Tunku Zain: ‘DAP’s Was Not The Only Offer I Received’


(Malaysian Digest) – In any government, in any debate, in any intellectual discourse, there will always be one side proposing and the other, opposing.

The most important and logical thing to understand is that there is no reason why peace and harmony cannot be attained whilst subscribing to the proposition-opposition method.

Advocating this idea in hopes to better Malaysia, is an individual who defies the general mindset that those of royal blood generally do not show interest in putting forward ideas of change.

Sitting with him over a cup of coffee, it is not difficult to see that this individual is a humble, intelligent and inspiring young man.

Having only just turned 31, Yang Amat Mulia Tunku Zain al-Abidin Tunku Muhriz is an old soul whose ideas and thoughts run deeper and wiser than most men his age.

He received his education at the famed London School of Economics and despite his age, he has served as a parliamentary researcher at England’s House of Commons and also had a stint as a consultant at the World Bank.

To further defy the odds, at 31, Tunku Zain has three books published.

His latest book titled Roaming Beyond The Fence is not unlike his earlier book Abiding Times, although he says that this time the publishers convinced him to put a picture of himself on the cover.

“They think it would increase the sales,” he said, laughing.

The book is a collection of his writings for a column he used to contribute for local English daily, The Star.

What can be said about the second son of Yang Di Pertuan Besar Negeri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir and Tunku Ampuan Besar Negeri Sembilan Tuanku Aishah Rohani Tengku Besar Mahmud is that he is somewhat of a ‘change whisperer’.

Tunku Zain is one who realizes that the emergence of new politics in the country should be made as a ground for change towards a better Malaysia, instead of constant bickering between both sides of the political divide.

This is reflected in the force that powers IDEAS, the NGO he started with two other friends.

IDEAS or the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs was founded with Wan Saiful Wan Jan, a PAS member and Wan Firdaus Wan Mohd Fuaad, an Umno member.

The ‘marriage’ between the three to bring up IDEAS is inadvertently the same change Tunku Zain is hoping to see in Malaysia.

“Why can’t different sides sit down and discuss solutions to issues that affect the society?” he said.

“People need to be taught that it is ok to disagree. The mindset that if you disagree, automatically you become a traitor, has to go,” he added.

Tunku Zain spoke passionately about decentralization and how he believes that would be the way forward for our country, particularly in terms of giving more say to the rakyat.

However, he understands that the ideas proposed by think-tanks in general sometimes fail to reach the laymen, mainly because of the ‘ivory tower’ perception that comes attached with most think-tanks around the world.

This is where he comes in, advocating for press freedom, as well as encouraging think-tanks to use a more down-to-earth language.

“We do a lot of speaking engagements, particularly to students, to educate them about the ideas that we want to inculcate,” he said.

Getting back to decentralization, Tunku Zain said that it is not easy putting forth the idea of giving more power to the states. He cited an example of the United States of America, where the states have more power compared to the states in Malaysia.

“What I do is ask the people if they are happy with the crime in their neighborhood, are they happy with the way rubbish is collected in their area. More often than not, the answer is no. That is where the idea of decentralization will appeal to them because the public will then have a bigger say in the things that affect them directly.

“The biggest issue is education. Parents are generally more concerned about education for their children. This is why decentralization should be the mechanism to accommodate their needs and want,” he told mD.

“I’m not saying that we should decentralize the entire education curriculum. Subjects like history should be unified to maintain a similar understanding of the fight and struggle our nation has endured to get here.

“I understand that as a concept, decentralization might be lofty but if you link it to an issue that the public is interested in, then the message gets through very easily,” he added.

“What we need to make people understand is that it is possible to decentralize a lot of things without compromising on national unity.”

Decentralization, in the eyes of the Negeri Sembilan prince, may help to ease political parties into the realization that should they lose power over the federal government in the future, they will still be able to serve the rakyat through the states.

“What we need today are more moderate candidates in politics,” he said.

While he may have a wide interest in writing about political matters, and in putting forth his ideas for a better Malaysia, Tunku Zain does not see himself becoming a politician.

When asked if he may want to start a new political party, Tunku Zain laughed and said that creating a new party in any country is not a small endeavor.

“It requires a huge logistics effort. It is much more feasible for people in the current political parties to steer the party towards the greater good. What we need is to exact change from within the parties to better themselves in hopes to better serve the country.”

“I am actually a conservative,” he told mD.

“I strongly believe in the institution, in Merdeka, and in constitutional monarchy. I am also a hardcore fan of Tunku Abdul Rahman and his ‘perjuangan’.”

“To me, overthrowing the system will not work, what is needed is rejuvenation. we should reignite the true spirit of merdeka. We need to go back to what merdeka is all about, the sheer essence of Tunku’s fight,” he added.

Perhaps that is why, Tunku Zain rejected the offer from Opposition party DAP to join them. The matter was brought to light several months ago by former DAP leader, Tunku Aziz, and created quite a stir, particularly because DAP was seen as gutsy enough to proposition a member of the royal family.

On that controversial matter, Tunku Zain smiled and said that the offer was not entirely ‘weird’.

“I have conversations all the time with members of different parties. And this is not the first time someone offered me to join them. The only difference is that this time the offer was made public. What should have been a private conversation suddenly received limelight,” he said.

“I never considered the offer and I had no intention of taking it up,” he added.

“I can understand why Tunku Aziz was upset about the matter. I’ve known him for a long time, he’s a family friend. Perhaps to him, it was wrong for DAP to approach me like that. I understand his point of view.

Moving away from the controversial DAP talk, Tunku Zain, who in some ways can be regarded as an idealist, is perhaps exactly what Malaysia needs more of today.

The young man opined that with regards to Malaysian politics, it is much more likely, and hopeful, that one of the parties today may evolve into a party that truly encapsulates the great Tunku’s (Tunku Abdul Rahman) ‘perjuangan’.

Before ending the interview, another question was posed, on whether he thinks the monarchy institution in Malaysia is still relevant today.

“Yes it is,” he said, smiling.

Another question was thrown, is he saying that because he is a part of the royal institution?

Unfazed and without so much as a stutter, Tunku Zain responded with a firm and resounding ‘No’.

“If you look at any of the indicators of the most democratic countries in the world, the most economically advanced countries, and the country with the most political freedom, they are countries of constitutional monarchy. For instance, Spain, Sweden and Japan. That is why, to say that monarchy is contradictory to political freedom is not true,” he said ending the interview.