Tengku Razaleigh: the last Malay gentleman
Raja Petra Kamarudin
Those aligned to Anwar Ibrahim feel I am very harsh towards him. Those aligned to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad also feel I am very harsh towards him. Those aligned to Najib Tun Razak feel I am very harsh towards him as well. And of course, when it comes to Khairy Jamaluddin, he himself feels I am just too brutal.
Those from the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) cringe whenever I write about their party. But they do not really make a big case out of it. They just whisper into my ear that maybe I am being a bit unfair in what I write. Some even tell me, “Fair comment and comments which our leaders should take note of!” Those from the Democratic Action (DAP) say they do not mind that I criticise their party. I do not know whether they are just being diplomatic and are trying to give an impression that they are truly democratic and respect freedom of speech, but I am inclined to take what they say at face value. The Peoples’ Justice Party (keADILan) however does not hold its punches. Its Information Chief has issued a press statement ‘disowning’ me and distancing the party from Malaysia Today. And of course we need not even mention Umno or Barisan Nasional that have been the brunt of my attacks for many long years, long before Anwar was ousted from power and in the days when he was still being touted as the next Prime Minister of Malaysia — though in my writings in Harakah back in 1996 and 1997 I did say that this would never happen, and also gave my reasons on why I said so.
Some say I am not consistent. They do not know whether I am coming or going. One day I swing one way and, another, the other. They feel that maybe it is because I am a loose cannon — and a loose cannon is called a loose cannon because it rolls all over the deck, shoots in all directions, and sometimes shoots its own ship as well. A loose cannon is loose only because it is not tied down and would roll in tandem with the roll of the ship.
Nevertheless, whether I am viewed as inconsistent, or a loose cannon, one thing you can be sure of, I am consistently shooting and everyone sooner or later gets shot. That is my consistency. But then there are some who have been spared my attacks — those I have great respect for and look up to, though many others may not share my view on them.
And who are these people?
There are many — Fadzil Noor, Hadi Awang, Nik Aziz, Mustaffa Ali, Husam Musa, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Ibrahim Ali, Shahrir Samad, Lim Guan Eng, Ronnie Liu, Dr Siti Mariah, Dr Lo’ Lo’ Ghazali, Dr Hatta Ramli, and many, many more. This list is in fact endless. However, not necessarily in order of priority, today I would just like to talk about Tengku Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah. Tengku Razaleigh is one of the few remaining Malay gentlemen as far as I am concerned. And Tengku Razaleigh, as far as I am concerned, became Prime Minister in 1987 but was prevented from taking office due to a brilliant coup launched by the Dr Mahathir Team A camp.
Many say that Tengku Razaleigh has no pendirian (principles). They say he left Umno to form the opposition Semangat 46, then closed the party and rejoined Umno when he realised he was going nowhere as an opposition leader. He rejoined Umno because all he wanted was power and this can only be acquired in Umno, not in the opposition.
Well, first of all, Tengku Razaleigh did not leave Umno. Umno left him. To be exact, Umno was deregistered or closed down and a new party was formed, also called Umno, or rather Umno Baru. It is just coincidental (or maybe intentional) that the new party was also called Umno. It could have been called anything, but the fact that it was called Umno confused many who thought that Umno Baru was still Umno. It is not.
When the new party was formed, Tengku Razaleigh and his group were not ‘invited’ to join it. They were left out in the cold, so Tengku Razaleigh had no choice but to also form another party as a platform to continue with what he was trying to achieve. And he called this party Semangat 46 or ‘the spirit of 1946’ because he still maintained the spirit of Umno which was formed in 1946. If he could not retain the party, he would at least retain the reason or spirit behind why the party was formed in 1946.
Tengku Razaleigh never intended to make it big in the opposition. But now that he was heading what was an opposition party meant he had to work with the other opposition parties. And he knew, as an opposition, he would never achieve what he set out to do. But the opposition was all he had at that moment of time so he had to make the best of it under the circumstances. Dr Mahathir did this too when he spent almost three years outside Umno soon after the 13 May 1969 race riots. And Anwar is doing this now as well. But whether it is Tengku Razaleigh, Dr Mahathir or Anwar, all their roots are in Umno and Umno would be eventually where they have to return to. Tengku Razaleigh did. Dr Mahathir did. And, come a point of time, Anwar too will have to do the same.
So Tengku Razaleigh, just like Dr Mahathir before him, after a stint in the opposition, rejoined Umno. That was what it was all about. The name ‘Semangat 46’ was a tell all. Semangat 46 was all about the spirit of Umno. In fact, the ‘Semangat 46’ name was not the first choice. This name was chosen only because the name ‘Umno Malaysia’ was rejected by the Registrar of Societies. And the Registrar rejected the name to allow Umno Baru to use the name, which was submitted for registration later, after they rejected the ‘Umno Malaysia’ name.
It would have been foolish of anyone in thinking that Tengku Razaleigh was committed to the opposition and had no aspirations to return to Umno. PAS knew this, and that is why they kept Tengku Razaleigh and Semangat 46 at arm’s length. They knew that the PAS-Semangat 46 relationship was not a marriage but a mere flirtation and a temporary affair. And that is why the relationship was merely cordial at best, and suspicious at worse, and did not last.
Did Tengku Razaleigh rejoin Umno because of the fallout with PAS? Did Tengku Razaleigh rejoin Umno because he saw he had no future in the opposition? And did Tengku Razaleigh rejoin Umno because all he wanted was power? If he did, then he could have negotiated better terms for his return to Umno.
There were already murmurings that Anwar had started to make his move on Dr Mahathir and that the Prime Minister was going to make his countermove to thwart the attempt to oust him. In fact, many thought that Dr Mahathir brought Tengku Razaleigh back to Umno so that he could remove or neutralise Anwar and replace his deputy with Tengku Razaleigh. Tengku Razaleigh could have placed himself in the position to replace Anwar as the number two once Dr Mahathir makes his move. But Tengku Razaleigh did not and instead the job went to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi — so all the assumptions about Tengku Razaleigh were misplaced.
When Tengku Razaleigh decided to take on Abdullah for the Umno Presidency — he in fact received enough support to qualify — all the divisions were instructed to not give Tengku Razaleigh any nominations. Those that remained stubborn were nipped in the bud. For example, one Kelantan division chief who persisted in nominating Tengku Razaleigh for president received a bankruptcy notice at midnight on the eve of his division meeting. No court delivers a bankruptcy notice at midnight. But this time it did because there was going to be a division meeting the next morning and they wanted to disqualify the division chief from attending the meeting whereby he would nominate Tengku Razaleigh for president.
Tengku Razaleigh was robbed of his nominations to contest the Umno presidency, as he was robbed of the presidency almost two decades before that. But he did not protest. He did not kick up a fuss. He did not go into a rage and tear Umno to pieces. He took it in his stride like a gentleman. Winning or losing is not important. How you play the game is. Others can play the dirty game. But he will not bring himself down to their same level by also playing dirty.
And that is why today I wanted to talk about Tengku Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah, one of the few remaining Malay gentlemen, probably the most misunderstood Malaysian politician. Maybe another time I will talk about some of the others and why I place them on my list of people I respect. If you were to ask me today who I think should be the Prime Minister of Malaysia, I think you know what that answer will be.