Why make so much noise about the RM2.6 billion?

renong-khazanah-halim-saad-tun-daim-mahathir

So, yes, democracy is dead in Malaysia, as Dr Mahathir said yesterday. But the question is did democracy die just over the last few months or over the last one year, as Dr Mahathir seems to suggest? Or did democracy actually die many decades ago, the day that Dr Mahathir took over as Prime Minister in 1981?

Yesterday, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that democracy is dead in Malaysia. I remember back when Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was Prime Minister and Dr Mahathir grumbled that Malaysia has turned into a police state and that there is longer any freedom of speech in Malaysia.

Yes, as funny as it may sound, that was what Dr Mahathir said yesterday and also what he said about eight or nine years ago when he whacked Abdullah.

I say it is funny because this is exactly what people said when Dr Mahathir himself was Prime Minister — Malaysia is not democratic, Malaysia is a police state, there is no freedom of speech in Malaysia, the media practices self-censorship, etc.

When we criticised Dr Mahathir (and the government, Umno, Barisan Nasional, etc.) about all these (Malaysia is not democratic, Malaysia is a police state, there is no freedom of speech in Malaysia, the media practices self-censorship, etc.) he replied that Malaysia, just like in Singapore, cannot allow western-style absolute democracy.

Malaysia, just like in Singapore, practices ‘guided democracy’ (in fact, that term ‘guided democracy’ was invented by Lee Kuan Yew), Dr Mahathir explained. Because of the very delicate multi-racial mix, the government cannot allow western-style absolute democracy but must apply guided democracy. If not the country will face the danger of racial strife.

Could it be that the problem is not Dr Mahathir, Abdullah or Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak? Could it be even if we kick Najib out and a new Prime Minister from Umno takes over we shall still be grumbling about the same old thing? Could it be that the problem is actually Umno?

Or is the real problem the many races that still look at themselves as Malays, Chinese, Indians, Sikhs, Kadazans, Dayaks, Ibans, etc., first and Malaysian second? To make matters worse, more than half the Malays look at themselves as Muslims first, Malays second and Malaysians third.

In places like Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak this is even worse because they look at themselves as Kelantanese, Sabahans and Sarawakians first, their ethnicity second, their religion third and as Malaysians fourth.

So, yes, in that sense we do have a problem and allowing people absolute democracy and freedom of speech would only expose Malaysia to the risk of racial strife. But then this brings us back to my very often-asked question: are we curing the disease or are we merely trying to tackle the symptoms of the disease?

Now, let us go back to the eve of the 29th November 1999 general election. At that time Anwar Ibrahim was sitting in jail and Dr Mahathir was leading Umno and Barisan Nasional in the Tenth General Election.

That was the fifth general election under Dr Mahathir (he also led Umno and BN in the 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1995 general elections). But Dr Mahathir did well in the first four general elections and he was expected to take a beating in the 1999 general election because of the Reformasi movement, which exploded onto the scene due to the jailing of Anwar.

Well, on the eve of the Tenth General Election, Dr Mahathir told the country that they must give back Barisan Nasional its two-thirds majority in Parliament. If Barisan Nasional does not retain its two-thirds majority in Parliament then the government would become weak and a weak government cannot guarantee the safety of its citizens.

In other words, if Barisan Nasional loses its two-thirds majority in Parliament in the 1999 general election there may be another race riot like what happened 30 years before that in 1969 when the ruling party also lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Because of that threat (plus the army trucks that were sent to ‘patrol’ the streets in Chinese areas) the non-Malays did not follow the Malays to vote opposition. They voted Barisan Nasional just to ‘play safe’. And many Chinese confessed (personally to me) that they voted Barisan Nasional although they supported Barisan Alternatif to avoid May 13 Version 2.

So, yes, democracy is dead in Malaysia, as Dr Mahathir said yesterday. But the question is did democracy die just over the last few months or over the last one year, as Dr Mahathir seems to suggest? Or did democracy actually die many decades ago, the day that Dr Mahathir took over as Prime Minister in 1981?

In 1999, when we attempted to ‘sell’ Reformasi to Malaysians, one of the key issues we raised was that in Malaysia power is concentrated in the hands of the executive (meaning the Prime Minister). There are no longer any checks and balances and the concept of power sharing has been destroyed.

We need to bring back the powers of the four branches of government, we argued, where the Legislature, the Judiciary, and the Monarchy are able to play their roles in this check and balance. Under Dr Mahathir’s rule, power is concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister and that means Malaysia is not a democracy but an autocracy.

That was what we said in 1999 when Dr Mahathir was Prime Minister. And that was what Dr Mahathir said in 2006 when Abdullah was Prime Minister. And that is what Dr Mahathir is saying today with Najib as Prime Minister.

But Dr Mahathir is making it look like this has only recently happened since Najib became Prime Minister. What we said in 1999 is that this began to happen in the 1980s not long after Dr Mahathir took over as Prime Minister.

So I do not agree that this is a creation of Najib. I do, however, agree that this is a legacy of Dr Mahathir, which Najib inherited. And I also do agree that whatever Najib is doing is merely a continuation of the Umno culture and tradition that was started 30 years ago under Dr Mahathir.

Another legacy of Dr Mahathir was the ‘corporatising’ of Umno. Umno, which used to be just a political party before that, was turned into a business entity. Umno was no longer just in the business of winning elections but was also now in the business of making money.

What we are seeing regarding the RM2.6 billion is a case in point. We are puzzled as to why RM2.6 billion was banked into the personal bank account of the Umno President. Malaysians are appalled that something like that could happen.

Well, we are appalled only because we have just come to know about it. But this has always been the way that Umno does business. This is not something that Najib started. And it is not something that just Najib did. This is what has been going on for 30 years since the 1980s.

Of course Najib and the Umno Supreme Council do not view this as a crime. Even if it were not a crime from the legal aspects many of us would still see it as morally wrong. But Umno and even Barisan Nasional do not see it that way because this has been the way for more than 30 years.

The only difference is that now we know about it. For the last 30 years before this we did not know about it. But then we (or at least I) have been talking about it for 30 years. But were any of you listening?

About 30 years ago around 1985 or so, I stood up during one seminar and whacked Umno. We created the term ‘Umnoputera’ (yes, we created that term 30 years ago in 1985) and told Umno that we (the Malay businessmen) do not regard the Chinese as our enemies and competitors. Instead, we regard Umno as the enemy and competitor.

We have Bumiputeras and non-Bumiputeras, I said. But above both the Bumiputeras and non-Bumiputeras are a new preferred group called the Umnoputeras. And the Umnoputeras are the real threat to us Bumiputeras because they do business and compete with us and take away all the business that we Bumiputeras are trying to get.

The Member of Parliament for Terengganu, Alias Ali, stood up to reply to me. He said what is wrong if the Umnoputeras also do business and make money? After all, the Umnoputeras are serving the nation so why can’t they also be rewarded with business opportunities for their service to the nation?

Because of my ‘outburst’ I was blacklisted and no longer got any government business. My business suffered so I had to venture into non-government businesses. One of those non-government businesses was the Terengganu dealership for Mercedes Benz.

When Umno Terengganu found out that I was about to get the Mercedes dealership they went to meet the Deputy Trade Minister, Shahrir Samad, and asked Shahrir to block my appointment and make sure the dealership went to Umno Terengganu instead.

Shahrir replied that Umno Johor already had the Mercedes dealership for Johor and the company is in a mess. Umno is not able to properly run businesses, said Shahrir. So he did not intervene and I finally got the Mercedes dealership for Terengganu.

But we faced a lot of problems. Whenever the Terengganu State Government wanted to buy any cars they negotiated with Lee Motors in Kelantan and not with us in Terengganu.

The Terengganu State Government would rather buy their cars from a Chinese dealer from outside Terengganu than from a Bumiputera dealer in Terengganu. So I finally sold my shares in the company to my Umno partner at a loss to end the problems we were facing with Umno Terengganu. And not long after that I left Terengganu and went back to Selangor.

So stop making so much noise regarding the RM2.6 billion. And next time take note when I tell you something. For 30 years I have been screaming about the matter and suffered because of it. So now you people have to live with it. You deserve it.

Raja Petra Kamarudin

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