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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

'What Will Be Will Be'
That's Razaleigh's fatalistic take on becoming a future leader. Sure

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah
Chan Looi Tat for Asiaweek
Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah defies the odds. Twelve years ago, he paid a heavy price for audaciously challenging [and almost toppling] PM Mahathir Mohamad by being sent into opposition exile. Now he's back in UMNO -- which needs him to deliver Kelantan, the only state held by the opposition -- and he is widely spoken of as a future prime minister. Razaleigh, 62, insists he is "nothing, a nobody." But in a nearly two-hour session with Asiaweek's Santha Oorjitham at his family home, Palm Manor, in Kelantan state capital Kota Baru, Razaleigh came across as articulate, savvy and self-confident. In short, like a leader.

What will be the issues for the voters in Kelantan during the elections?

It will be the same old issue--that PAS has failed to deliver in spite of the promises made in 1990. Development is still the subject that is talked about because of high unemployment and poverty. Kelantan is way below the national average of poverty and the poverty line. This is sorely felt by the young looking for employment. They are facing difficulties because of the economic crisis. Jobs are very hard to come by. In the past, they could go out to other states to get employment but now things are difficult. Young boys from the rural areas come into the towns looking for jobs. Theyre getting less than 10 ringgit per day. They can't make ends meet with the high cost of living. Economics is still the issue.

Malaysia: Now, the Sinatra Principle
'We all did it our own way,' croons Mahathir

The Maps to Power
Voting districts lay a confusing quilt

Trial by Dirt
Anwar's claims fill the court and the media

Will Barisan Nasional be targeting the women voters?

Definitely. In spite of the pre-eminence of the ladyfolk here, who have taken the center stage not just in commercial life but in the life of the people, PAS has alienated them. They are not prepared to give recognition to the contribution made by the womenfolk who are very industrious, ingenious and creative. We can see everywhere that the womenfolk are in the forefront. They are also politically conscious. They are a very brainy lot, studious and they have excelled in the field of education. Strangely enough, out of the total number of students from Kelantan who are in universities today, the big majority are girls. This is much to the embarrassment of the menfolk here because they have done very well. They have scored good results in their examinations. They are going to do very well in the future. They should not be ignored. They will be a great help, not just to the state but to the country as a whole with their excellent record, qualifications and industry....

Will the case of Anwar Ibrahim be an election issue?

I have been going around the state ever since I was asked to do this job, about 3 months ago, and throughout my visits, not once has the matter regarding Anwar been raised at any time. I would assume that it is a non-issue in Kelantan. There are a lot of sympathizers. Anwar had many friends here, close friends in fact. But I don't think his case is an issue here. PAS likes to raise it. Anwar was getting a fair hearing among the people of Kelantan in the beginning when he was first sacked, dragged to court and charged with abuse of power. But since then the matter has died down.

During the Sabah state elections in March, Barisan's strategy appeared to be keeping all those who had been seen as aligned with Anwar as candidates. Barisan did very well in the Sabah elections. Is there a plan to do the same for the general elections?

I'm not aware of what happened in Sabah but I think everybody was given a chance to stand for the elections, including known close associates of Anwar, and they did fairly well as far as I know. I was there for only a week. Anwar was a non-issue in the Sabah elections.

I don't think the leadership would be doing that this time around. To begin with, Anwar's boys who were in sympathy with him or were very close to him have left and not many of them were in UMNO anyway. A few who are still close to him on a social basis but are still with us, I believe, are working for the party. I don't think they are going to be sidelined.

You had brought Anwar into the party. Could you please tell us how and why?

I was approached by a friend of his, telling me that Anwar wanted to see me in private in my office. I used to work very late in those days when I was in the Ministry of Finance. I did see him. He came around 11 o'clock at night. We were talking and he was very impressed with what UMNO and the government was doing under the leadership of Dr. Mahathir. I told him perhaps he could be of use to us. If he had any misgivings about what we were doing in the government and in the party, then he could come and try to persuade us to change our ways if he could succeed in doing that. I said after all, the party is open to all Malays and he should be part of us. It was a waste of his talents to be on the outside and he could contribute like any other young upcoming leader. He did respond. I had one or two more meetings with him in my office, also late at night. I also gave him briefs on the setting up of Bank Islam.... A week or so later, he requested me to bring him to see Dr. Mahathir if Dr. Mahathir agreed to meet with him. That I did. The meeting was held in Dr. Mahathir's residence. Anwar agreed to join UMNO. It's as simple as that. It was in 1982, before the general elections. The rest is history. I didn't participate in the press conference when Dr. Mahathir announced that Anwar was joining UMNO.

[Anwar] talked to me about the possibility of him offering himself as a candidate in that general election. I said I would mention it to the leadership of the party. I thought he would be a welcome candidate for Penang because we didn't have anybody in Penang at that time. I suggested to Dr. Mahathir that Permatang Pauh, which was part of the old seat that his father used to represent, would be the appropriate slot for him. They both agreed and Dr. Mahathir offered him the seat. I went and helped campaign for him in the general elections and he won. And he rose like a meteor and became the deputy prime minister. Of course, he fell like a hot brick.

When did the rift between you and Anwar begin?

I have no rift with him. After 1987, UMNO was declared unlawful and when UMNO Baru [New UMNO] was formed, I was not a member.... All of us lost our UMNO membership because UMNO was de-registered. Mahathir formed the New UMNO and we were locked out. I had no official or unofficial relations with any of these top UMNO leaders from then on. I didn't have any relations with Anwar after that.

One theory within UMNO is that Anwar was one of the factors leading to your challenge of the presidency in 1987 and Musa Hitam's challenge of the deputy presidency, because he [Anwar] was rising so fast. Any comments?

People think too much of Anwar. He was nothing to all of us at that point in time. It was a different issue completely, why I challenged Dr. Mahathir and why Musa agreed to become my running mate and candidate for the deputy presidency. He [Musa] hoped he would be re-elected. It was nothing to do with Anwar. Anwar was youth leader at the time.

Any other issues which will be a factor in the elections?

I don't think so. PAS has no issues to offer. They are riding on the so-called political sacking of Anwar and using [Anwar's wife] Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail at their rallies to draw the crowd. Mind you, they have been getting quite large crowds at their ceramahs and rallies. People always like to listen to the opposition but they may not necessarily support or vote opposition. They listen to hear different viewpoints from the other side. The press do not carry much of the speeches of opposition members. I experienced that when I was in opposition. You get large crowds. I used to get fairly good attendance--10,000 or 20,000--but they never voted for us.

In some areas, people claim they don't want development. Is that the case in Kelantan?

If you ask people in the street here, they don't care for development. They think it is the responsibility of the government, whether state or federal, to bring development to the people. After all, they are taxpayers. They expect all these facilities to be brought to them.... The young are looking for employment and because employment is hard to come by these days, they are hoping there will be development here so that money spent will create jobs, with a multiplier effect. The young anywhere today are looking forward to development and activity in the state in the hope that they will get jobs, contracts and such like. Even businessmen are looking forward to this kind of activity so they will be kept busy. At the moment there is nothing happening in the state, nothing at all.

What is your role, in Kelantan and nationally, now that you are UMNO liaison chief for Kelantan?

Nationally, nothing. In the state, nothing: I am just the chairman of the liaison committee. Power is vested with the divisional committees. They are charged with the responsibility of running the election machinery within their given parliamentary constituencies. I am here purely to coordinate state activities of the party and to give advice if needed. I go around trying to get people to be active again if they are no longer active because they have been sidelined all this while. I am trying to get as many people to come forward and help us in the forthcoming elections. That's all. Its a very simple job.

Have you visited all the constituencies in Kelantan?

Yes. I don't have a schedule. I get so many requests from all the divisions and competing demands from the state assemblymen that we have, all asking me to visit their constituencies. I try to arrange [the visits] according to priority that is determined by the state publicity committee. I go to as many places as possible, to meet interested groups and vested groups. I also meet NGOs, government employees at the official and support staff level. I meet all of them. I try to feel the pulse, which way they want us to go. I keep busy talking to them, understanding the problems they face. I have a fair idea of what they want but it all depends on how you respond, and how UMNO leaders at the divisional level behave during the run-up to the elections, whether they can foster solidarity among themselves or whether they are going to have problems. If we are united, we are going to win. I am confident.

What is the breakdown of party support in Kelantan?

PAS does not have a strong following in the state although people say that PAS is very strong in Kelantan. PAS had a base here because they used to have the state government here from 1959 to 1973. They continued to rule the state even after they joined Barisan until 1977. They had a strong presence here, compared to the other states. As a result of that, they have entrenched supporters in the various constituencies, particularly up north, especially where the pondok [hut] establishment is present in the rural, agricultural areas, especially the padi-growing areas. That's where they are strong. People look up to the religious teachings of Tok Guru. They ask them for advice, for resolution of their family problems. Marriage, birth, everything revolves around these people. If not the Tok Guru of the pondok, then the imams [prayer leaders]. But they are not that strong. With education, people are tearing away from their conservatism....

But even the young of today feel disenchanted with what they see and are drawing close to religion. The only organization they can think of is PAS. They draw closer to PAS not because they like PAS but in the absence of any other organization that they can be associated with.

PAS has established Kelantan as a base. There is strong support for PAS but statewide, the support is not more than 34% or 35% depending on the constituency. They are strong in Pengkalen Chepa, not because there is any religious establishment there--there is none--but because of neglect. UMNO has neglected that constituency. They used to be UMNO people. But because they were neglected over time it has become a PAS stronghold. Across the river, where there are a lot of pondoks and the imams are very forceful people, in the padi-growing areas, naturally the support is stronger than what you find even in Pengkalen Chepa because it is natural for them to be drawn to these religious people and this establishment because life gravitates around there. They are strong there. In such areas, they can get support of up to 45%, 50% or 55%--again, depending on UMNO. If UMNO plays its part well and services the people well, PAS can't even get beyond 30 percent of support.

Again, it's neglect. [In] Ulu Kelantan, where I come from, PAS has no presence. It's the most undeveloped part of the state. They should have a strong presence there but they don't because we look after our constituency. I'm not claiming credit for that but UMNO is very active down there... and so the people respond to you.... They respond to you in kind. If you are kind to them, they will be kind likewise to you. They have always been very kind to me.... When I was in UMNO they supported me. When I was in Semangat '46 they supported me...because we had been servicing them. The people on the ground are not that ideological.

Over 50% in Kelantan are for UMNO. They are very strong. It's just that, continuously, there has been bickering in UMNO. There's in-fighting. That's the weakness in UMNO.... The swing votes are 8% to 15%, depending on where.

At the moment PAS has 7 parliamentary seats and we have 7. In the state assembly PAS has 25 of the 43 seats, because of two defections from us. If we are united and are able to mount an effective campaign all around, we can get around 25 to 27 state seats and anywhere between 8 to 10 parliamentary seats. That's a rough guess.

Are there factions within UMNO Kelantan and if so, is there any sabotage from within the party?

No. What I am worried is that people who are disappointed by not being named candidates for the election may withdraw support and that could muck up things. I don't think there will be any attempt to sabotage the campaign. I don't think anybody could do that. On a small scale, maybe -- but I don't think even that. Let them try, but I don't think it's going to hurt us....

In Kelantan, would Barisan do better if the elections were sooner or later?

[Laughs.] It doesn't depend on me. It depends on the machinery, how prepared the boys are. I suppose it could be any time. I am new in this job. Although I've done this before, I'm new now. So if you ask me, I think I need more time. I've been here for 3 months. I cannot perform miracles. I'm just a nobody, you know.

Among the 50% UMNO votes, how many are your personal supporters?

I don't think I have any. But there are people who like to see things changed. I've spoken to a lot of kampung [village] people, even the trishaw pedallers... and they said how difficult life is and they hope things would change. There is no money to be made. They feel that this [state] government has not given them much hope. They think perhaps we can do something for them.... If you go by what these people say and what the young people have been telling me, there is a great opportunity: We may be able to get the support that we need for wresting power from PAS.

Are the Malay votes split in Kelantan?

Kelantan has always been split right down the line. From 1959 it has always been the case. In 1959, because of the infighting in UMNO, PAS could win. Because of the split within UMNO, it took years to bring them together again. I know this because I was in the middle of this; I was asked by [then premier] Tunku Abdul Rahman to come and help in 1962. We were thrown out of power in 1959 so people didn't want to have anything to do with us in the state. If you said you were UMNO, you were not looked upon favorably by the people here. It took a long time to rebuild the image that UMNO had before independence [in 1957]. Since then UMNO is much stronger but is subject to the dictates of people in Kuala Lumpur. They are greatly influenced by what happens there.... Vote-buying is one of the things practiced in UMNO today. There are so many warlords in UMNO who... have influence in the state. As a result, UMNO is split into factions. In Kelantan alone there are 2 or 3 factions. They are followers of so-and-so. I don't care who they follow. My mandate is to get Kelantan back if I can get the support of everybody. As far as I can see, they are together now. I don't think they will split in the face of the elections.

You have campaigned for elections both for UMNO and for the opposition. Which is easier?

In the government you have to defend all the time. Defending is a very tricky art. Attacking, you just let go, no holds barred. It's easier to attack. But I don't find it difficult to attack PAS now because they have failed in everything they have tried to do. It is not that difficult to campaign in Kelantan now.

In 1990 and 1995, you had criticized privatization, lack of transparency in government contracts and the emergence of cronies. What is your stand on that now?

I would like to keep all these things to myself now because I am within the party that I criticized. I had that privilege to criticize when I was not in the party. Since I am now in the party, I will criticize within the party.... I think that is fair. That does not mean my feelings have changed very much. But if you are going to work within the party, then let's keep it private.

So it is being tackled?

Hopefully things will change.

You had also criticized the government's economic policy. What are your views now?

A lot has changed for the good and a lot has changed for the worse. But again, I am going to reserve my comments and criticisms. I like to talk it out with the leadership if there is a forum for it, to let my views be heard.

Are you an economic advisor to the government, either officially or unofficially?

No, I am not. I am nothing.

Are you in any other economic forum? You are not in the National Economic Consultative Council II?

I was selected and appointed to represent the UMNO delegates to NECC II but I withdrew because I wanted to devote my time to my work here. I don't have that kind of brain to tackle too many things at one go. So I prefer to concentrate my time on Kelantan. That's why I'm here most of the time.

While in the opposition, Semangat '46 had talked about some of the political and economic reforms which the "reformasi" movement is now talking about. Publicly you have been critical of the "reformasi" movement.

I am against violence of any kind. I don't think you achieve anything through violence. You only destroy things. I believe in democracy and we use all the available means to be heard. Even if we are not heard, we must try to be heard. I don't believe in demonstrations. That's why we never did that when I was in opposition. I always told PAS, Parti Rakyat Malaysia [PRM], Democratic Action Party [DAP], 'Why do all this? We have got the proper forum to voice our opinions and views. Why not do it?' They listened. That's why there were no demonstrations in my time.

I have mentioned but I am not in the right forum yet. When the time comes, I will voice it out to the top leadership. They are quite sympathetic to these views but when you voice it out from the opposition, they will resist and oppose it. If you are in the same camp and party, you have a right.... I have not tried. I have not been given the chance yet.

Later, UMNO was declared unlawful and you set up Semangat '46....

Tunku had a brainwave and said why not form a party based on UMNO's struggle? Why not use the name Spirit of '46, the year UMNO was formed -- since we couldn't get the name UMNO because Mahathir had already used that name. So we registered a party in the name of the year in which UMNO was formed... using the UMNO constitution exactly. And that's how Semangat '46 came about. Tunku said 'I can't head the party; it's for young people like you.' I became the president. But for all intents and purposes, it was supposed to be a temporary arrangement. Tunku said we'd use this party to prevent these boys from joining PAS or any other opposition party and wait for Mahathir to cool down. Once he cooled down, we'd go talk to him and we could get together again. Tunku believed that we must be together. He's always been correct. He always went to the UMNO general assembly, when he was invited by Mahathir, purely to see whether or not there was a possibility of getting together again. As soon as he agreed, we disbanded Semangat '46.

Who mediated between you and Dr. Mahathir, leading to your return in May 1996?

A government servant known to both of us. I suggested we meet at [businessman] T. Ananda Krishnan's house. It would be away from the press; nobody would know. He drove his car there; I drove my car there. Nobody would suspect. Otherwise the meeting would never take place.

How long did the process take?

A few months. We only had one meeting at Ananda's house.

Was there a formula?

No formula. An agreement to get together; that's all. I asked for nothing.

Was there a guarantee that all Semangat '46 members would be allowed to join UMNO?


And have they all been allowed?

They were all accepted into UMNO but because of the sheer numbers from our side, not all were accepted at the branch level--so they were all hanging in the air. At first, we submitted over 190,000 forms. One or two hundred thousand more refused to sign the forms; they wanted to see what happened to us. And then when the process of admitting all these people into UMNO took time, the interest of these others who didn't sign the forms dissipated. Even Semangat '46 members who couldn't get into the UMNO branches may have opted to support the opposition. Of over 190,000 who signed the forms, over 60,000 became members [in the branches]. Another 30,000 are still pending in Kelantan alone. In Kota Baru alone there are 6,000 pending.

It's an urgent priority. But if, say, 100 ex-Semangat '46 people want to be admitted into a particular branch, they may swarm the membership of the branch. And next year is party election year and these people may be displaced. It's a difficult consideration on their part. Not many ex-Semangat '46 leaders have made it into the branches and divisions and none of them hold government or party positions. You can't blame the UMNO leaders: We came in after the [1996] party elections. They had elected their own officials. We couldn't just walk in and demand they resign and give us their positions. We had to be fair to them too. This is politics.

How are your relations with Dr. Mahathir now?

Good. I do not see him often. I don't like to disturb people, you know....

Has he given you any message for Kelantan?

No, nothing. He just said, 'You become the chairman of the UMNO liaison in Kelantan.' That's it. I think I know what to do. If I do wrong, then I think he should sack me.

Some say that when Dr. Mahathir steps down, you would become the next prime minister.

No. Many other people are suitable for that job.

Is there any talk in Kelantan about this?

There is talk in the coffeeshops. It's not that vocal yet.

What are your plans for UMNO elections next year?

I have no plans at the moment. What will be will be. I have to devote my time and energy to helping strengthen UMNO in Kelantan.

If there's a vacancy in any post, would you contest?

All posts are going to be vacant. [Laughs.] I may go for the auditor's [post].

If Kelantan were regained by Barisan, would there be a groundswell for you to return to the party's national leadership?

For the moment, I have no plans. Why I'm working so hard here now is because I think if I can pin PAS down here in Kelantan, then I can indirectly help other states which are under attack by PAS. To a certain extent, the pressure in other parts of the country would be less because of our aggressive campaign. That's why we're trying our level best to win over the hearts and minds of the PAS supporters in Kelantan. It's not easy, but we'll try our best.

In previous elections, you had said you'd never go back to UMNO.

I did say that, like most people who go on rhetorics, because I was leading Semangat '46. How could I say I wanted to join UMNO when I was leading another party? But then there was this process of accommodation and we agreed to merge and become one. The primary objective was to be united. It was in the interests of the party that we be united so that was a good reason to be together.

Can you see any future in UMNO for either Anwar or Wan Azizah in 10 or 20 years?

It's very difficult to say because it depends on the membership. If the membership want to have people like them back in UMNO then of course they'll be admitted into UMNO again. But if you take [former Selangor chief minister] Harun Idris as an example, he was convicted, he came out, he was in UMNO, he left UMNO when it was declared unlawful, he was with us, he tried to get back into UMNO but he failed. He is not a member of UMNO to this day. In Anwar's case, he was convicted. We don't know whether he will be granted a pardon if he loses his appeal. If he is granted a pardon, he may be asked to rejoin UMNO by his supporters--if there are any supporters left in UMNO. It depends on the circumstances and the timing. He may no longer want to be part of UMNO--if UMNO is still around and still powerful and in power. But UMNO is a Malay party and therefore should be open to all Malays. If the membership feels a certain individual should be brought in because he can contribute towards the struggle of the Malays in the country, why not. But for the present he is not part of UMNO and I cannot see how he could come back into UMNO. He's already a member of an opposition party.

UMNO says anyone contesting against UMNO in the next elections will never be allowed back into UMNO.

You have to apply to the supreme council who will then consider the application and if they reject it, that's that.

There are many question marks. But you can't write off any politician. Who would have thought Mahathir would be prime minister today? He was out in the cold in 1969. He came back strong and became prime minister. I was in the opposition, locked out from UMNO--and now I'm in UMNO. You can never tell. But in the case of Anwar, it's a bit difficult for him to make a comeback. If he doesn't get his appeal through and doesn't get a pardon, he has to serve out his prison term and even then, there is this 5 year disbarment under the law. Five years plus four is nine years. And what about this case he is facing now?

How does opposition cooperation now compare with when you were in the opposition in 1990?

From my own experience, it's tough to fight an established party like Barisan which has a very good track record, no matter what differences people may have with the party or the leadership running the government today. From nothing to something, people have enjoyed both material as well as spiritual benefits. Nobody can deny that. You can see changes all over. You can see the change in attitude of the people. You can see people are much more confident today than ever before and this is brought about by changes... by the present government.

Barisan has got the machinery. It may appear weak but it is strong because it is backed by the government machinery. It is very difficult to determine whether they abuse it or not because it is the same people in the government who are also running the party machinery. The arm of the government reaches out right to the grassroots.... It's everywhere; it's ever-present. They walk about with authority because they have positions in the government. The law does not discriminate against them for taking an active part in party work. It's formidable.

Then you have the foreign media. The foreign media may be anti-government. So what? The people in my constituency don't watch CNN or CNBC. They don't read "Asiaweek" or [local Malay daily] "Utusan Malaysia" because they don't have the means to buy them. They are very inaccessible to information. We go down with authority and we are more credible because we can say, "You want water? We'll give you water." If the road needs mending, we get it mended within the week. The opposition can't do anything. Barisan has the money, the organization and the bodies. I know because I was on that side and in the opposition. I could see the difference. The police and other agencies are with the government, whether you like it or not. When the prime minister comes down with all the paraphernalia of a big man, he is very awesome. Everybody looks up to him.

PAS is a grassroots party. It revolves around the imams, the pondoks. They are not forceful enough. Their threat to their followers is that they'll go to hell if they don't follow them. That's about all. Here, you can go to jail, be detained under the Internal Security Act, be bankrupted. It's real. You don't have to issue that threat. Squatters can be deprived of homes, get no water supply. It's threatening, intimidating. What can the opposition do? ...This is true of any developing society.

PAS goes on and on because its core believe in Islam and they think PAS is Islam, which is not true. These people are being made use of by their leaders. They live simply. You can't fault them. They don't go to excesses because they have no money. The [state] executive councillors are driving big cars, they get loans to build large houses, they also like to indulge in excesses. They are human beings too.

Keadilan was born of the necessity to be used as a platform for Wan Azizah purely to gain sympathy from the people for Anwar. That is all. They don't have the machinery and the people. Anwar is locked up in Sungei Buloh prison. Who is going to run the party? I am not questioning their ability. They are qualified people. But it is one thing to be qualified. It is another thing to have experience how to run a political machine. I've been in this game for nearly 40 years and I've been in the opposition. Running an opposition party is not easy. You need money, time, all the help. In my case, UMNO split into two. I had all the big guns with me--Tunku, Tun Hussein, everybody. Even then it was not easy. In the case of Anwar, nobody followed him. Nobody left UMNO to join him.... [Those with Anwar] are young chaps, first-timers, all greenhorns. I'm not saying they are no good. They may be better than us. But in terms of experience: zilch. I don't think they can perform. They need the machinery. In Kelantan they tried and they were dominated by PAS. All over, even in Penang. PAS is not going to give way but they are going to use Keadilan.

How does the Barisan Alternatif [opposition coalition] now compare with Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah and Gagasan Rakyat [the two opposition coalitions bridged by Semangat '46] in 1990?

It's PAS and DAP-dominated. Whereas in my time, we dictated. I was chairman of both APU and Gagasan Rakyat. And we had the experience, the ministers, the deputy ministers--who had served a number of terms. And we had the grassroots as well because UMNO was split in two. In some places, we had the whole branches, in my constituency, for example. Anwar didn't have that, even in Permatang Pauh his deputy Ahmad Saad has turned turtle. Nobody left UMNO to join Anwar or Keadilan.... PAS is cleverer than them. They've been in this game for a long time. Don't under-estimate PAS. They are much better organized. I don't think Keadilan will succeed. Even Wan Azizah, if she were to offer herself for elections, I don't think she'll win, even in Permatang Pauh. She depends on support from DAP and PAS sympathizers and her own supporters in Keadilan. But in Permatang Pauh the Chinese support the Malaysian Chinese Association [partner in the Barisan]. UMNO may be split but if the MCA is in full force for Barisan, even if you get 30 percent of the Malay votes, Barisan will win. That's the virtue of Barisan--which I discovered when I was in the opposition.

In Kedah, it's very difficult to topple the Barisan. If PAS goes in, the DAP supporters won't support it, let alone the MCA. Half the Malays will vote UMNO. The rural Chinese all support MCA and [predominantly Chinese] Gerakan, not DAP. The rural Chinese need licenses from the local government so they have to be very good to the MCA.

I may be wrong. I think the same thing will be repeated.... But they say they're going to have a common manifesto.... It depends on what they put inside. If they don't mention an Islamic state, even PAS supporters won't support it because PAS has been saying they want to establish an Islamic state....With the DAP, there's 'Malaysian Malaysia'. I'm sure PAS would not agree to that.

We never had a common manifesto in our time. We had a common manifesto among Gagasan, but not with PAS. We couldn't agree on a common symbol, either. There again we couldn't draw votes....

My prediction is that in Sarawak, Johor and Pahang we'll have a clean sweep....DAP is finished in Sarawak, and Sabah too. When we win 4 states, we're already on the road to forming the government. We'll have a two-thirds majority. I can't see PAS winning all the parliamentary seats, even in Kelantan. It's very difficult for PAS.... They need to get 62 seats to deprive the two-thirds. PAS is contesting 60 seats; DAP 60; Keadilan 60 and the leftover to PRM. I think Keadilan will be wiped out. They have no machinery....

Any comments on the revision on bank mergers?

I think it's a good thing. The government has made a wise decision to allow the shareholders to think for themselves. There's no hurry as long as there is the intention to reform. And I hope that there will not be any political interference.

You were learning how to play the piano. How is that going?

I've considered buying a piano that I could put a cassette in. [Laughs.] I have one baby grand piano I haven't touched; I have a clavinova; I have two keyboards. I can play some simple songs but I'm out of practice. I'm good at playing tapes!

You also like to cook. What's your specialty?

Anything. Local Kelantan dishes. I used to get recipes from my sister. When I was a student in London, and in Belfast, I had to cook myself because the restaurants shut on Sundays. I had to cook or go hungry.

What is your philosophy of life?

Leave it to fate. Be kind to people and people will be kind to you. Do good.

What do you think of the capital controls which Malaysia has adopted?

It has worked very well although a lot of people had misgivings about it and a lot of people felt that it was unnecessary. But it has helped promote recovery. It has not caused anyone to lose any money. So there's no reason why it should not be in place. Let's see what is going to happen. I'm sure the government will review this from time to time. If it is not conducive to recovery or to help stimulate recovery, then I'm sure the government will dismantle it. But for the present, it has not been harmful to the country.

How should Malaysia restructure the economy to break the nexus between politics and business?

This thing happens in all countries. Don't just imagine that it only happens in Malaysia. It happens even in developed societies like UK, where the two and two go together. But it is very difficult to define what is a political program and what is a business venture because one tends to overlap with the other. You cannot say that a politician cannot be involved in business, nor can you say a businessman cannot be a politician. As long as those in power are not running businesses and are not making use of their position to further their ends, I think it's OK.

Do you agree with the IMF prescriptions for the Crisis?

From the beginning I never agreed with it. The set of circumstances that we were in was quite different from the scenario that the IMF was painting. We don't borrow money from abroad: We did borrow, but not to the extent of some other countries. We don't have much capital flight except for money that came into the stock market, which was pulled out by the fund managers. The investments were in place. No factories were closed down simply because of the fall in the value of the ringgit. Things were doing well. There was no massive unemployment, as happened in some of the neighboring countries. There were no bankruptcies as such because of the redefining of the monetary and fiscal policies of the country. It was not too much of a burden on those people who suffered as a result of the depreciation of the ringgit.

How do you see the leadership transition in Indonesia? Is it still the leader of ASEAN?

It is the biggest country in ASEAN and the most populous and the biggest Islamic country. We look upon Indonesia as a big brother because of its sheer size and pre-eminence. Not that we want to play second fiddle; we are equal on the world stage. But still we think that Indonesia should play a bigger role as it used to. It depends on how the leadership of Indonesia wants to play it and what the ASEAN members would like to see happening. In the past, Indonesia was considered the leader. Nobody has said to the contrary after this change of leadership in Indonesia. We'll have to see what the new leaders of Indonesia would like to do.

What are ASEAN's strengths and weaknesses?

The current strength is the agreement to have a common agenda in order to make this region not only economically viable but also politically and militarily safe from interference from any other forces. Its weakness is because of the sharing of the common borders. You have friction between the countries which share the common borders. And of course the overlap of interests between the countries gives rise to a lot of misunderstanding. These matters ought to be put aside if you really want to achieve the objective of developing the regional grouping into a strong, vibrant economic grouping for the future.

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