In an interview that appeared in the latest issue of Chinese-language Red Tomato Weekly, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz recalled his way into the political field and spoke about 1 Malaysia.
He repeated his identity of being “Malaysian first and Malay next”, adding he was puzzled and regretted why his Cabinet colleagues did not speak out as he did, even the ministers from MCA.
“What to be afraid of? Frankly, I should say, may be their posts” Being a minister isn’t something much to be glorious about, he is somebody to be accountable for. I have been a minister for the last 11 years and had come to where things must be done resolutely when you think it is right"
Below is the extract of the magazine's translation of the interview to English.
Red Tomato: “1 Malaysia” concept has not only has become a noble ideal but also a widely accepted slogan. Why so? There are still arguments that it is not fully defined and explained. How do you find this?
Nazri: The “1 Malaysia” concept was initiated by the Prime Minister and it is a noble ideal which is achievable. Compared to Dr. Mahathir’s “Bangsa Malaysia” ideal, this “1 Malaysia” concept is far more practical, achievable, and useful; “Bangsa Malaysia” was intended to implement a single-national notion in a multi-elements society, this is really a “dream”.
I have to emphasise that “1 Malaysia” is achievable and everyone will be involved and have the same feeling. When PM initiated the concept, he did not fully define and explain, so that the whole nation could take part to interpret what “1 Malaysia” really is. We don’t want the government to tell people how to do, or how to visualize the concept — “1 Malaysia” concept should have its real spirit, its uniqueness thus everyone can accept wholeheartedly.
“1 Malaysia” concept does not mean assimilation, instead, it is truly an integration. PM wants the whole nation to feel and practice “1 Malaysia” to the true essence. Meanwhile, let the people be united and stay in harmony naturally in everyday life.
Red Tomato: Please discuss how “Freedom of Expression” plays its role in racial issue.
Nazri: “Freedom of Expression” has extended to ICT, does it mean it is an “absolute freedom”? No, it’s not. It did not exist, and will not exist.
In this circumstances, how are we going to restrain from absolute freedom of expression? We cannot reject the development of modern technology, what we can do is to try educate the people not to follow blindly or to become senseless and irresponsible.
For example, the two principals who had made racist remarks. We have to think, in 1.2 million of civil servants, there might be 10 of them who is delinquent. What is 10 out of 1.2 million, that will be 0.00.........per cent. Shall we feel fear because of the 0.00.....per cent?
Moreover, we have taken immediate action to terminate their service and transfer them to another posts; In fact, the two mentioned principals had expressed regrets and apologised publicly to the teachers and related students.
Red Tomato: To avoid further misunderstanding and confusion, do you think that it is necessary to amend some of the existing Race-related laws and regulations, so as to reinforce racial unity and harmony in Malaysia? If it is not, why?
Nazri: We need not draw up new Race-related laws and regulations as the existing related laws and regulations are good enough to cope with the related issues. Most importantly, we must take swift action to these unfortunate incidents, don’t let it deteriorate.
We mustn’t simply use Race-related laws or regulations to avoid incidents. Instead, I think that is an insult to all Malaysian regardless of race who live together peacefully.
Basically, Malaysians are living peacefully and harmoniously; the rascals are the “leaders”, they deliberately use racist remarks to get support. If they are not careful, we will enforce law justifiably upon them.
Fortunately, Malaysians nowadays are more understanding, reasonable, and not too emotional. I know this because of the issue of the Surau been thrown paint and the churches been burnt. People will let the authorities to check first what really happened, they won’t react senselessly.
Malaysians nowadays are mature in thinking as well. Of course, I have to admit that there are certain groups who want to play up the issue, hoping some sort of riots will happen. These are political maneuvers and can be easily exposed.
Red Tomato: In your mind, how should the “1 Malaysia” racial harmony look like?
Nazri: I actually don’t know, I can only talk about Malaysians in my constituency. To me, the best moment is all races celebrate the festivals together, like Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, and Deepavali.
Although different races celebrating different festivals, yet these festivals have been “Malaysianized”.
Some festivals were only meant for reunion of family members, yet now they have become open house, which is more meaningful. In the past, Hari Raya was celebrated for one day only, after that we had learn from the Chinese who celebrate new year until the “Chap Goh Meh”. Then we fast for one month, and celebrate for one month, using this one month to visit relatives and friends.
Those days, Malays didn’t give money on Hari Raya, now we give away “green packets. We don’t play crackers during Hari Raya, now we do. This is the Chinese’s influence. Also, we light up the oil lamp on the 27th day, this is certainly the Hindu’s influence. In Pakistan, they only celebrate half a day, after prayer everything back to normal.
For example Deepavali, it’s only one day. But in my constituency we do it the Malaysian style. 15 days after Deepavali, they invited me to a celebration and told me it’s finished. I told them it has not reached one month yet!
I think, regardless the race, we should be generous - get along with one and other naturally and harmoniously, eat together, go out together. And don’t listen to the stupid politicians who want to divide us. We must come forward. Like what PM Najib said: “The moderates come forward and take the stage”.
That does not only apply to the world politics but to all of us. Don’t allow the extremists to take control of our lives. I think the best for us to do is, to continue to live as we’ve been living. I think overall the Malaysians do live peacefully.
When I went to a Chinese New Year party, they specially arranged a Halal table for me. But if you go to Thailand, they don’t care whether you’re a Muslim at all. Malaysians know to respect the differences, we have to learn respecting each other. Unite what is common, for the differences, we don’t divide, we don’t insult. It’s diversity in unity.
As what Mao Zedong said: “Let a thousand flowers bloom”. It only means good thing for us. When China reopened its door and became a world economic country, I read news regarding on a school in UK making application to Ministry of Education that they wanted the permission to have a Mandarin class......Application to have a Mandarin class!
We have Chinese school for almost 100 years. Which means actually we are way ahead. We must look Chinese school as educational institution, and seriously I wish my father had sent me to Chinese school, then I could learn Chinese.
In my constituency there is a Chinese school with only 35 students, and 34 of them are Malays. It doesn’t matter, this is education, regardless of race. Sometimes there is prejudice among some of the Malays.
During the Tun Mahathir’s era, Malays didn’t use chopsticks because the Chinese were using; but when Tun Mahathir told people to learn from the Japanese, then the Malays started using chopsticks. Does it make sense? Chinese and Malays both like to eat petai and durian. This is a good example of influencing each other.
Red Tomato: How does government help to assist the lower income group, especially the 40 per cent lower and middle group?
Nazri: If you give a family one fish a day, you’re just feeding them; If you teach them how to fish, then for the whole life they will be able to fish by themselves. Thus, education is very important and should be given to all.
Education has transformed my family. My father was a lawyer, and I’m the second generation lawyer. We’ had never got any Bumi’s privileges. My grandparents were school teachers, they sold the properties and used the money to send my father to UK studying law. That happened in 1948, after the war.
Only as my father was well educated, the whole family could move out from the remote Kroh, which is located at the border of Malaysia and Thailand and getting to a much better stage-educated, and with some wealth. I clearly understand how education had changed my father’s and my destiny. If my father wasn’t well educated, I might be still tapping rubber in kampung. The whole family’s life will be much more different.
Of course the government now is helping the 40 per cent lower and middle group as well. Anyway, education is still the only way to break away from poverty in the long run.
Red Tomato: Is it true that the genuine partnership and fair competition do not conform the needs of the Malay commercial circle?
Nazri: Genuine partnership and fair competition should have been done a long long time. There was a big controversy when MCA President Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek called to review the 30% Bumi equity. In my opinion, everything has to be settled with the spirit of genuine partnership.
There was someone asking me for help in the application of license for taxi, my first reaction was, must not approve 100 per cent Bumi or 100 per cent Chinese’s application, but to approve the Chinese and Malay partnership’s application.
I wish to implement the “1 Malaysia” company’s concept - a genuine partnership in which everyone is performing his best. Only this kind of business will gain and achieve the goal of racial harmony and prosperity.
I don’t see any fear in Malay businessmen, at least, I was a businessman and I had no fear. For the time being, Bumi and Non-Bumi’s partnership is tied up genuinely and coming up to the commercial benefits. There is no problem.
As what I’ve mentioned, I would like to see the establishment of a “1 Malaysia” company., Bumi and Non-Bumi each holds 50 per cent equity. As such, it will be growing more steadily and conform more to the existing industry and commerce developing scene.
Red Tomato: Malaysia needs Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and foreign fund to achieve our aim to be a high-income nation. Today, foreign fund in Malaysia declines drastically, even falls behind the Philippines. YB, how do you look at this issue?
Nazri: We have to get out of the traditional thinking. In this aspect, we have to look at Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia. We have to value the FDI in neighbour countries. Let’s say Singapore, although it’s a small country which is lack of land, it’s prepared to give away its land for free to attract long term beneficial plans such as world class university.
Malaysia must do the same. We always criticize that Singapore is too “Kiasu”, I think we’re “Kiasu” as well, because we do not open up investment opportunity to Singapore. When my Singaporean friends meet me, they always ask, “If Singaporeans do not invest in Malaysia, where will be the better place?”
Red Tomato: Why is everybody calling you “Chief”? Is there any story behind?
Nazri: I came into politics at a very young age, at the age of 24. At 24, I was already appointed as Executive Committee for Umno Youth. By the time, I was about 30, I was already like a ringleader. I was very active, very influential. But then, I was not a Datuk, not a YB, but they respected me and honoured me a title as “Chief”.
Even after I was conferred as a Datuk Seri, people are still calling me “Chief”. The way they address me is very friendly, there is no gap. Sometimes I feel as if I was the Red Indian Chief. Those who work close to me, my friends and followers, when they have problems they come to me. I help and listen to them. Frankly speaking, I prefer people calling me “Chief” rather than “Datuk Seri”.
Red Tomato: As a politician, we’re sure that your life will be very hectic. How do you balance your family with your work life?
Nazri: My children are all grown up. My elder son already married, having a pair of twin, one boy one girl. The younger one is going to marry next year. I don’t want them to step into politics nor to go through what I’ve been through, I want them to have a good life, happy family life. My father was a MP, same constituency. I don’t like “inheritance”.
Even for me I went into politics by accident, actually I wasn’t interested in politics at all. I just came back from England, and was chambering with my uncle. I needed someone to move my call in the courts.
I happened to know Suhaimi and he had invited me to become the Executive Committee Member of Umno Youth. At first I rejected, but after thinking twice, I eventually accepted his offer — it’s not for my own sake, yet for the future of the country. This was how I stepped into politics and until now. I would have loved to practice law, and maybe one day to become a judge. Maybe everything is simply destined.
Red Tomato: You’ve emphasised that you are “first a Malaysian and next a Malay”. There were suggestions that this remarks was made to project yourself contrarily, and had drawn comments from various sectors. Why do you put your identity of a Malaysian prior to a Malay? And, how do you relate nationalism and racialism to this aspect?
Nazri: You are born here, when you sing “Negaraku, Tanah Tumpahnya Darahku......” , it is very clear that you are a Malaysian. If you’re a Hokkien born in China, then you are orang Cina. If you’re a Hokkien born in Malaysia, then you’re a Malaysian...... It goes the same to other races. This is us, we all are Malaysian — First a Malaysian, then we talk about society, and then only race.
I love to quote Nicol David as example. Her father is a Malaysian Christian Indian, mother is a Malaysian Chinese. Then who is she? Malaysian! She represented Malaysia during the Commonwealth Games, but not India; Lee Chong Wei also represented Malaysia and glorified the country. If he returned home in triumph and somebody told him to “balik Cina”, how would you think? Nicol David has made Malaysian’s name mentioned all over the world. What have I done? Nothing.
Tell you my history. When I first join Umno Youth, I was very ultra, always do things only for the Malays, but never hate other races. When I entered the parliament, Dr. Mahathir was a minister. He told many of us one thing — in this country, even the Malays have a bigger population, we cannot do on our own. We have to govern the country with Chinese and Indian together.
He also told us that how he had wronged Tunku Abdul Rahman. He said Tunku was a man ahead of his time - a true nation leader. Mahathir mentioned about the 1969 election. He was fighting against Yusof Raub, and 90 per cent of the voters were Malays. He made the statement that “I do not need Chinese’s votes”, as a result he lost the election. Chinese voters had chosen to vote for Yusof Raub instead of him. From these, Mahathir taught us how to become a true nation leader.
Now my Sifu is outside the government. He told me to do so... But now? He told me not to be ultra, because that would affect his government. So he taught all of us to be “Malaysians”. I listened to all he had told me, believed in him. I’ve changed, became a “moderate leader”. But from outside, he is saying and doing something else. That makes me rather angry.
People are saying that I’m ungrateful, it’s actually not. It’s just that he has changed. I’ve never insulted him, I only reply, exercising my right to reply. And I’m now in the government, I’m minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. He attacks the Prime Minister, so I reply. You don’t expect the PM to fight back, right? Then I will have to do the “dirty jobs”.
I have to reply to the questions brought forward in the parliament spontaneously. It’s my responsibility to defend the PM and government, just as what I had always done when Mahathir was the Prime Minister. During his time, I was a “good boy”, and now he called me a “naughty boy”. But at the end of the day, I just want to say: “I don’t care”.
I’m not here to win praises, I do things because it’s the right thing to do. I’m not afraid to lose my post. I think being a minister is not something which is of glory,. Being a minister is accepting responsibility. If I don’t do the right things at the time when I’m in power, I’ll be failing the all Malaysians.
If I just sit here taking money and having this glorified post, I don’t think it’s meaningful. I have nothing to hide, I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. If you’re afraid, then don’t step into politics. Don’t only please people and do nothing, at the end of the day you please nobody. You have to make decision. If people think I’m wrong, let it be.
A lot of people are saying a lot of things about me, but I don’t care. The people serve in my constituency supported me. I’ve been in the parliament for 11 years, served three Prime Ministers. If I am not good, how could I last for 11 years? Things aren’t going to be easy, but we have to continue to convince the Chinese that their future is with us.
After all, we have a track record showing that in 55 years of governance, the three races have been working together to make the country better and more harmonious. If the non-Malays think that we’re not good enough, then we have to work harder. By the end of the day, if they think still not good enough, then we’ll wash our hands. This is what politic is.
They are people who are just like me in the cabinet, but they are afraid. Even the MCA ministers, non of them has repeated what I’ve said that they are first Malaysians then Chinese - none of them. To me it is not right to say that if we had said so, then we’d fell into the “trap” of Kit Siang.
What “trap”? The Indian ministers didn’t come out to say that, other Malay ministers did not, Kadazan and Iban ministers also didn’t say. I’m a Malay, yet I’m taking the risk to come out to say. Why others can’t? Let me tell you, they all agree with me. Maybe it’s just like what (Senior Commentator ) Joceline Tan said, they are not “Alpha Man” like me.
Last time I fought with Mahathir when I was working for him, and I was chairman of Mara. There were reporters asking me “Why are you so brave? You fear no man” and I replied: “I did fear of one man, and he was my father, but he died long time ago.” What is that to be afraid of? I think the only thing they are afraid of probably is losing their posts.
I have to say that the post is not something to be glorified about,it’s a very big responsibility. No one dare to follow me, but that’s okay. I’ve used to fight alone.
What’s the most that can be happened to me? Sack me? What have I done wrong ? After all, I’ve been in the parliament for 11 years. I don’t care, I just do what I think is right.