The gathering storm in Pakatan


His loyalty to Parti Keadilan Rakyat supremo Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the party knows no boundaries but when it comes to religion, Kulim-Bandar Baru member of parliament Zulkifli Noordin is ready to defy them all. FIRDAUS ABDULLAH and SHUHADA ELIS speak to the maverick PKR member and MP, who sees himself as “ikan bilis” in the party, on his controversial views
Q: You were a practising lawyer, how did you get into politics?

A: I was not even supposed to contest in the March 2008 general election. The seat for Kulim Bandar Baru was reserved for the late Datuk Sheikh Azmi Sheikh Ahmad, as he was the incumbent. But two or three days before the nomination day, his leg was amputated because of diabetes. So they needed a candidate and (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim called me up, asking me to contest. I was not even a party member then and we expected to lose. But Anwar gave me money and I went there campaigning, just days before the nomination day. But I won with a 8,000-strong majority. And that is when the “problem” started.

Q: Almost two years down the road where do you see the direction of PKR as a political party and Pakatan Rakyat as a coalition now?

A: I personally believe PKR and Anwar are genuinely into reform. The reform agenda is sincere, but the reality of politics is taking over. Things have changed. For once, the leadership of Barisan Nasional has changed, (Prime Minister) Datuk Seri Najib Razak is more dynamic and he can read the enemy well. So he is implementing what we want to do, as he is also into reform. This has caused setbacks in certain things tried by Pakatan. So they have to shift to adjust to current challenges. But sometimes there are events which are not within our control that supersede the programmes, like the issue of the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims. It is beyond our expectations and had forced us to take a stand. And that stand has caused political repercussions.

Q: Previously you have mentioned that there are “little Napoleons” in the party who are waiting to kick you out (from PKR). How do these little Napoleons come into play?

A: I believe they have their own agenda, not to reform. Their agenda is revolution. In the sense they are changing the very fundamental pillars of the society, like making Islam and other religions equal. The special privileges of the Malays (which are) enshrined in the Federal Constitution, I think they will take it off. I’m not calling it a reform, it is a revolution. So this should be made known to the public because they should know that this is what we (in Pakatan Rakyat) are going to do if we take over the country.

Q: And you do not agree with that (changing the Constitution)?

A: I am against it because that (the Constitution) is the pillar of the country. We have been living in peace and harmony for so many years, so why should we touch or remove it (the special privileges of the Malays and the position of Islam)?

Q: How do you digest the DAP’s recently-launched “Middle Mala- ysia” approach?

A: It is another way of turning Malaysia into a Chinese country. It is a chauvinistic approach and that is what they are doing in Penang anyway. Silently and quietly, they are turning it into another Hong Kong. They are saying certain Malay officers are not good so (they should) change (but) why replace them with Chinese officers? For me DAP is pure and simple a Chinese chauvinistic party. So we have to balance, and Anwar is playing that (political balancing act). He is the balancing factor. On the other hand, you have Pas which is very extreme into Islamic state, so you have to balance between the two. You cannot allow DAP to be masquerading here and there.

Q: But lately Pas is not as extreme as it used to be, even on the “Allah” issue. Party leaders and members have different views and do not subscribe to the Islamic agenda any more.

A: Exactly. I think there are certain elements in Pas who are too engrossed with political achievements that they overlook their fundamental struggle of Islam. And unfortunately, these few elements are receiving support from the “new world” within Pakatan. They are in the mainstream, so to speak. The old school are seen to be out-of-place, this is what’s happening now.

Q: You mean they are neo-liberals?

A: That is the word, neo-liberals. And it is eating Pas. Unless they come back to their fundamental struggle, I think Pas will be fading out very soon.

Q: What do you think of PKR supreme council member Datuk Zaid Ibrahim who had called for your sacking?

A: I personally have no respect for this person. In fact I had challenged him when he filed a suit against the Terengganu state government to stop the implementation of hudud law when Pas was in power. At that time he was still in Umno. I look at him as an opportunist. I have never seen him as a fighter or reformist.

Q: Does Anwar take him (Zaid) seriously? Is he grooming Zaid to replace him someday?

A: I don’t think so. Anwar sees Zaid as a political asset at the moment. Anwar is a political master so he sees the opportunity. People with political value are valued by Anwar, and Zaid is dancing to their tune (the mainstream in Pakatan). Unfortunately, I think Anwar is also dancing to their tune. He should be more firm in his struggle rather than politicising everything. For me this is dangerous.

Q: There has been much hype about the “road to Putrajaya” and Anwar seizing power as the prime minister, so where do you see all this heading to?

A: If you look from the micro-level of Pakatan, what we are doing now is self-destructive. Our stand on Islamic and “Allah” issues and certain things we are doing are self destructive. Unless Pakatan really stops, sits down and looks back at what we are doing now. But from the macro point of view, for the good of the country, I think it is time for all political parties in Pakatan and Barisan Nasional to sit down and talk. We cannot afford all the bickering during these times of serious economic, security and political crises.

Q: There are views that DAP is taking advantage of the situation to push for its own agenda because Pakatan strives for the non-Malay support. How do you see the situation?

A: DAP are part of the “little Napoleons”. They see the opportunity before them through Pakatan. I really hope the other leaders realise this. That is why at this stage, it is better for Pas, PKR and Umno to sit together because we are the main players, the rest are just fringe parties. We must sit down and chart a new dimension for Malaysia, we can make a change and we should, before it is too late.

Q: Have you voiced the suggestion to anybody?

A: I am waiting for the right time. In fact I am waiting for my “Titah di Raja” speech in the March parliamentary session, calling all the three parties to sit down. We need cooperation to face all this.

Q: What is your stand in the party now since many are against you, including (PKR vice-president) R. Sivarasa and recently, Zaid?

A: I am becoming their punching bag now (laughs). I will say that they see this as the best time to get rid of me, and they are harping on it. I think for the first time, Anwar is being influenced by them, because I have been with him for quite some time. I have been with him at his lowest time, from day one, when all his friends were against him. And he knows my belief, my conviction on Islam and struggle, and my loyalty to him. I (have) stood my ground for him, until my (law) firm got busted and the police lock-up became my second home.

Q: Do you think PKR will not have much problem if (Pas Shah Alam MP) Khalid Samad does not come into the picture?

A: When this issue (the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims) came out, Anwar called me and said he knew my stand, but tried to be polite. But I told him, Datuk Seri, you are a Muslim leader with Islamic credentials and people never forget that. You know very well there are two contrasting views, so why didn’t you take a neutral and non-partisan stand? Then came Khalid with his arrogant views… But the breaking point was when he said the Non-Muslims Enactment in Selangor was outdated and the Malays were not wise enough then. That is too much. It is insulting. Even then, I told Anwar to caution him (Khalid), but he did not. This is not Umno’s doing. People on the ground are not happy because Anwar and Khalid are churning the issue into politics. But on the Pakatan side, the “little Napoleons” are really happy.

Q: Have you spoken to Anwar on this issue?

A: I have replied to his email but there is no reply from him just yet. The issue is not about the word “Allah” but because of Khalid’s statement on the enactment. What Khalid has done is a criminal offence and I have nothing to apologise.

Q: Personally, where do you think you stand in PKR now?

A: I think not only because of the friendship, but because Anwar believes I am a political asset for the Malay Muslim sector, so he maintains it. But if he starts believing that I am a political liability (to the party), then the curtain is down for me. But I have no qualms about it as my main priority is my religion. So if it is fated that I have to leave Pakatan, I have no regrets at all. I have never dreamt of becoming Yang Berhormat, MP or even a minister. I believe the ‘rezeki’ is with Allah and I’ll survive anyway. But if they decide it is time for me to go, I’ll go. But it does not mean I will quit as politician or MP. Let the people decide at the next general election.

Q: But if they sack you, would you join another party?

A: I will consider and keep the options open. At the end of the day, my main move is whether it benefits Islam. Maybe it is a blessing if they want to kick me out, I can be more vocal. At the moment, I still limit (myself). You never see me criticise Anwar.

I still appreciate that he is my boss although in this “Allah” issue, the pressure is so enormous on me to criticise him, but I say no. But if it is fated that I am out of PKR, maybe it will be a different ball game altogether.

Q: Your fellow MP (Azan Ismail, of from Indera Mahkota) has quit his party posts as Pahang deputy chairman II and state membership bureau chairman. Does it have something to do with the controversy surrounding you?

A: I am not that close to him but you will be surprised at the amount of support I receive from my fellow MPs. I am telling you that something big will happen soon if they (Pakatan) do not buck up. There are a few MPs who are not happy, they feel we are giving in too much to DAP. I hope Anwar can read this.

Q: By “something big”, you mean an exodus?

A: Something serious will happen, politically. If Anwar fails to handle this issue in a manner acceptable to all, not only seen to be favouring the neo-liberals, I think he is in for a big surprise. Quite a number of PKR MPs and assemblymen are not the type to say things openly, but when they make a decision, you will be surprised. The Indera Mahkota MP is the quietest MP among us, he hardly speaks, but he has quit. And there are a lot of MPs who are like him. I am receiving strong support from my friends who told me not to give in, and I do not think I will. It is too big an issue.