PUTRAJAYA (Sept 16, 2008) : By Husna Yusop
Umno maverick Senator Datuk Zaid Ibrahim has decided to stick to his decision to quit as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and de facto Law Minister, saying the recent arrests under the Internal Security Act was the "last straw".
Six months after being handpicked by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to spearhead judicial reforms, Zaid told a packed press conference yesterday his efforts had met with "a brickwall" and he now considered himself "a failure".
He revealed that his proposals met with "a lot of opposition from the party as well as some cabinet colleagues" who accused him of not being a genuine fighter for his race and religion, "as if I am less Malay".
He had tried to bring forward ideas and proposals for a more transparent judiciary, better selection of judges, proper constitutional recognition for the power of the court and reform of the police.
"I suggested them all but I only succeeded in giving out a small amount of ex-gratia to the sacked judges. So, I admit my failure," he added.
He also described himself as "a man with responsibility (but) with no authority".
On top of that, he said he was also harshly criticised in the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara with calls for him to be sacked as he has not done much to defend his nation, adding "I have gone through a lot."
He said since it was difficult for many to accept his views on the reforms and changes, he decided not to continue to be a burden to Abdullah who himself has been facing a lot of pressure lately.
"Let the Prime Minister focus on problems which he needs to overcome or settle before the coming general assembly. Let not me be the problem. So I decided, best for me, the party, country, for all and for the PM, let me resign.
In his 40-minute press conference, Zaid spoke frankly on a number of related issues. They are:
> On the prime minister's suggestion that he take a two-week leave.
"I thank him, but I am not tired, I am just disappointed. So I don’t want to take leave and my decision to resign remains. I will resign," he said, adding his last day in the office was yesterday.
> On the ISA arrest of Sin Chew Daily reporter Tan Hoon Cheng
"I did not expect this. That our government would find journalists a threat to the country? How can a journalist be a security threat? I cannot understand this. But, I am a minister, so I am responsible. In terms of ISA usage, for example, the police said we detain first, then only we investigate. This is a strange principle. I don’t understand this. You cannot detain people just because you want to investigate."
> On rule of law, transparency
"I have failed to convince those in authority, in position of power, to effect those changes about how this government should move forward. I believe in the basic principles that this country respects all rights, all people, all citizens.
"This country is for all. There is no room for discrimination. This country is about rule of law, about transparent process. These are the things that we need to change. If you don’t subscribe to this or you just pay lip service to this principle, it is difficult to translate that into a policy."
> On accusations that he was working against his own race
He said he sincerely felt the Malays, the country and the people would be better off with the policies that he had thought of. "It has never crossed my mind to deny or bring disadvantage to my own religion or race."
On the Conversion to Islam forum organised by the Bar Council whereby he admitted being condemned by many for not standing up for Islam, Zaid said the issue was not about religion but about humans, concerning problems related to marriage and divorce.
"I cannot translate or make them understand this basic principle that this country is for all. We need to respect equal rights for all people, all races, as provided in the constitution. I feel that it is not difficult to understand this basic principle. And I feel a bit sad that this becomes a problem."
> On whether he was giving up easily
"No, this is not about giving up. This is paving the way for a transformation in a way that I hope will wake up people, will result in some changes (from the party or his cabinet colleages). That’s my hope. That would be good enough."
> On his senatorship
He said he will remain a senator as "it would be nice to talk sometimes in the Senate, to give my views on public issues. I love this country very much and would like to do what I can. I am not about to disappear. I still got some years to contribute to this country, but I just have to play a different role."
Question and answer session:
Q. You have said before, you will keep on trying despite the obstacles in initiating reforms. Why give up now?
Zaid: I was looking for some signs of change, some positive developments to give some sort of assurance, confidence but obviously not. I think if I stayed longer you would have asked me, why are you staying so long, yet you do nothing about this? I think six months is good.
Q. Are you disappointed with the Prime Minister?
Zaid: He is a nice man.
Q. Has he (PM) failed to initiate reforms?
Zaid: He has other things to deal with that I may not know of. Remember, he is the president of the party, I am just an ordinary guy. I don’t have to worry about too many things but he may have other things to worry about.
Q. Do you think he support your policy reforms?
Zaid: I think, within the constraints that he got, he supports it, yes. But he got severe constraints. That’s how I sense it.
Q. Would you remain in Umno or join the opposition?
Zaid: It is a very difficult question because on one hand, Umno hasn’t treated me so well over the years. I got suspended for things I didn’t do, my own nomination in Kota Baru has got into trouble, a lot of people criticised me. Most of those who criticised me about the reforms are actually from Umno. So, I do have some problems.
But at the same time, I also don’t know PKR well, I don’t know the leaders. So, it’s too early to say. But, I have an open mind and I am in no hurry to make a decision.
I have not made any decision to join anybody. I am just saying I have to do this (resign) because I hope it will trigger some good things, it will trigger some changes on the part of the people in power, it will trigger some self-reflection on their part and I hope the PM will overcome his challenges without the burden that I carry.
Q. Have you been courted by them?
Zaid: No, I was not courted but I have friends all over the place who call up, things like that, but these are things that happen to everybody.
Q. Will you go back to practice?
Zaid: I don’t think so. I want to start a foundation to help build closer relations among people of this country. I think race discrimination, race prejudice, race relations is very bad. When I was young, we had a much closer racial relations. Today, we are very divided.
Q. If the government abolishes the ISA, would you make a comeback?
Zaid: I have told the Prime Minister, Sir, you handle your whatever issues, and then, if after all that is settled, if you feel you still want me to be of service to the country, yes. I am not leaving out anything. But of course, to ensure I won’t have the same problems, I must also be satisfied that there are enough people in the cabinet, in the supreme council and in the BN, that support the changes.
Q. Reform is quite impossible in Malaysia as the people are not supportive. How?
Zaid: They could be more supportive but there has to be a transformation at the political level.
Q. Do you think Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim would bring about reforms?
Zaid: That’s a hypothetical question. I just hope that anyone who forms the government - be it Abdullah, or Najib, or Tengku Razaleigh (Hamzah), or (Tan Sri) Muhyiddin (Yassin), or Anwar as the PM, I don’t care who - I just want the transformation to take place. That’s my hope.
Q. Was it a mistake to accept Abdullah’s invitation to become a minister?
Zaid: No, that was not a mistake. I would not know what it’s like if I didn’t join.
Q. Don’t you think the next person who comes in will face the same obstacles and therefore it is better for someone with your passion to continue with the fight for reforms?
Zaid: That’s your view. I have to endure these things. I have come to a conclusion, maybe somebody else is more acceptable. My character or the way I talk may upset people. Maybe some other things can be done by other people. You can’t say just because Zaid Ibrahim is not around it can’t be done. It can be done if the political will is there.
Q. What is the single thing Abdullah can do to bring about positive changes?
Zaid: The one single thing is to trust the people of this country - all races. If you feel, you can’t bring yourself to that level of trust and acceptance of certain principles, you will always worry whether a particular policy will benefit this group or that group. You will worry whether it will upset certain benefits or privileges that you have. If you have that sort of thinking, thinking too much about being a "pejuang bangsa" (one who fights for the race), it is difficult to have a policy that reaches out to everybody, that applies to all. That psychological barrier has to be overcome. We have to trust we are one people who want to build one country.
Q. What do you have to say to your cabinet colleagues?
Zaid: To my cab colleague, no hard feelings. Some of them are very fine gentleme. I have close rapport with them. We have differences of views but that’s not a problem. There’s no hard feelings. I hope to maintain that.
Q. Do you think they will miss you in the cabinet?
Zaid: I think they will miss me because I am quite a nice guy. But, some would be pleased. In fact, I already got SMSes from divisions, saying they were very happy with my decision.
Q. Do you think your resignation has an impact on Abdullah this coming party election?
Zaid: I think it would improve his chances. Without me, there is less issue associated with him.
Q. Before the ISA detention have it ever crossed your mind to resign?
Zaid: It crossed my mind a couple of times.