist politics was the “single greatest impediment” to Malaysian unity, adding that while different from the kind of racism that involved skin colour, Malaysian racism was “driven more by ethnic distrust and ethnic rivalry for the economic cake”.
Zaid also went on the stump for Pakatan Rakyat (PR), saying it was the only viable alternative to the “self-indulgent and delusional sense of self importance” of Umno and Barisan Nasional rule.
Worse to come
Zaid said Najib’s push for Malay unity talks between Umno and PAS was merely a way to “strengthen himself” by causing internal difficulties between the PR parties.
At a time of economic downturn, Zaid said Najib had not done enough by removing the 30% bumiputra quota for companies and scrapping the Foreign Investment Committee rules. He noted that these were already being demanded of Malaysia by international and Asean trade agreements.
He said the decision was popular in the short-term but will “come back to haunt” Najib, as many Malay Malaysians were unhappy because Najib had not addressed the larger problem of income disparity.
On Perak, while Najib should “not have started it”, Zaid said that since it had already happened, the premier should “have the courage” to hold fresh elections.
“The whole cloak and dagger story of intrigue about the overthrow of the Pakatan Rakyat government gave rise to much suspicion about Najib’s style, well before he took office. He could have allayed the fears that he would not be one to resort to under-the-belt tactics in his leadership, by calling for fresh elections. Najib’s unwillingness to dissolve the Perak assembly has gotten the country deeper into a political quagmire.”
Zaid also believed that Najib would not bother to address people’s concerns about the impartiality of the police and judges, and of high-profile corruption cases which had been reported to the anti-corruption authorities.
He added that authoritarianism in government would continue unless repressive laws like the Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act and the Sedition Act, were abolished. But this would be unlikely as “the elite need protection from their misdeeds”, he said.
Zaid also criticised the government for reversing the policy on teaching science and mathematics in English after six years and billions of ringgit. “One wonders if the farcical National Service programme, which is neither a national service nor an education programme, will be scrapped, too.”
Zaid also pulled out the stops in criticising his former party. He said Umno had been hiding in a cave for too long which had caused them to “abandon the idea of a shared and common nationhood”.
He said the reason for Umno’s, and by extension, the government’s authoritarianism, was the belief in “Ketuanan Melayu” and that Malay hegemony was needed to prevent Malay Malaysians from being marginalised.
He said change would only come when Umno abandoned racial politics and when Malay Malaysians understood that “patronage, authoritarianism and nationalist extremism” – “all of which are Umno’s leadership style” – did them more harm than good.
“Malay [Malaysians] themselves must break from the shackles of narrow nationalism so that they may realise self-actualisation and independence,” Zaid said.
He said if Umno continued to cling on to the “Ketuanan Melayu” mindset, the whole country would suffer from not being able to have comprehensive national policies, because the distrust between communities would prevent objectivity and place ethnic interests over national interests.