Ku Li: UMNO is here to stay

Former UMNO Vice President, Semangat 46 President and now, MP for Gua Musang for almost four decades Tengku Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah gave The Star a special interview, which was done at his residence in Jalan Langgak Golf last Friday and published over the Sunday Star.

Here is the complete interview:

Sunday May 11, 2008

Ku Li: Umno is here to stay


Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who has been busy rallying the party’s grassroots for change, shares his views on a range of issues, including Malay supremacy, the NEP and the future of Umno and Barisan Nasional.

Q: Umno will mark its 62nd anniversary today. As a party veteran, one who challenged and narrowly lost the presidency, set up a rival party but later returned to the fold, how would you describe the crisis facing Umno now?

A: If you call it a crisis, this is one of monumental significance not just to Umno members and to the Malays but to the country. I cannot foresee the country without Umno. The Malays, for what they are worth, good or bad, only know Umno and its allies – the other component parties, whether in the Alliance old or Barisan Nasional. I cannot imagine how the Malays will behave or react without Umno on the scene.

I know people in some circles greeted the results of the March 8 election results with euphoria, saying the victory of the Opposition showed maturity in the thinking of the people. Maybe so, but I like to take a different interpretation.

I think the losses incurred by the coalition, and Umno in particular, were because people were disgusted with their leaders and what had been happening in the Government under the rule of Barisan Nasional and Umno.

It would have been different if Umno didn’t behave like that. Even if people had opted to go the multi-racial make-up of the PKR, for instance, probably they might have won some seats. But not to the extent of what they are enjoying now. That’s my view.

I want to correct the bit in your question about Umno celebrating its 62nd anniversary. Actually we are not. We are only celebrating the 20th anniversary of Umno Baru. The Umno that was founded in 1946 by Datuk Onn Jaafar and the freedom fighters in 1946 was declared unlawful by the High Court in 1988. That gave birth to Umno Baru, which is there today and will celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Q: With all the disgust against it, is there hope for Umno? Can the party reinvent to meet demands for equality, accountability and transparency, given its patronage and gravy train culture?

A: As I said earlier, I cannot imagine people continuing without Umno. The party has been on the scene for a long time. The LDP of Japan went through that. The Congress Party of India too went through the process when the people rejected it.

But I think it is a different thing here, in this country. Like most people say, here it’s the politics of race. It is not completely ideological-based parties that you live with. As such, I don’t know where the Malays are going to scuttle or run to, if Umno is defeated wholly in the next general election. I think people will still support Umno, maybe not to the degree that they used to support but they will return when Umno changes its ways.

But I am not talking about the need for a complete re-engineering of Umno or of the party re-inventing itself. Umno has to behave, that’s all. If it behaves and runs this country fairly and justly, it will get back the support it used to get.

What was wrong with Umno-led rule from 1955 to 1959, before we gained independence? And what do you think of the rule from 1957 to 1969, and from 1971 or 1972 until now? Was it all bad? I don’t think so. Except, of late, you see excesses; you see abuses by Umno leaders who were also getting very arrogant. This is the perception that people have.

And that is why they decided to debunk Umno and Barisan. After all, why should they vote for people whom they don’t even know? Who is PKR? It is a party that is relatively new and came into the fray in a big way in this election. Previously, they only fielded two or three candidates, in Kelantan and Penang, with no showing. But they did so because people were so disgusted and angry with Umno leaders. That’s why they opted for anything.

Some people said I should not have disbanded my old party Semangat 46 under Gagasan Rakyat, which I think would have done much better than PKR or whatever. So you see, if Umno wants to come back, I don’t think it needs to re-invent itself.

Q: You have been rallying the grassroots for change but only a few have held EGMs. Are you still optimistic about a groundswell and getting the nominations needed to contest the presidency?

A: There is a groundswell against the leadership because of the bad election results for the party in power. But there is no groundswell for whoever wants to challenge or change the leadership. I don’t feel it yet. But there are people who are anxious to see a change in the leadership of the party and possibly the Government.

I am going around not purely to canvass for posts and change in the Government but I want to get people at the grassroots level to discuss the effects or the outcome of the election results.

If they could hold extraordinary general meetings, then they could effect changes to the constitution. We have to give back power to members to elect office bearers at branch, division and supreme council levels and also to select candidates for general elections.

Q: Do you expect more divisions to hold EGMs’?

A: I don’t know. If conducted in a fair and free atmosphere, with no threats from any quarters or harassment from any one, possibly there will be more. But even those who have come to me saying they want to hold one have decided to back off, maybe because they were threatened, or bought over. Only a few have held it in spite of the big numbers who came to see me. Maybe they will do it later, I don’t know.

Q:What’s the biggest motivation for you to do this now?

A: Firstly, we have suffered huge losses. I mean, we have lost four states and we have lost the two-thirds majority over no big issues, really, except that people were disgusted with the way the leadership had performed. We need to have a change, if not in the persons or personalities, but in the way they do things.

People look at Umno as being “very racial” now, whereas it has never been racial from day one. It has always been caring, considerate, looking after the interests of others. Umno has also always been accused by PAS and other opponent parties of being too soft and compromising on lots of issues. But Umno wanted peace and stability. That is the actual hallmark of Umno’s brand of struggle and because of that, we have achieved progress. What’s important is to ensure that everybody can come together.

Q: On the question of ketuanan Melayu that is premised upon the social contract agreed to by the nation’s founding fathers, Malays agreed to citizenship for non-Malays in exchange for recognition of their special rights. Should non-Malays born after Merdeka still be bound by this? Do they not have equal standing with Malays by virtue of being citizens?

A: Actually, it is a fallacious way of looking at the term because the concept of ketuanan Melayu is more historical than anything else. As Tunku Abdul Rahman used to tell all of us then, this is Malay land. The Malays are from this country, not from any other, unlike the Chinese or the Indians who are from elsewhere.

But since then they have become loyal citizens of the country and those who are born here are automatically citizens having equal rights as the Malays. But because the Malays were the original people of the land, they have these special rights and special privileges. These were not negotiated; they were already there in the 1948 Federation of Malaya agreement before independence.

When the British negotiated with the Malay Rulers and Umno to do away with the Malayan Union proposal, form the Federation of Malaya and introduce a new constitution, these special rights were entrenched in it. Similarly, the position of Islam, the position of the Rulers and all the other things were carried forward into the constitution.

It was never intended to impose the views of the Malays over the rest. The Malays are not dominant. Even though we won 53 seats in Parliament in 1953 with the majority of 38 Malay MPs, we never exercised that. And after that, even when we had two-thirds in a series of elections, we never imposed our will on others. But the problem is that the term is being bandied about loosely.

Secondly, it is being seen that the Malays are arrogantly abusing their positions in government. Generally, not all leaders but some leaders and this gives rise to the impression that Malays want to dominate. But I have not seen the leaders of Umno, all the prime ministers from the time of Tunku right down to (Datuk Seri) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, trying to show that they are dominant or domineering over the rest. Have you seen it?

Q. But after the elections, haven’t there been more groups clamouring for reinstatement of ketuanan Melayu?

A: Yes lah, because the Opposition has won big and whoever wins will talk big. But Abdullah, after winning big in 2004, he talked of the big mandate but then did not flex his muscles and penalise anybody.

As for MCA vice-president Datuk Ong Tee Keat who came out with a statement that ketuanan Melayu should be dropped, he is fighting for MCA leadership. It happens lah. But you will hear more from the Umno side when we come closer to the date of the Umno election in December.

Q: There is a lot of debate on the issue in the alternative media, on websites and blogs. Based on what is being expressed about ketuanan rakyat, has the concept of ketuanan Melayu become outdated?

A: I think so. But in effect, it isn’t true. People are comparing it to a slave and master situation. Is there such a thing? If there are servants and slaves at all, it’s between the lowly paid and their masters. But who is lowly paid? The Malays, Indians and to a certain extent, some Chinese, isn’t it? It’s not like what was in America’s South in the old days of slavery. It’s just gross exaggeration and it’s not healthy, you know.

Ketuanan rakyat is a new phrase coined by (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim, taking advantage of the feelings against ketuanan Melayu. He is very quick at that.

Q: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has warned of conflict if there’s a change in the Government with the crossing over of Barisan. He says Malays are making demands in response to demands made by others and some are talking about going back to feudalism. What are your views on this?

A: Like I said, just now, Ong came out with a statement that ketuanan Melayu should be dropped. Fair enough. But there are also lots of demands from the Malays, as Dr M has expressed. Take the recent congress in Johor Baru. They refused to invite politicians but got together about 200 Malays associations and NGOs. They have demanded that the Malay rulership be restored with its traditional powers. In other words, depriving the elected representatives of some of their powers and to go back to the Rulers. I think that’s not on, because we have democracy now.

Except for matters like restoration of immunity for the Rulers, we have to look at that. Not the Rulers per se, but the institution. After all, our diplomats and officials who work in foreign lands are given immunity. This immunity originates from the immunity of the sovereignty. It’s an age-old custom and practice but that’s just a small area to be re-examined. Overall, I think the preoccupation with ketuanan Melayu is just a reaction to the election results.

Q. Are the Rulers exercising their powers more noticeably or being more vocal now?

A: I don’t think so. Raja Nazrin (Perak Regent Raja Dr Nazrin Shah) has been speaking out but all the things he has been saying echo the words of the Bar Council, like independence of the judiciary, and other groups. He rightly re-emphasised and re-stated things that are in the Constitution. Of course, it also reflects the feelings of the people who are not happy with the Government and the way the judiciary was behaving. So, this gets into the press and catches the eye of those people who are not happy with the Government. That’s about all.

About the appointment of Mentris Besar of Terengganu and Perlis, it was the inaction of the leadership or slowness that prompted the Rulers to appoint MBs who were not candidates of the party. The actions were seen as Rulers taking the initiative before the political leaders. But I think the Rulers were pressured to act within their constitutional powers. I don’t think it is seen as Rulers taking powers into their hands. It’s just coincidental that we had these bad election results and all these things relating to the Rulers and therefore it is seen as you have described it.

As for the case of Tengku Faris’ (Kelantan’s Tengku Mahkota Tengku Mohammad Faris Petra Sultan Ismail Petra) speech, the statement was taken out of context. I have seen the whole speech and it was a repeat of what is in the Constitution.

Q: How is your current relationship with Dr M? Based on what he has been saying, it seems both of you share the same sentiments.

A: Good. As for sharing the same sentiments, maybe we are, but not absolutely.

Q: In one interview before the elections, you were asked whether Malaysia was ready to move away from the New Economic Policy. You said it was going to be there for another 50 years or more. Have you changed your views?

A: No. I still feel the NEP is a good policy but it should not have been implemented the way it was and caused a lot of problems and created misunderstanding among the various races. It was not intended to be like that nor was it formulated that way. It ended up favouring a select group of people in a particular community.

The NEP was devised during the Second Malaysia Plan to bring everybody together, to give opportunities to those who never had opportunities and to lift up everybody, irrespective of Malays, Indians or Chinese or others, out of poverty. It was a good programme, I thought. Unfortunately, some people took advantage and abused their positions. And these excesses have given rise to a lot of grievances and doubts about the policy itself.

Q: If you do get the nominations, win the presidency and get to become Prime Minister, what would be your priority?

A: The first and most important is unity: To bring about unity in all aspects of government policy, programmes and even to the NGOs and the political institutions. That is the priority concern and should be the primary concern of everybody. The education system must be re-looked into exhaustively, in that it is geared towards this end. This is because the future depends on the unity of the nation. Without it you cannot have stability, peace and progress. Underpinning that is, of course, education. It is also important that the knowledge acquired is kept abreast with changes, so that we can rise to the occasion and compete with likeminded people elsewhere in the world. We should not be left behind.

Secondly, you have to kill corruption, which is cancerous. You have to go to town with it. I am impressed with the model in Hong Kong. I don’t know what the Government has in mind but the agency in Hong Kong works. It should also work here with some modifications. Whatever it is, wiping out corruption is of prime consideration because unless and until we can kill it, you cannot progress.

You cannot expect costs to come down – cost of living, cost of doing business and everything. We really have to fight this tooth and nail. Similarly, within Umno, we have to stop all this nonsense about giving of contracts, permits and “pocket money”. All these must be brought down without exception.

Q: There are still many repressive laws and people are demanding that these be done away with. What is your view on laws like the Printing Presses and Publications Act, Universities and University Colleges Act, Official Secrets Act and the Internal Security Act?

A: All ought to be reviewed. Some ought to be repealed. UCCA should be repealed. The OSA must be reviewed. Some features are important but not the draconian measures. The Printing Presses and Publications Act has no place. It has to go. The Police Act should also be re-looked. As for the ISA, it must be re-looked. I don’t think we can do away with that, I must say honestly, because even democratic countries like the US have laws with the same features that we have in the ISA. Even Britain has new laws to fight terrorism. I think we can remove all the features that appear to be rather draconian and make sure that individual rights are protected sufficiently. Ensure that it is palatable for the Government to use but never to use it for political purposes.

Q: The perception out there is the ISA is always used for political persecution.

A: That’s what they say. Even Umno chaps have been arrested. (Datuk) Zahid Hamidi was detained, along with many other people, including Anwar. So anyway, we have to re-look that.

Q: For much of the latter part of your political career, your supporters say you have been a victim of media blackouts, unfair coverage and spin. Do you think political parties should own newspapers?

A: I’m glad you realise it. I think (the ownership of newspapers by political parties) this is a historical development. Utusan Melayu was formed by people from Singapore. When we were gaining independence, Umno needed a voice in the papers to project its image and to appeal to the people to support its movement against the Malayan Union.

That is how Utusan Melayu slowly came under the influence of Umno. Later, Tunku with the help of some friends bought into Utusan Melayu as a vehicle to influence the thinking of the people. When I was asked to buy the Straits Times, we couldn’t do so because some of the operations were in Singapore, which was not under our jurisdiction at that time. I had to negotiate with the OCBC group and eventually bought the interest in Malaysia.

The paper split into the Straits Times in Singapore and the New Straits Times in Malaysia. We took over and paid cash for it. We did not want to own it completely so we listed the shares. But because of these historical developments, Umno had to own some of the shares. Eventually, when Umno was declared unlawful, the shares went to the Public Trustee and then sold to a public company. Umno has a very small percentage in the newspaper now.

Even Utusan Malaysia has gone public. Control is through the Government, not through the ownership of equity. MCA used to own Tong Bao, Nanyang Siang Pau and The Star. Now they still own The Star. But slowly all these things will go. What I would like to see is for anybody who wants to own a newspaper to be able to do so. Whether they survive or not, it is up to them. But before we can allow that, we must ensure that the laws of defamation and libel are strengthened and penalties must be very serious, so that people don’t go to town with their newspapers.

Q: How would you rate Pakatan Rakyat’s chances of taking over the government through crossovers? Do you share Dr Mahathir’s view of taking the threat seriously?

A: I do. We should not take it lightly because unlike Umno members in the peninsula, those in Sabah have only been members since 1990 or just before that. Umno is relatively new there. And also people in Sabah have been jumping parties – from Usno to Berjaya to Umno and so many other parties. The whole lot of them have been jumping here, there and everywhere. I’m not saying that they don’t have principles or they have a stand on certain given ideals. But I think their heart is not in the party struggle. Because of the racial politics here, we are closer to the party struggle than those in Sabah.

They were brought in to help in order to help Dr Mahathir then to make sure they could thwart me and Semangat 46 in the number of seats in Parliament. Anyway, we shouldn’t take the threat lightly for it is serious. And I do hope the leadership will really look into this and confide in the MPs and state assemblymen and those from the component parties and look into their problems. Otherwise you may find that there is no Barisan Nasional except for Umno. You should look after them.

I think they are very unhappy. The election results have shocked and disgraced them. Apart from that, they are losing confidence in the future. If they think that the future is not so bright for them why should they remain? I think the leadership today cannot give them sufficient comfort to ensure that the future is all right. But I think that the future will be all right, if we can bolster their confidence. I think it all depends on the leadership. But the leadership today is embroiled in so many things, it is not helping.


Tengku Razaleigh has offered himself for consideration of UMNO delegates during this year’s UMNO General Assembly 16-20 December 2008, for the post of President.

Since outright making the offer, many UMNO members, especially grassroot would very much interested what is there in the offer, for the Leadership. Of course there are some goodies that the seasoned UMNO politician insinuated in between the lines, in this interview.

In summary, the messages for changes, reforms and transformation are:



3.Social and security

4.Judiciary, legal and enforcement

5.UMNO internal politics


How all these will see changes and when, it is as good as the next person’s guess. It will be interesting to see how, when and the quantity of the changes so many aspire to see can be materialized.

Published in: on May 13, 2008 at 03:00  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. ahli umno yang tulen berjiwa demokratik nampaknya tak ada sebab untuk tidak bersama Ku Li. beliau tahu apa yang hendak dibuat untuk negara. lagi pun Ku Li tak nampak menghafal skrip seperti dot dot dot bila berjumpa wartawan.
    saya tak mengalami suasana ’87 sebab masih terlalu muda. cuma ada baca-baca kemudian, S46 ditubuhkan kata beliau atas dasar prinsip.
    ada teman-teman sudi bercerita? cerita-cerita yang tak keluar media la, kalau di media saya boleh rujuk arkib. kawan ramai, jadi psword ada he he..

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