“We love lovable gadflies and mavericks. These however do not translate into political substance sufficient in turn to give power to Zaid.”
– Sakmongkol AK47
[For the record, I was at Zaid Ibrahim’s press conference as a private citizen and not representing any news organisation when he announced he had joined the DAP.]
People who dismiss former law minister Zaid Ibrahim as a political opportunist and political has-been are just parroting the stereotype that Zaid unfortunately has done little to dispel.
While I think there is validity in questioning how much he can help pull in the ‘Malay’ vote, this meme that Zaid desperately wants to be part of the political establishment does not stand up to scrutiny. Here is a man who has done everything to alienate the political establishment by espousing views that are anathema to mainstream Malaysian politics.
Zaid, when responding to my question (in a 2012 interview) on the trust issue some Pakatan partisan had (and still have) with him, he seemed genuinely taken aback that this was even an issue, “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 untrustworthy?”
The real problem is that Zaid does not need to be part of the political circus. I have no idea what he wants but it is certainly not what most ‘Malay’ politicians want out of mainstream Malaysians politics. While de facto opposition leader former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has made it clear that his main goal is removing Najib Abdul Razak from power, Zaid, although sharing that same game, has other preoccupations that has put him at odds with his political foes but more interestingly, his political allies.
Zaid’s political opponents (who include members of Pakatan Harapan or whatever it is called now) have painted Zaid as a liberal elite Malay more concerned with appealing to the urban non-Malay - specifically Chinese - polity, with his political incorrect (for some Malays) views on Islam and Malay political hegemony. Zaid joining the DAP gives more ammunition to those pushing this narrative. It remains to be seen how exactly Zaid and the DAP manage to overcome the hurdles placed by his critics, but more importantly, by Zaid himself.
At his press conference, the former law minister said that the reason why he joined the DAP was because “they shared the same principles of responsibility and honesty”. While there are many ways to interpret this, the reality is that the opposition has made the 1MDB scandal their main talking point, even though I have argued that this has not gained traction with the demographic they need to win over. With the presence of the former prime minister at the event, I think we can assume that dethroning the Umno grand poohbah is the glue that binds them together.
I have argued in many pieces that dethroning Najib and “saving Malaysia” are mutually exclusive. Getting rid of Najib but keeping the system in place that created him will not save Malaysia. The encouraging news is that more than any politician in the opposition, Zaid is someone who knows where the fault lines are and is unafraid to point them out even if it means ruffling feathers in the opposition.
When I interviewed the former law minister, I asked him whether Pakatan’s moderate Muslim stance should be overt despite the possible blowback from the state. His answer was clear and unambiguous - “Whether Pakatan is a moderate voice, we have to wait and see. The test is not whether they allow non-Muslims sufficient freedom; that's easy, but whether they will be ‘moderate’ to Muslims.
“I always believe it's better to state the right positions clearly and unambiguously on core delicate issues even if it means we have to ‘lose’ some support in the beginning. Politics is not just winning; but about doing the right thing. Long-term goals are equally important.”
The question Zaid raises on whether Pakatan will be moderate towards Muslims is one of the more important questions that needs to be answered...