No room for opportunism in politics, says Kit Siang

by S Thayaparan
30 Mar 2016

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

INTERVIEW | This is the second part of an interview with DAP leader Lim Kit Siang on why he is willing to work with his nemesis, former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in the ‘Save Malaysia’ campaign.

The first part appeared yesterday.

DAP has always struggled with the perception and Umno propaganda that it is a “Chinese” entity. Do you think that the DAP has made some missteps that gives credence to this perception?

DAP had never aspired to be a Chinese or non-Malay party. Right from the beginning during DAP’s formation in 1966, DAP had pledged itself to pursue a Malaysian Dream, not a Chinese Dream, an Indian Dream or a Malay Dream.

This is why DAP is the first political party in the country to be Pan-Malaysian, establishing branches in Sarawak and Sabah before any other political party in the country.

All through the past five decades, DAP had been accused of being anti-Malay and anti-Islam by Umno, because of Umno fear that the DAP will be able to make inroads into Umno spheres of influence with our Malaysian political appeal, transcending race, religion or region.

No political party seeking support from all Malaysians can be anti-Malay or anti-Islam, or for that matter, anti-Chinese, anti-Indian, anti-Dayak, anti-Kadazandusun or anti-Buddhism, anti-Christianity, anti-Hindiuism or anti-Sikhism.

The battle against such lies and falsehoods had been a particularly uphill battle for the DAP because we had to face the full onslaught of the Umno juggernaut with its control and ownership of the mass media, particularly in the era before the advent of Internet, news portals and the social media.

However difficult the terrain, DAP had never wavered from our objectives and principles that the DAP had been formed not to fight for any one race but for all races and Malaysians in the country!

This is why right from the beginning, starting from the first general election in 1969 contested by the DAP, the party had always put up a multi-racial and multi-religious slate of candidates.

In fact, in the 1969 general election, two Malay state assemblymen were elected, one in Perak and the other in Negri Sembilan. In the past 11 general elections, DAP had elected Malay members of parliament and state assembly representatives in peninsular Malaysia.

In the 2013 general election, we elected a Kadazan state assemblyman in Sabah and we look forward to the election of the first Dayak state assembly representative in the forthcoming Sarawak state general election.

As in the 1969 general election, DAP has now more Indian MPs than MIC. It is because of the DAP that there is an Indian deputy chief minister in Penang and the first Indian speaker in the Perak state assembly after the 2008 general election.

All these precedents and breakthroughs are testimony that DAP had never aspired to be a Chinese or non-Malay party.

DAP does not apologise for its objective and commitment to be a party representing Malaysians regardless of race, religion or region – whether Chinese, Indians, Malays, Ibans, Kadazans or Orang Asli.

It has not been an easy road in a country where the politics of race and the politics religion have played such a dominant role in the Malaysian politics.

Where does pragmatism end and political opportunism begin?

There can be no room for opportunism as principles and ideals cannot be compromised, but the tactics and strategies to “Save Malaysia” from hurtling towards a failed and a rogue state must be pragmatic and flexible.

After the acrimonious split with PAS, is there a lesson to be learnt on the folly of engaging with an Islamic party and if so, how could this be applied with DAP’s political alliance with Parti Amanah?

Political Islam is a reality we must live with, whether in Malaysia or the world, and I do not agree that it is folly to engage with an Islamic party.

The split with PAS and the rupture of Pakatan Rakyat is not because PAS is an Islamic party, but because it has failed to honour its compact on the Common Policy Framework and the consensus operational principle reached when Pakatan Rakyat was formed.

The political alliance with Parti Amanah Negara in Pakatan Harapan is fully justified if the component coalition parties can learn the lesson from the rupture of Pakatan Rakyat, that any political coalition is only viable and sustainable if the component parties of the coalition abide by the common policy programmes agreed among them, for there is no other basis for a genuine political coalition of equals to succeed.

Pro-establishment bloggers and news portals have demonised the DAP as a pro-Christian political force. Do you think that religion has a role to play in the political discourse and if so, how does one maintain the balance in pursuit of a secular society?

The majority of DAP leaders and members are not Christians. How can DAP become a pro-Christian political force? This is why the allegation of Umno-BN propagandists and cybertroopers that DAP wants to create a Christian Malaysia is even more bizarre and ridiculous.

Right from the very beginning, the DAP stand is clear and unequivocal that we fully accept and respect the fundamental constitutional provision of Islam as the official religion while other religions can be practiced peacefully anywhere in the country.

The stand taken by the DAP, that Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as the official religion, is the same and consistent with the public positions taken by the first three prime ministers of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Razak Hussein and Hussein Onn.

Is it seriously suggested that the first three prime ministers of Malaysia were enemies of Islam because they uphold Malaysia as secular nation, which does not mean anti-Islam or anti any religion but respect for all religions?

When you said you would even work with Prime Minister Najib Razak if he was serious in reforms, you received much public opprobrium. I took that particular statement as a sign of that you were willing to work with anyone to save the country but more importantly as a sign of frustration. After decades in the forefront advocating change, how frustrated are you with the direction this country is headed in?

I had clarified in Padang Besar why I said in Sungai Petani on March 12 that I was prepared even to work with Najib to save Malaysia.

I said in Sungai Petani that I believe that the overwhelming majority of Malaysians, regardless of race, religion, race or politics, love this country and can subordinate self-interest to national interests and support a Save Malaysia campaign to stop the country hurtling down the slippery slope towards a failed and a rogue state.

I listed some of the things which Najib should do if he is to come on board the “Save Malaysia” campaign, like freeing Anwar Ibrahim and restore to him all his political rights and civic enfranchisement so as to fully participate in a national consultative process on the democratic and institutional reforms necessary to restore national and international confidence in Malaysia; an independent and credible royal commission of inquiry to carry out comprehensive and far-reaching investigations into Najib’s twin mega scandals; halt the lurch towards dictatorial trends by withdrawing all draconian legislative proposals, including proposed amendments to the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act, the Penal Code and the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the withdrawal of the National Security Council Bill, and the withdrawal of all charges and investigations against opposition and civil society leaders under a variety of repressive and undemocratic laws; and the immediate suspension of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), and end wasteful government expenditures and corrupt practices.

I believe there will be many Malaysians who will agree that with some of these initiatives, Najib will qualify to come on board the “Save Malaysia” campaign.

I do not think I am the only one frustrated and even exasperated with the direction this country is headed to, which is why the Citizens’ Declaration to Save Malaysia deserves full public support to give it a chance to succeed.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng is currently facing in my opinion a politically motivated witch-hunt regarding the purchase of his house. Do you see this as a prelude to more insidious manoeuvrings to cripple the opposition?

Yes, to distract public attention from Najib’s twin mega scandals, which are virtually making headlines all over the world and completely beyond the control of Najib’s minders and the impact of the Citizens’ Declaration to Save Malaysia.

From the television time and the newspaper space given to the issue of Guan Eng’s bungalow, the government and Umno-BN media, without being able to show that there is any element of corruption, are creating the impression that the allegation about Guan Eng’s RM2.8 million bungalow issue is 1,000 times more serious than the worldwide allegations about Najib’s RM2.6 billion “donation” scandal.

There is a general perception that the DAP cannot accept legitimate criticism without deflecting or engaging in victimhood. Do you think this perception is justified?

I do not think DAP leaders have any objection to legitimate criticism. If there are DAP leaders who bristle over legitimate criticism, they have to learn to live with it as an integral part of a democratic society.

Our problem is baseless and biased criticism stemming from dishonourable agendas, and this seems to be a season for them. I have been criticised for things I had not said, and this appeared in what was until recently a reputable media. What is one to make of such scurrilous attacks passing off as legitimate criticism?

How do we nurture a more productive form of discourse with BN supporters when Umno is using the instruments of the state to neutralise the opposition?

Although Umno leaders are demonising DAP in their attempt to portray DAP as its “main enemy”, it doesn’t mean DAP and Pakatan Harapan will not respond in kind to such attacks. DAP does not regard those three million Umno members as “enemies” but only as Malaysians with different political inclinations.

We are always prepared to engage with them for the common purpose and objective to save the nation and all Malaysians comprising different races and religions. It was for that reason alone we agreed to the Citizens’ Declaration.

I know it is tough to even engage with Umno leaders and members to discuss on such matter because their top leadership would never allow such meetings. Yet if we can promote the campaign on the declaration and efforts to save Malaysia, I believe that would be one of the many ways to engage with Umno and Barisan supporters, even when Umno leadership is using the state apparatus.

We know that the top Umno leadership is afraid of DAP because Umno is losing support of Malays and Muslims as it is not prepared to stop the rampant corruption and injustices of its policies, like Najib’s RM2.6 billion and RM50 billion 1MDB twin mega scandals.

What do you think the consequences would be if the agenda to remove Najib fails?

The Citizens’ Declaration is work-in-progress to save Malaysia. Nobody is so naïve to believe that just because 42 political and civil society leaders can bridge the political divide to reach consensus on the Citizens’ Declaration on March 4, Najib will heed the call of the Citizens’ Declaration and will resign the very next day.

The journey to save Malaysia is going to be a long, arduous and most challenging one. There is no game plan. We have to take one step at a time. I favour the Chinese saying “mo zhe shi tou gua he” or “cross the river by groping the stone under foot” to describe the approach we have to take to carry out the challenging mission to “Save Malaysia”.

We must be prepared for the long haul. This sounds rather odd coming from a 75-year-old, who does not have many active years left. But the message and task of “Save Malaysia” must be borne particularly by the young generation of Malaysians because we are a youthful nation.

I therefore call on all young Malaysians to step forward to take over the baton to save Malaysia from becoming a failed and a rogue state.

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