(Full disclosure: Zaid Ibrahim is a friend and I edited a collection of his articles.)
COMMENT | The best way to describe Zaid Ibrahim’s political career is that it is a self-inflicted wound. People tell me that when they read my articles about what the former
de facto law minister said or did, their takeaway is always “Can Zaid
ever play well with others?” Whether he was slaying Malay sacred cows or giving the middle finger
to whoever is supporting him at the time, he has always been an
interesting political operative to write about.
After May 9, I saw it coming. I was wondering when Zaid would upset
the apple cart, and say something that would bother the power brokers in
Pakatan Harapan. Truth be told, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. What most people – sometimes even this writer – do not understand is
why Zaid is so eager to burn bridges. As he once told me, sometimes
there is no diplomatic way to put things. I, of course, disagreed with
him on this.
A higher standard
Mostly though, I think he wrongly assumed that when he wrote the way
he did, especially if it was shining a light on the underbelly of
politics, it would be embraced by an audience who were sceptical of
power. He never understood the partisan fervour that tore him to pieces when
he wrote on subjects which he believed would truly save Malaysia.
Politicians play fast and loose with the facts, but someone like Zaid is
held to a higher standard. And rightly so.
The irony of course is that what Zaid said about former finance minister Daim Zainuddin and the business interests that linger around the Harapan political elite had been spoken about since the Council of Eminent persons came to be. Political operatives from both sides of the political divide have
painted Daim as some sort of Rasputin skulking around the motley
collection of political operatives who surround the old maverick Dr
Mahathir Mohamad. Even prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim had made
comments about Daim in the past.
Zaid just said what some people have been saying ever since Daim
started making statements which sounded like official Harapan policy
positions. The problem is not the political baggage of people like Daim
and Mahathir, but rather the enabling that the other parties have to do
to maintain the new normal in Malaysian politics. Zaid said that in his last testament that finance minister Lim Guan Eng called him to say that his remark was not based on fact, and suggested that he make a retraction. What horse manure is this?
If Zaid’s statement was not based on fact, then the Harapan apparatus
should refute it with facts, instead of asking him to fall on his
sword. Has anyone even read Zaid's blog post about his advice to Umno, which has left some in the Harapan political elite butthurt?
Do I care that Daim and the corporate elite have influence in Harapan
economic policy? This is a capitalist democracy, no matter what some
people say of this being an Islamic state. Check that; even if this were
some sort of moderate Islamic paradise, plutocrats would still have
influence on the economic policy of this country.
Besides, in numerous forums before May 9, then-opposition supporters
were talking about the wealth of talent that Mahathir could draw from to
save Malaysia. And yes, Daim, for better or worse, is the perceived stable hands
that the country was in for decades, where the majority of people voted
for BN and the opposition was mocked and vilified as idealistic dreamers
who were all talk and no action.
That is Malaysian politics for you. View everything ahistorically, and then selectively when it suits your agenda. I think the real issue here was not that Zaid attacked Mahahtir (photo) or Daim, but rather the economic policies that were being propagated.
As economist Thomas Sowell says, there are no solutions, only
trade-offs. Which is why – and some will not like me saying this – the
economic policies of the Harapan government will ultimately rest on its
utilitarian value to the Malay community, which will determine the
future of the Malay power structures in the coalition. It is these structures within Harapan which will determine if there is a Harapan at all.
Read Zaid's advice to Umno and tell me it does not apply to Malay
power structures in general, but specifically those that will exist as
we enter a post-Mahathir political landscape: “The next leader must be able to talk to taxi drivers about his plans
without banning Grab. He must be able to tell the Malays how he plans
to cut out greed and curb crookedness in the way power is exercised.
“Any Malay party that can instil values such as honesty and integrity
in our political culture, and help nurture the Malays to be successful,
will get support.” The value of Zaid is his outlier status, which of course means that
his political career took a back seat to the “real stuff” he often
lamented people were not interested in.
His partisan pieces were well received, but his indictments of the
system and the personalities that found succour in the system were met
with much consternation by the political elites of this country and
their base. I have no idea why Zaid wants to give up writing. There is a
difference between speaking truth to power – even when flawed – and a
political career. I know this having talked to him before May 9 about
his political career being over.
Giving up writing is just another self-inflicted wound, but then
again, with the players involved in this tragicomedy which is the new
Malaysia, maybe it is self-preservation. I will end this piece with Zaid’s own words. It is his response to a
question I asked him about the trust issues some in the then-opposition
had with him:
“I am surprised to know that I have ‘trust' issues amongst the people
who will vote Pakatan. I always thought if there is a scale that we can
measure integrity, honesty and commitment to worthy principles, I would
rate highly. “What sort of leader can we trust? Surely someone who has proven by
his actions to defend the rule of law and the rights of the people. I
have done that. I have given up my job for that principle.
“I have had no scandals, no impropriety of any kind. I have been
consistent in my speeches and in my writings about what I believe in. I
believe in a secular democracy, in equality and freedom of all
Malaysians. I never fudge on these issues. So on what score was I