By Sathish Govind
It was once said that some men are measured by the depth of their character, others by the breath of their contribution. One man that fits both hats comfortably is none other than Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, a true gentleman of politics also credited to have made immense contributions particularly in the field of economy.
He is perhaps most remembered as the man who took on Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) presidential election in 1987. Mahathir retained his presidency by winning the elections with a wafer-thin majority that divided the party right at the centre.
The nail-biting elections in 1987 saw the party battered and bruised, and this defined Malaysian politics in the later years. Shortly after, the party went into litigation and was deregistered, and many of Tengku’s supporters were excluded from the newly formed UMNO Baru.
On the advice of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj, he formed Semangat 46 to join hands with PAS, and together they won the federal and state seats in Kelantan in the 1990 polls.
Many adjectives come to mind when describing Tengku—charismatic, risk-taker, gracious, confident, and most important of all an enigma in Malaysian politics. He is not at all deterred by insurmountable odds that were placed against him, and he accepts it all as a way in politics.
The rough and tumble of UMNO politics have not deterred the man who was often touted as Prime Ministerial candidate as recently as when Tan Sri Muhyiddin threw in the towel in August.
In an exclusive interview with Business Today, it was clear that he thinks and acts like a leader, asserts exuberance and confidence, and appears ready to fill the biggest pair of political shoes in Malaysia.
Tengku expressed his exasperation at the state of the nation and politics in particular, suggesting that the “Westminster” model of politics that Malaysia embraced from the British was not aptly suitable for the country.
“The British were a gentleman of politics and Malaysian politicians are not,” he said, adding that the system cannot work well in Malaysia, alluding to the fact that the culture and systems practised there were different from that in Malaysia.
Considering the intense jostling for positions in the various political parties, party-hopping, and protracted infighting within the various parties, few would disagree with Tengku’s prognosis on the state of the nation.
Politicians have chimed in to say that if the present state of disarray is not rectified, a general election will not help restore the present state of ‘toxic politics.
The prince went on to say that there was an urgent need to organise the present state of politics before the next general elections; if not, the people would have to endure hardships and suffering.
“The new emerging political system in the country must have a “combination of authoritarianism, democracy and having the monarchy,” he said.
Many political analysts in Malaysia and around the world have expressed concerns that the proper functioning of the democratic systems is predicated that politicians work on the wishes of the people, as it is government “by the people for the people”.
The absence of these was clear in the Malaysian political system, and Tengku advocates a “total reform in the parliamentary system and even the political parties”.
Citing an example, Tengku said that the party secretary-general was all-powerful and behaved like the party secretary-general in China, where the leader there was an instrument of the state unlike a political party in Malaysia here, where he must reflect the wishes of the people. “The parties must be reformed. It has failed our parliamentary system,” he said.
As part of the reforms, Tengku himself has set to revive the “old Umno” so that the party can go back to the original struggles of the party adding that the “old Umno”, which was banned by the Registrar of Societies (RoS) in 1988 during Dr Mahathir’s first tenure as prime minister, should not have been deregistered as the RoS had no authority to do so.
The MP for Gua Musang went on to say that the present state of disarray is one of the reasons why the “old Umno” must be revived, adding that the “current Umno” leadership is not liked by many quarters including its members and steps have to be taken to strengthen the party.
Many have come forth to say that Tengku’s attempt to revive the “old Umno” was just about him griping about his disappointment of not being considered as a Prime Ministerial candidate after Tan Sri Muhyiddin had stepped down.
The Man himself has not allowed titles and positions to stand in the way of his contributions. He was the founder of many institutions such as Petronas, Bank Bumiputera and was also the chairman of Pernas, the government corporation that established Bumiputera’s participation in the economy. His contribution to the economy was recognised as early as 1975 when a Malaysian Chamber of Commerce resolution named Razaleigh the Father of Malaysian Economic Development. On the sheer strength of his ability and character, he was elected vice president of UMNO as early as 1975.
Shying away from cabinet position, he was always looked upon as “trouble shooter’ of sort and the week before the demise of Tun Razak, he was summoned to London and was made to promise Tun Razak on his deathbed, that he would take a cabinet post.
On the demise of Tun Razak, not to renege on his promise made to a dying man and after several prompting by the father of the nation, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, Razaleigh settled for the finance minister, although he was Tun Hussein’s first choice for the Deputy Prime Minister.
Many had said that if coveted titles and positions were what the prince was clamouring for, he could have flowed with a tide of events that would have gotten him to the coveted position of the Prime Minister a long time ago.
For a man who has put the service of the nation ahead of his interest, the present spate of politics particularly in UMNO would be anathema to his struggles and that of the founding fathers.
While there is a large number of Malay based parties that have sprouted recently, Tengku is confident that UMNO “has a base which has the largest following of about 3 million members who are mostly not sullied by “the money politics” in the party and is confident would want to go back its traditional values in tandem with his aspiration to “revive the old Umno”
Many political analysts have said that while the grassroots Umno members have rejected cooperation with Bersatu (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia), the present crop of Umno leaders appears to have not heeded the wishes of the grassroots.
To this, Tengku says that the present crop of Umno leaders holding positions in the government “have no moral authority” to do so, as it is contrary to the party’s stand to cease cooperation with Bersatu.”
‘If they cease cooperating with Bersatu it would signify the collapse of the present government”.
The man himself appears to be ready to offer his services to the nation, while others say that Tengku may have missed many opportunities to be the Prime Minister. To the sobering crowd of politicians, the fault if any with Tengku was, perhaps, he was more of a statesman when he needed to be a politician amidst the din and roar of Umno politics.
More than Tengku missing the opportunity to become the Prime Minister, the country may have lost the chance to stir itself into a different course of history with him in the driver’s seat. The 15th general election may prove if the Prince’s fortune has changed, as he may still be “the Prime Minister Malaysia could have”.