Archive for category Interviews

‘We saved the future on May 9’

New Straits Times
By Adrian Lai, Arfa Yunus – July 14, 2019

DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang has had an enduring presence in Malaysia’s political scene, beginning in the mid-1960s as a vocal member of the opposition. The idealistic politician has fought for various causes. More than half a century later, at 78, the Iskandar Puteri parliamentarian is still a big part of the nation’s political landscape. Lim, in an interview with New Straits Times , recaps the year that has been since Pakatan Harapan swept into power

Question: After being in power for slightly more than a year, do you feel there’s still more work to be done?

Answer: We are in a new scenario where 14 months after something very few of us expected to happen, we have brought about a peaceful and democratic transition of power, which I think very few had expected.

If you had asked me on the morning of May 9 (2018) whether there would be a change of government in the evening, I don’t think so, although I’ve spent the whole (election) campaign going up and down the country to bring about change.

And I think (Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak) also did not expect it. I think he felt he would not only win, but win with a two-thirds majority. Miraculously, we succeeded. It’s a miracle that the four parties were able to work together for 14 months.

There were those who had expected that we would disintegrate and implode within a few months. And now they are saying we will only last for half a term.

But I would like to see this government continue and win the next general election. And we must be committed to this objective.

What is important is that we succeeded in saving future generations on May 9. But the present generation must pay the price, at least for the next few years due to the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB)scandal and rampant corruption.

And a country that we can look to as an example is Venezuela.

Venezuela was one of the richest in the world about 40 years ago. It was the richest country in Latin America. It was a country that people in South America wanted to go to.

Forty years ago, they provided free education and medical services, but today, it’s poor, backward and bankrupt. According to the United Nations, up to one-tenth of its population have escaped from the country, even at the cost of their lives.

So we have to save the future generation from the fate of Venezuela.

Q: There seems to be a problem with communication in Pakatan Harapan (PH) because despite the allegations of corruption against Najib, he appears to be enjoying some popularity and support through the Malu apa bossku campaign, so much so that he was appointed as chief of Barisan Nasional’s advisory council.

A: On the one hand, I’m horrified. On another, I’m quite happy. How can a kleptocrat be the adviser of BN?

I don’t believe thinking Malaysians can resonate with that. I know there is a big crowd who support the Malu apa bossku campaign, but I believe that instead of competing with Umno and Pas’ three Rs — race, religion and royalty — we have to be courageous to explain the issues concerned.

For instance, there is a belief that the Malays are under threat. How can they be under threat?

If after 60 years of Umno rule and the Malays are still under threat, something is very wrong.

Who is threatening the Malays? DAP? Impossible.

That is their agenda. What (Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad) Zahid (Hamidi) and (Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul) Hadi (Awang) are trying to do is convey the message that Malays and Islam are under threat, and the devil is DAP.

Take for instance, (the Dewan Rakyat’s approval of a special motion for all members of parliament (MP), senators and immediate family members) to declare their assets.

And they claim it is something dreamt up by DAP, which is an agenda of the socialists and communists.

Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-sung and Fidel Castro would turn in their graves if they knew about Hadi associating socialist leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Nelson Mandela, Harold Wilson, Tony Benn and Bob Hawke with communism.

I think Hadi is ignorant of the truth. He demonises DAP and that’s the problem.

They are telling lies. I’ve been accused of being the mastermind of the whole government and that (Tun Dr) Mahathir (Mohamad) is my stooge.

On the other hand, in other sectors, I am Dr Mahathir’s stooge. So, is Dr Mahathir my stooge or am I his stooge? We are neither.

We have our own views and we respect each other’s views and, of course, the question is how can I work with Dr Mahathir.

I’ve never said he’s corrupt. You can go through all my statements. It’s all on record. I’ve never said Dr Mahathir is corrupt.

I would say there were instances of power abuse and all that, but there was one time before the election Dr Mahathir told me: “Sitting with you in public, I’ll lose a lot of Malay votes.”

And I told him: “Yes! I’ll lose a lot of non-Malay votes. Same thing.”

But we had to come together.

Q: What’s the difference between DAP then and now?

A: One basic difference between DAP in the past, when we were in the opposition, and DAP now is that in the past, we only thought about DAP because we were a single party, and we had to set our objectives and principles.

Now, we have to think about (the) parties in PH. We have to think not only about DAP, but also ensure that the PH government can succeed.

Q: DAP is a multiracial party but detractors disagree. They say the present leadership doesn’t reflect a multiracial party and it seems to contest mostly in Chinese-majority areas. Is there an effort to attract people of other races?

A: When we started in 1966, we recognised we did not want a race-based party. We wanted to have a multiracial party, and that was our objective.

And that was reflected in our party leadership candidature in 1969. We had Malay candidates in parliamentary and state seats.

In fact, in 1969, we had two Malay assemblymen. But we had to face certain realities.

For instance, at the time, on the western seaboard, these were mostly non-Malay areas.

What is important is whether your vision and objective is a multiracial one. You cannot become a multiracial party overnight in terms of (gaining) a 70 per cent (Malay) membership and leadership, and reflect the country’s (racial composition).

It’s not possible. But the important thing is whether we are mindful that we must continue to not be a race-based party, but a multiracial party.

Over time, we broadened ourselves to be more multiracial. Of course, we are going to expand. As I said, there are certain limitations. Can you stand in a rural area in Kedah and Kelantan?
We’d like to, but I don’t think the other parties would agree. These are the problems that we face.

Q: Do you think race-based parties in Malaysia are here to stay or do you think multiracial parties are the way forward?

A: I think we should move towards a more multiracial objective: from race-based to multiracial parties. Actually, we are not asking Malaysians to forget their ethnic association, which is impossible. But to expect everyone to think as a Malaysian, not as a Chinese, an Indian, Malay or Kadazan overnight, I don’t think that’s possible.

Q: Should race-based parties like Umno and Bersatu open their doors to other races, or should they be dissolved completely in the future?

A: I think it’s a process. It’s not for me to tell other parties what to do. But we will move towards a more multiracial objective, a more Malaysian approach, because like it or not, we want Malaysia to succeed as a nation.

Q: Some say the recipe to achieve unity is to set up single-stream schools. What do you think about that?

A: You have countries where they speak one language and they still fight. It is the concept. Are these (vernacular and national) schools responsible for (racial) division? I don’t think so.

Are those from Chinese schools communists? Are they anti-Malaysia? They’re not.

In September last year, I was having a chat with Dr Mahathir. He just came back from his first trip to Beijing, China, and many Malaysian Chinese were present.

They were there for 10 to 15 years. And I told him: “These are Malaysian Chinese. They are not China Chinese. Their heart and soul is still Malaysian”.

They regard themselves as Malaysians, not Chinese.

Q: I put it to you that one day we will have a non-Malay prime minister. Do you see that as a reality in the future or do you aspire to see that happen?

A: It will come about when Malaysians don’t think themselves as Malays, Chinese, Indians. But I don’t see it happening in my lifetime. And my lifetime won’t be very long anyway. But anyway, to be realistic, I don’t see it like (Barack) Obama becoming the US president. That is the ideal (situation). After all, the Federal Constitution says anybody can become prime minister.

But to expect this to be realised overnight, I don’t think that is realistic.

Q: About your relationship with Dr Mahathir, people keep harping on how you two were enemies back then. For example, last time you asked Dr Mahathir to present a White Paper on the alleged corruption involving Maika Holdings. This is one of the examples. And many have asked whether you will push for this again. So, will you ask the cabinet for a White Paper or RCI for the old cases?

A: I think let’s deal with the building of a new Malaysia. I will not retract a single word of what I’ve said before. In the present situation, you have to build a new Malaysia where there’s freedom, democracy, justice and unity among Malaysians.

Q: On the Maika Holdings scandal, a lot of people and families lost a lot of money. When will they get justice?

A: Is your family involved in Maika? (Reporter said no). I am in no position to answer. I first raised the Maika scandal in the early 1990s and since then there’s been various developments (such as) MIC tried to save it and all that. So I’m unable to give you any updates. You ask when will they get justice? I can’t answer that question.

Q: But will you continue fighting for them?

A: I fought for them. I raised the first issue. Any injustices or any wrongdoings will definitely be brought up. How are you going to deal with Maika scandal now, 30 years after? I think it’s a separate issue. I can’t answer you, to be frank.

Q: Do you think Dr Mahathir needs more time as prime minister before he hands over the reins to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim?

A: I think PH has decided upon the timetable, I’m sure it is on track. I think it’s agreed upon and Mahathir himself said that he will keep his promise, so there’s no reason to think otherwise.

Q: When there was a talk about Anwar not taking over, you offered some comments, right?

A: I did say something that, that is our collective promise and there’s no reason to think otherwise and I don’t think we should add salt on it. I think adding salt is the job of journalists and leader writers and not politicians.

Q: What is your narrative to counter people’s criticisms of your relationship with Dr Mahathir, to show people that you’re still your own man?

A: Why should I counter that and why should I be obsessed with it? Before the election, I was accused of taking RM1 billion from Mahathir so that we can accept him. One of these days, I’m going to ask him: “Where’s my money?” (laughs).

I think there are a lot of lies and falsehoods flying around. And one way is to respond to these falsehoods. Another way is to ignore them. There are more important things in life. That is the problem with Malaysian politics today. One problem we faced after the election is that the more lies and falsehoods have increased manifold on social media.

And whether you are honest, straightforward or responsible, the people can judge you over a period of time.

Q: I’m quite curious. You recently met Dr Mahathir. What did you discuss?

A: Surely, you don’t expect me to tell you. But many papers write about my meeting with him. So be it. I read one piece by (Datuk Dr) Puad Zarkashi. That’s fantastic (smiles).

Q: Umno and BN have been in power for 60-odd years, but if you look at other democracies, there are continuous changes in government. Do you want to see PH in power for a long period or is it healthier for the government to switch hands from time to time?

A: I would like to see the growth of a healthy democratic culture. That’s why we are lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. And there are people who say this is committing political suicide because young people are anti-establishment. And maybe that’s the reason why in the last 60 years, the Constitution was not amended.

What is good for the country may not be good for PH unless PH can rise up to the challenge and is able to make young people aware of the idealism and take ownership of the new Malaysia.
It’d be good if you have a multi-party coalition alternation of power. But first of all, PH should have enough time to implement its mission and ideals of a new Malaysia, which will take maybe two or three election cycles.

After that, it’s good to change. There’s always the tendency for people to overreach. All over the world, history has shown us good men and women begin to make mistakes when they overreach after they are in power.

Q: The lowering of the voting age and also to pursue this automatic voter registration (AVR) will see more Malays who were not previously registered get into the electoral roll. This will properly reflect the demography in the country.

A: I proposed declaration of assets and compulsory voting back in the 1970s in the Parliament as it will be more reflective of the actual population. But it is a challenge. You have to reach out and explain, be more conscious of their needs. They are more idealistic and I think we must not lose our idealism.

Q: Do you think them being automatically registered will compel young people to vote? Or will there be some work to be done on the party’s part to encourage people to come out?

A: No, firstly there’s a problem present, (which is) the bureaucratic problem on the registration of voters. In the past, there was an attempt to not only gerrymander but (also) to ensure that in areas where BN have no confidence (of winning), there will be a reduced registration of voters. But we want to liberate ourselves from all these considerations and everyone has the right to be registered and we want to have AVR. It should result in more young voters going to vote but all parties would have to have campaigns to explain to the young people that they deserve their support.

Q: Do you not think that, a stronger Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia with having more MPs joining the party will ease the insecurities of Malay voters?

A: I think insecurities of any segment of the population do not necessarily associate with the number of MPs of any political parties.

Q: What do you think of the ministers and deputy ministers from DAP? How would you gauge their performance thus far?

A: I prefer not to gauge their performance. Because by gauging their performance, I will also be reflecting the performance of other ministers and deputy ministers. I think our ministers and deputy ministers are dedicated, hardworking and resourceful.

Q: What do you think of the political climate now compared to when you first started? Do you think the country is moving towards the right direction?

A: We are in a transition, moving on from 60 years of the past to a new future and whether we can create that new future. I think this is a very challenging (work) to be done. Standing in the way will be the politics of lies (as well as) race and religion hatred because all of these (behaviour) disregard what is true, what is correct and what is known.

Stop telling lies like the DAP is anti-Malay, DAP is a demon and that the government is controlled by the DAP because it’s not. DAP is part of the four-party government. We must be able to get all of these clarified. If not, if PH fails and the people want to revert back to the old parties we are going to have a very chaotic era. It will be filled with uncertainties and lack of direction.

Q: On that note, sex scandals and Malaysian politics seem to be intertwined. Eg: Anwar in late 90s and recently the scandal involving Datuk Seri Azmin Ali. What was your and DAP’s initial reaction to this? Would you describe it as false or better to just leave it to authorities to investigate?

A: There are a lot of issues that would distract the leaders and people from the business at hand (such as on) building a new Malaysia, bringing about institutional reform, improving the economy and ensuring unity among Malaysians. At present there are a lot of distractions (especially with) the presence of social media. But I think all leaders should continue to be committed to these businesses at hand and not be distracted by extraneous circumstances.

Q: Parti Perikatan back then morphed into a 13-party coalition. Do you see PH heading towards that direction? Is it something that is on the table?

A: At present we have four parties and we have (cooperation with) Warisan. It’s difficult to say, but I don’t think we will end up as 13-party coalition. Whether it (PH) will expand to include others (like) Warisan, I think it’s something to be (looked into) when the time comes. It is something to be dealt with but it’s difficult to forecast now.

Q: How does DAP fund its party? Because there have been discussions on how Bersatu should go about this.

A: DAP has always been short of funds. The difference is, we don’t spend the way BN parties do. Whatever funds we have, it always comes from the people’s contribution. We have the ‘Milo tin’ going around. We don’t require what Umno divisions get where they receive allocations about RM30,000 to RM50,000 for each division, which is to us is a great luxury, a fantastic amount. We don’t have money and we operate on minimal expenditure as the money is all from the people. We don’t require or spend hundreds of millions and even when you do this, you can’t be sure whether you will get the support or not.

Q: How about MPs and State Assemblymen (Adun) of DAP? Do they contribute?

A: Every MP and Aduns (in DAP) have to allocate a percentage of their allowances to contribute to the party and this is how we get (funds). In other parties, when they nominate candidates, they give them money for the deposits and expenditures, but in our case, you find your own deposit and your own funds because we don’t have money for you. It’s not in our culture to simply give money away. It’s a different culture altogether.

Q: Are you not conscious of the danger of some people in DAP being tempted by corruption?

A: Yes you are correct. We are conscious. There’s an overreach in many ways to succumb to various temptations. I think these are the things that we must be aware of. You have to ask why you are in politics. Is it to serve yourself or to serve a larger cause of the people? But some way along the line, it gets blurred and you cross the line. Human beings are human beings.

Q: We don’t see too much competition during the DAP party election compared to Umno and Bersatu’s polls where we see long episodes of brawls and chair throwing which shows democracy.

A: So democracy is equated to chair throwing? If there’s no democracy, Tony (Pua) won’t be thrown out (from Selangor DAP committee). So it is democratic just minus the process of chair throwing.

Q: It seems that DAP is always too disciplined and too cohesive when an issue arises and that it keeps to a certain script.

A: This is over reading. You shouldn’t overreach and over read.

Q: YB, how do you feel as a father to see your son becoming the finance minister?

A: He has to prove and perform and all the more, he should establish himself as a credible and good finance minister. As for the judgement, I’ll leave it to other people.

Q: Are you considering retiring or taking a break since you refuse to take up any position in the government?

A: Well, that has always been on my mind. But when it’s going to take place, (I can’t say).

Q: So, you can’t give a timeframe on when you will retire?

A: I will tell you tomorrow if I have made plans. This is a difficult thing but of course eventually I would have to retire. But when? I can’t make a decision now. But like it or not, there will come a time when you will have to retire. You don’t want to be like (General Douglas) MacArthur. He died as the general.

Q: Your wife never asked you to retire? She never merajuk (sulk)?

A: You’d have to ask my wife la.

Q: On a lighter note, do you still play Pokemon Go?

A: (Unlocked his phone and showed his Pokemon Go. One of the writers shouted “What! Level 40!”) Oh, this level 40 (is from) a long time ago (since he last played).

Q: We’re wondering if you still have space for new friends on Pokemon Go?

A: Yes, come, please do (add).

No Comments