Gua Musang MP says parliamentary democracy gives people’s representatives the freedom to voice their opinions
TengkuRazaleigh Hamzah is one of the enduring figures of Malaysian politics. One of Malaysia’s formative ministers of finance, he was once considered a credible candidate for prime minister. He challenged (Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad for the Umno presidency in 1986. Following his slim defeat he was not allowed to join the newly registered Umno Baru and formed Semangat 46. He remained leader of the opposition for several parliamentary sessions before rejoining Umno.
On the eve of the Budget 2021 vote at the policy stage he refrained from partaking in the debate. In an expansive, exclusive interview, Tengku Razaleighspeaks to Eddin Khoo and Zaidatul Syreen Abdul Rashid on the contemporary political context, parliamentary procedure and due process.
Eddin Khoo: YB Pak Engku, before venturing on to your decision to not participate for the debate on the national budget, could you nevertheless – as a former minister of finance, and one of our most formative ones – provide an evaluation of Budget 2021?
Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah: I had sat through the budget speech and I find that the content in the speech delivered was basically beamed to the voters. I don’t think it was an attempt to help us fight Covid 19, as was hoped by most people, especially the Palace, who wanted to see us go all out to make sure this pandemic does not threaten the livelihood of our people.
It was focused also on what the government was trying to do to popularise the leadership; so, I don’t think it bears any relationship to not only the pandemic but also the problem of the economic recession we are experiencing. This is the problem we have to face – how do people put food on their table, how do they feed their babies?
I know it is a very difficult problem and am not blaming anyone for that, but what I am trying to say is the focus (of this budget) is not on the problem at hand. I think it’s unfortunate we have missed the opportunity to really rally more support from the people, even though the people can’t actually do very much apart from give their utmost cooperation to the efforts made by the government.
What we can see is that the Ministry of Health is doing an excellent job. I think they have gone out of their way to really beat this virus that is threatening us all. I think they have come out tops and I think no one has spared any effort in calming the public. You don’t see people running in the streets rioting, but instead are very cooperative. I am really impressed with our fellow Malaysians. I will take my hat off to our people – they are literate, civilised, responsive to the needs of our society, which I think is really exemplary.
EK: You would describe Budget 2021 as populist then?
TRH: I think they (the government) are not sure of the future. They are very nervous so I think they want to make sure they are assured of their place. I don’t think at a time when people are not even sure of their tomorrow that the government should be concerned about their place. That’s my point.
EK: Your recent, strongly worded letter to the speaker about your motion of no confidence…
TRH: Let me correct you there. I did not move any motion of no confidence, it was Langkawi (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) …
If you want to give meaning to parliamentary democracy then you must recognise the fact that the leader of the House, or the prime minister who is eventually going to be appointed or confirmed as the leader of the House, must be one who commands the confidence of the majority. To just dismiss a motion of no confidence which is on the order paper – and not give due opportunity for members of Parliament representing the people at large to debate (the motion) as is allowed, even required, by the constitution in order to guide his majesty the King to pick the person who, in his opinion, commands the confidence of the majority just like that – I don’t think that is good politics. I don’t think that is in line with parliamentary democracy practice.
EK: You had taken exception to the speaker’s decision to seek “consent” from Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law) Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan for this motion of no confidence. Your stand brings to the fore the matter of a parliamentarian’s independence and autonomy?
TRH: Of course. Because the fact that we practice democracy does illustrate the point that it gives the people’s representatives freedom to bring the voice of the people to the centre, so that Parliament gives recognition to the problems faced by the people, and the people’s representatives are supposed to articulate these problems in the august house which is the House of Representatives.
EK: You have questioned the prime minister, and this government’s – of which your party Umno is a member – legitimacy, even as the Yang Dipertuan Agong (YDPA) chose to remind the people that this is a government appointed by the YDPA and that the present prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had the numbers. What do you believe needs to be done further to determine the legitimacy of this administration?
TRH: I don’t know – you must ask the person concerned.
I am not questioning what His Majesty has done, because he is doing this in the exercise of his prerogative duty and power, and he does have that discretion, which is not to be questioned by anybody. And I think we should all respect that. But the point is, we want to know whether the person appointed by the King in complete confidence has the trust of the House and the people.
That can only be shown if he can demonstrate in the House of Representatives that he indeed has the confidence of the people present and voting. But whether he was telling His Majesty the truth, that he does indeed have this majority behind him…
I don’t think you want to dance around the numbers – if you have the numbers show it, shame the devil and have it tested. It is a democracy. No one should be lying to anybody, worst of all to the King, who believes in you.
Zaidatul Syreen Abdul Rashid: YB Tengku, could you comment on the government’s recent attempt to declare an emergency?
TRH: Do you need the declaration of an emergency to tackle this problem (of the pandemic)? I think there are enough laws to tackle this problem – there is no security threat, no rioting anywhere, no famine. I don’t think there is any reason for a declaration of emergency.
ZSAR: Is your not participating in the budget debate an indication…
TRH: I have not indicated in any way. My argument is if the government is not legitimately constituted because the prime minister has not been made prime minister legitimately because he hasn’t demonstrated as such – and I am pushing for this to happen – hoping he would go before the House, seek an endorsement and confirm that he does indeed command the majority of the members of the House. Until he does that why should I participate in a debate presented by a government that is not legitimate?
EK: Your stand is not an indication of how you will vote?
TRH: I still have another two days. I am entitled to my opinion.
EK: How does your present stance stand within your party?
TRH: This has nothing to do with my party – my party upholds the constitution of the country. I also took an oath to defend the constitution of the country and in line with that affirmation we want to see that parliamentary practice is carried out faithfully in accordance with the requirements of the constitution.
I don’t think I have to take orders and so long as it (the stand) is in line with the constitution then do it. But the other aspect is that as a party member, and you will remember when the present president of Umno (Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi) took office (in 2018) he presented the president’s speech at the annual general assembly of the party and called on those present to support his call for the rejection of a backdoor government. This became a resolution voted for by the assembly – and I also voted for it. I think it is fair and proper that we not accept a government that is out of line with that resolution.
EK: This has been your stance from the beginning…
TRH: This has not been my personal stance. It has been the stance of the party. It’s the party that wanted it done this way… Unless they have all forgotten, but I have not forgotten.
EK: Recently a fellow MP from Kelantan, Tan Sri Annuar Musa, spoke of your stance as an “individual’s one.” He even described some leaders of Umno as having a “superiority complex.” Might he have been referring to you?
TRH: Is it necessary for me to comment on a statement like that? Does it make sense?
EK: Does party unity not exist? The party seems to be riven from within?
TRH: It does exist, as far as I am concerned. I am merely endorsing what the party wants done.
EK: You are a party elder, a party advisor. What are channels within the party to ensure cohesion?
TRH: The supreme council and the general assembly.
EK: They don’t seem to be functioning as they should…
TRH: It is functioning; people don’t follow, that’s all. I am following it. Just because I follow and I speak, people respond by saying I am out of step. I don’t think so. It is the people who don’t follow who are out of step. They should be thrown out of the party. Yes! That is the penalty for not complying with the resolution of the general assembly of the party.
EK: You had been supportive of the Muafakat Nasional alliance. You objected, however, when Bersatu sought to be a part of the alliance, especially when they were looking to open their membership to non-Bumiputeras. Can you elaborate on your position?
TRH: Muafakat (Nasional) was formed in order to support the cooperation of two Malay-Islamic bodies, namely Umno and PAS. Everyone accepts this – it is not against anyone, except to bring a cooperative effort between the two groups, which I think is laudable and good.
But when they wanted to form this getting together of the two main big parties in the country, they talked only of Malay-Muslim parties. I objected to another party coming together if it is no longer a fully Malay or Islamic party. It goes against the original objective of this coalition. If another body which is completely Malay-Islamic then why not? I am not going to object to it. But when another body has officially declared they are going to be open to non-Malays and non-Muslims and you then suddenly want to change your stance, by all means do it but please remember what you decided in the beginning. I want to stick to what we have decided. Don’t you think that is right?
ZSAR: There is a perception that the Barisan Nasional was in power too long, and that the period of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) was too short. There appears to be quite some aversion to what is described as “too much politicking.” The public appears to feel robbed and cheated. What is your insight into the public mood?
TRH: Well, this is all politics…
I was surprised there was a body called Perikatan Nasional (PN). It was never discussed by anyone, suddenly this name came up and a new government was formed, labeled PN. I don’t know where it came from, what the objectives are, what the composition of PN is.
In fact I objected to the formation of this coalition and questioned its legitimacy. I had said it won’t go far because I was sure the people would not support it.
Previously, it was the weight of one senior politician who was able to convince others to support him which formed what was known as Pakatan Harapan. They started stealing our people, and subverting our party. Even some of our officials were subverted by them. If we have to fight back, we have to fight back. After all, it is our survival too.
A lot of people support us – we won the biggest number of seats in Parliament after all. To this day we are still the largest party in Parliament. It means you have to respect and recognise that. But they are then going behind our backs and doing subversive things. I don’t think that is good for the stability of the country.
We object also to them using the government apparatus to subvert what is happening in the country. Look at what happened in Sabah – there should not have been a state election, but the election in the state was more or less forced onto that government in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic.
During the election everyone was free to go there to ensure Bersatu wins the election. They even fielded candidates against our candidates though we gave them support and help, even stole our seats. What kind of politics is this?
For us to sit there and say “yes”… I don’t like to use rude words but I think enough is enough, and when this motion comes up in Parliament, don’t you think we should sit up and think of what the future should be for the country? We must bring stability to our country. That is very important because without stability there is no confidence. And (when there is) no confidence there is no money coming in for investment and there is no money going back for re-investment even within the country. We cannot just allow things to happen as they please. Cannot!
EK: To repeat your rhetorical question – ‘what kind of politics is this’?
TRH: It is all for someone’s stomach, personal ego and pride… We are talking about the country; we’re facing the pandemic, we’re facing an economic recession – it’s a very serious thing, never happened before. Please let us be serious!
EK: Can you elaborate on why Malay-Muslim unity is so crucial at this time?
TRH: It is due to the threat posed by PH during the period of 2018. We lost all the Chinese votes, and the reaction to that caused us to band together and seek some strength in order to protect any further erosion to the support we were enjoying. It’s just a matter of wanting to remain where we are at the very least so that we will not be subverted further.
EK: Your experience is vast – reconstructing the nation post-1969, laying the foundations for some of the most enduring economic policies following that period. How do you begin to moderate the political demography in the country at this time?
TRH: We political leaders must have some sense knocked into ourselves, to make sure this remains a country for all Malaysians. But then, when it comes to a push, and you are confronted with a situation like this, the first reaction is: how do you survive against this situation? People took a defensive line, which is of course to get together in order to defend our position. This is what has happened.
The Barisan Nasional is a coalition of parties, of many races, and though it may look very communal, the front that is presented to the country is different. You can see what we have in the country – peace, development, progress. You can compare us with other developing countries to find we have done very well, exceeding expectations.
We take for granted that things will be well. So all these things happen because of the fear that things are going to change, and that they are going to change for the worse.
EK: You have rejected the idea of a unity government as suggested by Tun Dr Mahathir. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim claims to already have the numbers. Other leaders, including Datuk Seri Najib Razak, appear to be influential forces in this contestation. Do you believe that dissolving Parliament is the best solution?
TRH: A: I think that is the best thing – give the mandate back to the people. Let the people decide what kind of government they want and who they should pick.
EK: And what guarantee is there that it will not result in a hung parliament?
TRH: We will try again…
EK: If an interim government was appointed and you were asked to serve at its helm, would you?
TRH: Let’s see; it is not an easy time. It is not the most wonderful time to have a position of responsibility.