Malaysiakini News

'I'm glad I'm no longer in the Cabinet'

Kurniawati Kamarudin, Bernama  |  Published:  |  Modified:

It is flattering when a veteran politician like Syed Hamid Albar often gets told that he should have remained a minister as he still has what it takes to contribute to the nation.

"Many people think I should have remained in the Cabinet but I'm glad I'm not there. Just look at the world today...I don't think I can handle it," exclaimed the former Umno supreme council member, who was home affairs minister when he retired from active politics in 2009.

Syed Hamid, 73, said what he found "too hot to handle" was today's information explosion that is peppered with all kinds of fake news that go instantly viral and influence the people's minds.

"This (information explosion) is one of the main challenges our leaders are facing now, regardless of whether they are with the ruling government or opposition camp," he said.

It is also imperative that the current crop of politicians possess the necessary savviness to address issues confronting youths as they constitute almost 60 percent of the population, he said when giving a talk on Malaysia's 60-year legacy at Wisma Bernama recently.

Syed Hamid had served in the Cabinet for almost 20 years under three prime ministers, holding various ministerial positions. He was Public Land Transport Commission (SPAD) chairman from 2010 to June this year.

Lawyer turned politician

During his talk, Syed Hamid engaged the attention of his audience as he recounted the twists and turns of his political career.

Although his father, the late Syed Jaafar Albar, was an Umno strongman whose contributions had earned him the moniker "Lion of Umno," Syed Hamid harboured no political ambitions while growing up.

In fact, he aspired to be a lawyer and became one.

He said he made up his mind to study law after he was wrongly detained by police for allegedly bursting crackers.

"I was detained for something I didn't do and due to that incident, I developed a negative perception of the police as I felt that they didn't discharge their duties properly.

"I decided to become a lawyer so that I could help to uphold what I believed were the rights of the public," he said, adding that to this day perceptions ruled the world, especially in politics.

Political journey

Syed Hamid obtained his law degree from the Inns of Court in London in 1970 and started his career as a magistrate; the following year he was appointed president of the Sessions Court.

In 1972, he joined the financial and banking sector, where he worked for over 10 years before opening a law firm with other partners.

Eager to do his bit for the underprivileged community, he focused his attention on the many squatter families who lived in the Bukit Bintang area during the 1980s and helped them to resolve whatever legal problems they faced.

In the evenings, Syed Hamid would hold free classes for the petty traders in Bukit Bintang to teach them how to register their businesses and apply for bank loans.

His conscientiousness, coupled with the fact that he was a scion of a former Umno loyalist, soon caught the eye of then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who invited him to contest the Sungai Benut parliamentary seat in Johor (now known as Simpang Renggam) in the 1986 general election.

Syed Albar agreed and proceeded to make all the necessary preparations. However, at the last minute, he was dropped and the seat went to Mohamed Tawfik Ismail, the eldest son of former deputy prime minister Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Syed Albar campaigned tirelessly for Mohamed Tawfik to ensure Barisan Nasional's victory in the Sungai Benut parliamentary constituency.

"These days when a person's name is dropped as a candidate, they become so frustrated that they will jump ship to join another party. I did not leave Umno because I believed that it (contesting the Sungai Benut seat) was not meant for me."

Learnt many lessons

The whole episode turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Syed Hamid's image received a boost when many local dailies carried articles praising him for his sincerity in campaigning for Mohamed Tawfik.

 His patience paid off and in the 1990 general election, BN fielded Syed Hamid as a candidate in his home turf of Kota Tinggi in Johor.

"During my campaign, I went to the grassroots and visited the elderly kampung folks to get their support. In fact, I had known them since I was young and regarded some of them as my gurus or 'sifus'," he said.

During that era, he said, there was no place in politics for people who wanted to pursue their own personal struggle or agenda.

It was a time when they were aware of the legacy left behind by their former leaders and, having had a good grasp of the nation's political, economic and social history, they could march forward together irrespective of their racial background.

"Now, however, the scenario has changed and politics has become an avenue for individuals to pursue their own interests," he observed, adding that this was an unhealthy development.

No place for racial politics

Urging today's leaders to practice the principles espoused by Umno's founding fathers, Syed Hamid said his father had differences of opinion with the first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, but it did not lead to any split within the party.

"I can't recall how many times my father had arguments with Tunku but, still, he remained with Umno until he passed away (in January 1977)."

Syed Hamid is also saddened to see some people playing the race card even after 60 years of independence, when all the citizens of this country should regard themselves as Malaysians first.

"We are still pitting one race against another when countries like Indonesia and Singapore have moved forward (in building a common identity for their people)," he added.

- Bernama

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