KUALA LUMPUR – Power-crazy, a prima donna and disconnected ― these are some of the traits associated with Datuk Zaid Ibrahim who recently joined the DAP, his fourth political party.

Make no mistake ― Zaid is no crowd pleaser. He’s made it very clear in his views, either conveyed through his blog or on the stump.

His rather acrimonious departure from PKR ― the multiracial, urban-centric Opposition party that was supposed to make him feel right at home ― was testament to his boisterous character.

But is he really that bad or disconnected? Naturally, the former Umno minister begged to differ.

As much as some of the descriptions attributed to him may have some degree of truth, which he readily admitted in an interview with Malay Mail Online recently, most of the time, it was simply the case of him being misunderstood.

“Actually, I don’t know why people talk about my problem with PKR,” a smiley Zaid said as he waved his cigar around animatedly.

“I don’t leave the party and badmouth anyone…yes we had some differences at the time of separation. There were a few exchanges of harsh words but that’s politics,” he added.

Whether or not Zaid, an experienced politician with 25 years of political slug-and-tug under his belt, really had no ill intentions when those “exchanges” were made, only he knows.

But as the former Umno minister announced his membership with DAP on Tuesday, the third Opposition party he’s joined in just six years after leaving PKR and his own party, Kita, questions about his character inevitably resurfaced.

Zaid’s short stint with PKR was marred with squabbling that almost split the party when he contested the deputy presidency against favourite, the current Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, who happened to be one of the closest confidantes of party supremo Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

What made the issue around his personality more glaring was that DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang ― who accompanied Zaid during his announcement made at his residence in the posh area of Tropicana, Petaling Jaya ― took time to explain to the press that their latest recruitment was not what most assumed him to be.

“He is not a prima donna, I believe Zaid is a team player and people can change,” Lim told the packed media briefing.

The press seemed sceptical. But for Zaid, the DAP veteran’s open appraisal was a strong indicator that the party had faith in his ability, and most importantly, his character.

“I take it as a compliment since a lot of people think I’m a hopeless case,” Zaid said with a laugh when asked to comment on the incident.

“So it’s nice of him to say that”.

All I want is for the Opposition to win

And the Zaid I spoke to seemed to be a different man than when I met him as a PKR candidate campaigning in the Hulu Selangor by-election in 2010. He was calmer, composed and more cautious with his words.

To the public then, Zaid’s vocalness, especially on his refusal to accept some of the criticism against his campaigning method in Hulu Selangor, inextricably painted him as a “know-it-all”.

This was something he readily admitted today. But the Kelantan-born leader was quick to point out that just because he conceded to be slightly naive politically, his flaws were merely his and not a “character defect”.

“I thought at the time there were a lot of issues that was bad for Pakatan..sometimes my fault is sometimes I speak about something I shouldn’t lah have, but that’s not a character defect. It’s just my personality,” Zaid said.

And Zaid’s personality will again be scrutinised as he embarks on a new political journey as a member of a party popularly known for its zero-tolerance for rogue members and disobedience.

But Zaid has played down any possibility that his forthrightness will be strong enough to influence the party leadership, which was, in a way, him saying that he was not about to change that bit about him that some may find discomforting.

“I’m a team player you know,” he said, an apparent disclaimer.

“But I’m not at the leadership level, I’m just Zaid Ibrahim. Surely you don’t worry about him. Why would they be concerned about my personality? I’m not in the leadership council and I don’t want to (be).

“I just want to help so they should be comfortable because here is this guy who spends his own money to help them. When I go to ceramah, I don’t get any allowance,” he added jokingly.

For Zaid, joining the opposition was never about posts or power. If he wanted all that, he would have stayed in Umno, which he conceded was far more “comfortable” than, say, being in a fledgling political bloc with component members that never appeared to be able to look into each other’s eyes without prompting some outburst.

I’m a nice person

As an idealistic man who went on to become a lawyer in his early life as part of a grand plan to make Malaysia better (of course with some political ambitions), his main preoccupation now remains firmly the same as when he first joined the Opposition ― to see the bloc make history and helm federal power.

And despite all of the pact’s past mishaps and open political catfights that has led to personal campaigns against his character, Zaid’s faith in Pakatan Harapan as the best, if not only, alternative to Barisan Nasional rule has not withered away.

“I’m not disillusioned. I still believe that Malaysian politics need a new lease of life and only the Opposition can give that.

“As much as I was frustrated in many ways, but I was always consistent that this is what we need to do,” he said.

For whatever lies ahead for Zaid’s future, the man knows he will need to be mindful of how he navigates through the rough political terrain. His short experience with PKR provided a lesson that politics require more than mere idealism to survive.

But will political pragmatism make him more subdued? In a reply typical of Zaid, the man disagreed:

“I am what I am,” he said with a smile.

– Malay Mail