“The only real radicalism in our time will come as it always has – from people who insist on thinking for themselves and who reject party-mindedness.”
– Christopher Hitchens, ‘Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq, and the Left’
I have no idea how this saga with former minister Zaid Ibrahim and his persecutors will end. When the last principled politician spoke truth to power, he made two statements that sum up the mess we are in now:
1. “I hope the royalty will not delve in politics. If it does, then it must be prepared to be criticised for whatever they say.”
2. “The question of being anti-royalty does not arise. The Tengku Mahkota of Kelantan saw it fit to descend into the political arena by making a statement early this month that the non-Malays should not ask for equal rights.”
These are two powerful statements of principles from the late Karpal Singh.
The irony is, of course, Zaid said more or less the same thing when he responded to the Selangor sultan. For his defence of the former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he invited the usual charges of being anti-Malay and anti-royalty. He also discovered that he had no “friends” in the opposition who were willing to stand with him in his time of need.
When Tony Pua claims that Selangor DAP has “no position” on this issue, it is complete horse manure. A member of your political party makes a provocative statement and DAP has no stand on this issue, and going so far as to declare that his statement does not reflect on the party in any way because he is not an office bearer.
Does this make any sense?
Either you disagree with the statements Zaid made and make it clear that DAP does not condone engagement with the royalty this way – which would be strange – or, you delicately phrase a response which does not make you sound like an arrogant political operative who just wants to save the party’s skin. It does not matter if Bersatu Youth wants Zaid to apologise, which is at least a position taken but rather that Zaid is from your party and has defended DAP numerous times against the assaults of the establishment and their proxies.
Partisans claim that getting involved in this dispute is just falling into an Umno trap, but the reality is that, Umno will always use provocations to paint the DAP as anti-Malay. Pua’s statement is more damaging than anything Umno can do because it makes those Malays who stick their neck out realise that they will not receive any support for their efforts. They will only be used as window dressing when it suits the purposes of oppositional political elites and thrown to the hounds when they make statements that most feel are right but are politically sensitive.
In addition, what does “would have to deal with whatever repercussions that come” mean? Zaid is being vilified by the outsourced thugs of Umno. He has been threatened by establishment figures and harassed by the same people who claim that DAP is anti-Malay and wish to destroy Malay institutions, and the best DAP can come up with is to cut Zaid loose?
Speaking truth to power
Imagine if Zaid had said the same thing when DAP political operatives incurred the wrath of establishment figures for making provocative – in the Malaysian context – statements. Imagine if he played the game like Amanah, Bersatu and PAS instead of clearly articulating his stand on issues such as race and religion, which many Malays actually subscribe to but are afraid to voice out. Come on, anytime there were religious and racial provocations, Zaid was the first in the fight defending the secular and constitutional rights of all Malaysians.
When I interviewed Zaid, he said – “I always believe it’s better to state the right positions clearly and unambiguously on core delicate issues even if it means we have to ‘lose’ some support in the beginning. Politics is not just winning; but about doing the right thing. Long-term goals are equally important.”
The problem here is that people think that by cutting Zaid loose, it absolves them from this fiasco. But the real problem is that every Malaysian who wants to save Malaysia is part of this problem. We were part of this problem when Karpal spoke truth to power and we are a part of it now.
Yes, the establishment is going to vilify you. They are doing it already. But now every Malay who understands that he or she needs to speak truth to power will understand that if they belong to DAP, they are on their own. This is far more damaging than anything the establishment can do.
And for establishment types, the narrative will be that Zaid got what he deserved by joining the “Chinese” dominated DAP, who only used him to run down the Malay community. Right now, they are shovelling great huge dollops of schadenfreude down their mouths. I know, because some of them call me gloatingly about Zaid’s latest “blunder”.
If I were DAP, I would have just issued a statement along these lines making three important points:
1. DAP prays for the safety of Zaid and his family.
2. DAP does not believe that Zaid is anti-royalty or a traitor to the Malay race.
3. DAP respects the royal institutions of this country.
This would have been the honourable thing to do.
I have no idea what Zaid will do now. Seeking protection from the man who advocates kenduri kendara gangsters seems tragic but understandable under the circumstances. In this climate, Malay opposition personalities get it worse and Zaid has done enough for the opposition. An Umno friend told me, even though there may be no evidence that Umno is still strong, but Umno can still take down the opposition.
The coming days will see changes in the narrative. Zaid will either become a symbol of saving Malaysia or an object of derision. Either way, he is still not going to have any friends in the political elite.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.