By Rosli Khan
When Zaid Ibrahim announced his decision to join DAP at a press conference two days ago, the response from the crowd of his peers and supporters was nothing short rapturous.
Rumours about his intention had been circulating for weeks before the announcement. Many had said that it was long overdue for him to join a political organisation, that he could not fight the might of BN without the machinery of a party behind him, and that If he planned to contest in the coming general election, he would need support from his new party’s allies as well.
Zaid’s lone voice, heard in forums as well as his regular postings on his blog, has always been well received. He represents a firm, serious and intellectual group of critics who are openly disgusted with the current government, especially on the issue of corruption and abuse of power.
In fact, he said in his speech on Tuesday that his reasons for joining DAP were strongly grounded in his belief that the party had been consistent in its fight against corruption and abuse of power for over 50 years.
Zaid is not just a prolific writer; he also writes well, expressing his ideas in the kind of prose that can easily be understood by many and different groups of people. So it is an added advantage for DAP to have him explain to the public that the party is neither anti-Malay nor anti-Islam. This is especially so when the public is the people of Kelantan, where he is seen as a reliable, consistent and dedicated leader. Having served Kota Bharu as MP for a term after the 2004 general election, he remains popular and has been asked by his many supporters to stand there again.
Zaid’s idea of a clean government is exemplified by the current Penang administration. He said DAP fulfilled its promise to run an accountable and transparent government.
“A government needs good leaders to solve problems,” he said. “I see DAP as an effective government that can contribute towards solving our nation’s problems.”
Zaid has remained consistent in his political views despite having been in three different parties. His simple, though often misunderstood, interpretation of a political party’s role is that it is a vehicle for one to voice one’s opinions and a forum for discussions and debates prior to reaching a consensus.
His remarks were genuine and gimmick-free reflections of these honest thoughts and ideas and these made other party members uncomfortable. Thus, many misunderstood him, especially when he was in Umno and in PKR, where different ideas and approaches were not easily accepted unless the top leader approved of them.
He was variously called a provocateur, a controversial figure and a Trojan horse by his opponents.
A rare legal intellectual who stands by his principles, Zaid resigned from his cabinet post in 2008 over a disagreement on the use of the Internal Security Act to detain Seputeh MP Teresa Kok, journalist Tan Hoon Chen and blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin. He was eventually dismissed from Umno.
His early years
Zaid grew up and attended school in the Malay heartland of Kota Bharu before moving briefly to English College in Johor Baru and then Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Ipoh, a boarding school, to complete his sixth form.
He took his law degree at Institut Teknologi Mara (now Universiti Teknologi Mara) in Shah Alam through its external LLB programme with the University of London. With the exception of the years in London, where he sat for his bar exams, Zaid’s early years were spent very much in the company of Malay students.
He has spoken in detail about his Malay roots and his background as a son of poor farmers in Kelantan.
Obviously, he knows what it is to be economically disadvantaged or financially disabled. That is why he sometimes speaks on social reforms and social issues, especially those related to Islam as expounded by PAS.
His criticism of PAS is not without basis. To Zaid, PAS’ ideas are outdated and based on its own interpretation of Islam, which it is forcing on the Malays. PAS is stripping Malays of their culture, basic rights, freedom of choice and dignity. These are important elements that shape a community; without them, the community is lost and confused. Many Malays influenced by PAS are in this state. They are so confused that they cannot tell if taking a bribe is right or wrong in Islam.
Zaid is colour blind and he does not use the race card to further his political career. That is not his style although racial rhetoric is something many Malaysians are becoming accustomed to.
DAP is therefore fortunate to have him as its latest recruit.
Indeed, a man of his calibre and stature is becoming rare in Malaysia’s political landscape, as an internet user has commented.
As far as politics is concerned, Zaid’s legal background gives him the edge in discussions of matters related to the constitution, rule of law and abuse of power.
“Hudud by the back door”, as he puts it, is another major issue that has riled him a great deal. His opinions on the issue are well articulated in his talks and writings. One of his books, Ampun Tuanku, published in 2012, is most relevant and should be used as a reference in any discussion on the topic.
His speech on Tuesday ended on a sombre note. He said: “I seek no position in the party and only wish to help in the joint effort to rebuild this country. I hope to be able to tell my grandchildren that I was part of the team helping Pakatan Harapan and Tun Mahathir regain the country from the clutches of the unscrupulous and the hypocritical.”
This was a speech of a great man in the making.
Rosli Khan is an FMT reader.