‘The case for change is preponderant’

Former Umno veteran Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir says his independent party, Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia, supports Pakatan because Malaysia needs change

“[We have] poor people in the kampung, longhouse, [the government] keeps on giving them money, and they don’t even watch news. So anyone who gives them money, they consider them as the good guys. And they’re in the majority.”

Anisah Shukry, FMT

Parti Ikatan Bangsa Malaysia (Ikatan) founder Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir once cut a formidable figure in Umno politics.

As the Minister of Culture, Arts and Tourism in 1999 during the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad era,  and then the Minister of Information from 2004 to 2006 in Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s time, the man was among the most powerful in the country.

But in January 2012, Abdul Kadir began making headlines after he accused the ruling party of handing out between RM200 and RM1,000 to voters in previous elections in exchange for votes.

He eventually left the party, and has since appeared arbitrarily in the media, with the spotlight focusing on his attempts to have Ikatan be registered under the Registrar of Societies.

Speaking to FMT in an exclusive interview, Abdul Kadir explained Ikatan’s position in a political arena dominated by two opposing coalitions – the ruling Barisan Nasional, and the loose opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat.

“We do not want to officially join Pakatan Rakyat. We’ll support what has to be supported, but right now I’m with Pakatan,” said Abdul Kadir.

“To be frank, now that I’ve mixed with them, I can see the weaknesses in PAS, PKR, DAP, but I also know the weaknesses in Barisan Nasional. I think the case for change is preponderant; its overwhelming.”

He said Pakatan had “very bright people” and the pact could not entirely be blamed for its failings in the four states it has been ruling since general election 2008 – Kedah, Kelantan, Selangor and Penang.

“A state government can’t do much if they don’t have the support of the federal government because they don’t have the money,” he pointed out.

Abdul Kadir said he also supported certain aspects of the Pakatan manifesto, such as helping those who deserve it, as opposed to BN’s policy which he claimed only enriched a few bumiputeras.

“In the opposition manifesto which I like, [it states that it would] help everybody who deserves… So you help the Malays based on the theory of natural justice…You help the poor to come up to the level of the advanced. No need to help the poor based on narrow, racist policies.”

No hope for Umno to change

On the other hand, Abdul Kadir said he did not support Umno because he felt there was no hope left for the party to change.

“Six thousand or eight thousand years of world history have proven that all along, if any government stays more than 30 years continuously, the bad habit takes root, deep root, and no way you can change it.

“So the bad habits in Umno, in the BN government, have taken root. Even though they talk about fighting corruption, but everyday its becoming worse and worse. No way they can change, no way, unless some drastic realignment of parties, and political forces and so on,” he stressed.

As for what Ikatan could offer, Abdul Kadir said its focus was to carry on the ideas of Malaysia’s founding fathers as well as the concept of “Bangsa Malaysia” – a slogan referring to Malaysians united in peace, justice and harmony.

“I believe in Bangsa Malaysia. I really believe in Bangsa Malaysia, when I was minister of culture and tourism, I used that opportunity to work really hard to move to Bangsa Malaysia.”

But he said he would no longer be contesting in future elections, although he would remain active in politics for the rest of his days through Ikatan.

Cash handouts swaying voters

However, when asked his predictions on the results of the general election, the political veteran said he was concerned over how cash handouts would sway voters’ will.

“Based on my own knowledge, the real will of the people, they want to change. But I’m really worried about all this cash handouts, whether it distorts the real will of the people.

“[We have] poor people in the kampung, longhouse, [the government] keeps on giving them money, and they don’t even watch news. So anyone who gives them money, they consider them as the good guys. And they’re in the majority.”

Last week, Najib had promised that the BR1M programme, which he initiated, would continue to be an annual handout. The one-time cash handouts of RM500 reportedly helped nearly five million families at a cost of RM2.6 billion last year, increasing Najib’s approval ratings up to 69 per cent.

These past few weeks have also seen the prime minister promising a slew of goodies to the rakyat, including one-off cash of RM500 to all Telekom Malaysia staff, 1,000 individual permits to taxi drivers, pension to staff of government statutory bodies and 20 minutes of free Internet service to the poor.

‘Subtle revolts’

Meanwhile, the former Umno supreme council member dismissed criticism that he had quietly accepted Umno’s “corrupt culture” for 56 years, insisting instead that he had “subtly revolted” since the 80’s.

“I was already in revolt, even in the 80’s, in 1987 I joined Team B. Some became team members because they wanted to [support] Tengku Razaleigh [Hamzah]…But I myself revolted because of this corruption, cronyism and whatnot,” recalled Abdul Kadir.

He was referring to the two camps in Umno which came into being after former finance minister Tenku Razaleigh challenged Mahathir over the party’s 1987 polls.

Team B, lead by then finance minister Tengku Razaleigh had reportedly criticised Mahathir, his leadership style and his policies.

Abdul Kadir said that even as information minister, he introduced a weekly one-hour programme on RTM where opposition leaders openly debated with BN members on certain topics – an almost unthinkable concept now.

“Of course I was attacked by my Umno colleages [for initiating the debate]. I was really attacked. [They asked me:] ‘how is it I gave chance to opposition’?

“But I said ‘no, its good, because [opposition supporters] are watching TV, the government also has an opportunity to explain their position to the other side. If not for that fact, the other side will not watch what the ministers saying.”

‘RTM airtime for opposition a big joke’

He then went on to slam Minister of Information, Culture and Communication Rais Yatim for allowing the opposition a “paltry” 10 minutes on Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) to present their pre-recorded manifestos in the lead up to the elections.

“It’s a big joke. If I were the opposition, I would just not accept it. It’s an insult. If RTM can’t be absolutely free, at least six months before the elections, you should open it up…[But] free press to Rais Yatim means 10 minutes. Ten minutes in eleven days,” he said, laughing heartily.

Rais had said that the opportunity was provided in respect of the country’s democratic system, but the opposition pact have since rejected the offer as an “insult.”

Commenting on this, Abdul Kadir said: “Times have changed and Najib has announced time has changed, and he wants to change, so might as well change.

“People tell me, ‘why during your time you didn’t change [Umno]?’ Well, that was during my time, and I did try. But now there’s an official policy called ‘political transformation’, so change. [Don’t say], “oh we are free, we give ten minutes to opposition party,” he said.