The bone of my contention


Oh, by the way, the Tunku died almost penniless and the government actually sued him for unpaid taxes, which would have made him the first bankrupt Prime Minister in Malaysian history. You see, the Tunku was broke and could not even afford to pay what he owed the government. He was very rich before he became Prime Minister but had sold off all his property and spent all his money on the party.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Prior to the 1999 general election, we have always looked at politics as Barisan Nasional versus the rest. Many of you may be too young to remember the days when politics used to be the Alliance Party (Parti Perikatan) versus the rest — a coalition of Umno, MCA and MIC.

I ‘discovered’ politics in 1968 when I was just 18 years old. I was in the Pudu Jail demonstration (probably the only Malay in that demonstration but for sure the only member of the Royal Family, no doubt about that), which was basically an all-Chinese affair. However you may deny it, it was an anti-Malay demonstration organised by the Chinese anti-establishment groups. It was a protest against the death sentence passed on 11 Chinese prisoners who had killed a Malay prison warder. Hence it became a Malay-Chinese issue.

What would have happened if the warder was also Chinese, or the 11 prisoners were also Malay? Would there have been a protest demonstration that day? Certainly not! If the murderers plus the victim(s) were all of the same race, then no big deal. It is when one side is of one race and the other of another race that it becomes an issue.

Nevertheless, although I was still just 18 and a bit too young to understand the dynamics of Malaysian politics, I was in my own and small way ‘active’. I was in Bangsar (where I used to live) and Brickfields (where my wife used to live) ‘enjoying’ the anti-government, anti-Alliance Party and anti-Malay speeches in the election rallies (ceramah). I clapped and I cheered like the rest of the audience in those massive crowds.

The rallying call at that time was not ‘Reformasi’, ‘Change we must’, ‘Makkal Sakthi’, ABU (anything but Umno), and whatnot. It was ‘Kita akan tenggelamkan kapal layar’ or ‘We shall sink the sailing boat’. The kapal layar was the party symbol of the Alliance party. And every time they shouted this we clapped and cheered till our palms hurt and our throats ran dry.

It was not until May 1969 that we realised we should have also taken note of the saying ‘Loose lips sink ships’ and not get too excited with the battle-cry ‘We shall sink the sailing boat’.  A lot of what we did and said in 1968 and 1969 had serious repercussions on the racial harmony that we had seen in the 12 years since Merdeka.

We always read comments from readers telling us how great Malaya (and then Malaysia) was at the time of Merdeka. We hear stories of how prior to 1969 Malayans (or Malaysians) did not regard themselves as Malays, Chinese, Indians and ‘others’. We reminisce about the days when Malay girls dressed in skirts and bareback dresses and you would be hard-pressed to find Muslim girls in scarves or tudung.

Malays would go to bars and clubs and would openly dance with their girl friends (or with ‘taxi dancers’ you paid thirty cents a dance or RM3.00 for a dozen dance tickets at the cabarets) and drink beer plus even the stronger stuff. Even Chinese and Indian boys dated Malays girls at that time and even admitted that they preferred Malays girls to those of their own ethnicity. And one reason they gave was that the Malay girls were less materialistic and just wanted to have a good time with no strings or financial gain attached. (Hmm…are they saying that the Malay girls are ‘easy’?).

And do you know what? Even the Mufti of Terengganu walked around the market with his dog on a leash and no one thought it strange that a Mufti, and one from Saudi Arabia on top of that, owned and walked his dog in public every day. And this was not a guard dog, mind you, because in those days there was hardly any crime so you did not need guard dogs, burglar alarms, bars on the doors and windows, etc. In fact, most people slept with their windows open and you could just walk in to your neighbour’s house because he never locked his front door. That was what was meant by ‘open house’ in those days.

But that was back in those days, more than 50 years ago. Malayans, then, were one big happy family. Even Tunku Abdul Rahman, the First Prime Minister, said that he was the happiest prime minister in the world. Do you who are 60 years old or older remember the Tunku saying this? I bet you do because those of us who are 60 and above also remember those happy days and the Tunku, our Bapak Merdeka or Father of Independence.

Sadly, the 1969 general election and the aftermath to that election changed all that. No doubt many would blame the right wing in Umno who felt that the Tunku was too much a ‘Chinese lover’ and gave in to or compromised too much with the Chinese for this. Do you know the Tunku cried and said he wished that God had taken his life early and not allow him to live to see the day when Malaysians would kill fellow Malaysians?

Oh, by the way, the Tunku died almost penniless and the government actually sued him for unpaid taxes, which would have made him the first bankrupt Prime Minister in Malaysian history. You see, the Tunku was broke and could not even afford to pay what he owed the government. He was very rich before he became Prime Minister but had sold off all his property and spent all his money on the party.

In fact, the Tunku even took six months no-pay leave (and handed the country to his deputy) to campaign in the general elections. He felt it was immoral, although not illegal, for him to hit the campaign trail for six months while drawing a salary from the country. After all, this was party business and not government business. Even the opposition leaders and Members of Parliament, or even Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, did not do that. That was the type of person this man named Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj was — a Malay, a member of the Kedah Royal Family, a ‘Chinese lover’, and the man who cried and wished he had died when Malaysians of different races killed each other.

Malaysia was one of the first ‘Muslim’ countries to have a casino, the one up in Genting Highlands. And it was the Tunku who approved this. The Tunku would play cards with his Chinese friends and not miss a single horse race if he did not have to. He would travel to Penang and Ipoh to attend the horse races in those towns and my poor grandfather, who was the Governor of Penang, would be forced to accompany the Prime Minister on his ‘visit to Penang and endure the racing with the rosary beads (tasbih) in his hands. That must have look very odd indeed, like those Arabs in London with a glass of brandy in one hand and the tasbih in the other.

So what happened? What changed along the way over those 50 or 60 years? Well, let me tell you what happened. Politics is what happened. The politicians from both sides of the political divide realised that they can gain a lot of mileage by playing race and religion politics. And that was why I told one Umno chap during a function in the Terengganu Palace that all politicians should be lined up against the wall and shot dead.

Invariably, that made me the number one enemy of Umno Terengganu and they never left me alone after that. Eventually, life in Terengganu became so impossible I had to leave the state.

Many of you Barisan supporters think I am anti-government. Many of you opposition supporters think I am anti-Pakatan. Many of you Christians think I am anti-Christianity. Many of you Muslims think I am anti-Islam. Many of you non-Malays think I am a racist. Many of you Malays think I am a traitor to my race just like Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Maybe I am all of the above. But I have reason to be all of the above. And if you are not yet 65, 70 or 80 years old then you would not understand why I am all of the above. I have read what you say about me. I have read what you call me. Nothing nice, I can confirm that — everything nasty. But you say all those nasty things and call me all those nasty names because of your ignorance. It is like calling me an apostate because I say that the world is not flat and the sun, not the earth, is the centre of our universe.