After 50 years, time to think as Malaysians first, says Nazri 

(TMI) – “This is a democracy. You cannot say you cannot stand their presence and call them subversive or anti-Malaysian. They were also elected by the people. If I want them to respect me because I was elected by the people, I must also respect them.” 

Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz believes that his contributions to Malaysia pale in comparison to that of Datuk Nicol David or Datuk Lee Chong Wei, both who wield racquets in the country’s name.

“I am nothing compared to Nicol’s contributions. She has done so much for Malaysia on the world stage,” the Umno veteran and Tourism and Culture Minister tells The Malaysian Insider.

Yet the pride that he expresses towards the world squash champion and badminton ace is tempered with pain when he thinks of how some Malay-Muslims feel towards people like Nicol and Lim.

“When they go overseas they fight for Malaysia. Not for China or India. Yet when they come back, there are people who say their community has got no place in this country.    

“That is unacceptable,” he stresses with a disgusted shake of the head.

“For the first 50 years we can excuse ourselves for tolerating each other’s racial and religious differences. But now we have to start accepting that we are all different and think of ourselves as Malaysians first.”

This is the primary reason newsrooms across Malaysia, particularly in the English media, like Nazri, who turns 59 this year.

In a political party that is supposed to be the compass of the federal government but whose leaders often play and rely on the race card, Nazri is a symbol and a beacon.

The English media relies on him to be a balm of rationality and tolerance whenever a fiery rash of extremism suddenly infect Umno members and the Malay supremacist fringe. 

Due to his seniority in Umno and a provocative stint as a law and parliament minister, he is seen as a symbol that all is not lost with Umno — as far as ethnic and religious relations are concerned.

He is in fact, one of the few senior Umno leaders to have declared that he is “Malaysian first”.

Yet as we sat down to interview him on what he thought about Malaysia turning 50, it became very apparent that this special quality of his does not bode well for Malaysia.

A Hobson’s choice

Nazri credits his upbringing and his father, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Yeop, for his broad-minded views of other communities.

His father’s last post was as Education Ministry permanent secretary in the then-British colonial administration. Nazri attended English-medium schools whose student population was multi-ethnic.

Both father and son had many non-Malay friends.

He also stresses that his beliefs are not because he’s trying to appease his supporters at home.

“People cannot say that I can afford to be liberal because my constituency is mixed. My constituency is in fact 76% Malay. And they are the rural, conservative Malays. But I am still liberal,” says Nazri.

It boils down to leadership he says, and a mountain of self-confidence (that he admits with a smile, have also gotten him into trouble). 

“If you don’t have this then you run into your cocoon once there’s trouble. The Malays will run back to their Malay community, the Chinese and the Indians will run back to their communities.”