Monday, May 19, 2008



The man who could have been chief minister says..
By Patrick Jonas
May 19, 2008

IF he had said yes, he may have been sitting in the Perak menteri besar's chair today.

Click to see larger image

Instead, Raja Petra Kamaruddin is out on bail battling a sedition case.

Just before the 8 Mar elections in Malaysia, Raja Petra was approached by the Democratic Action Party (DAP). "They offered to put me up in a safe seat," the fiery Malaysian blogger told The New Paper on Sunday in an exclusive interview.

The DAP went on to win 18 seats in the Perak assembly, yet not one of the winners was a Malay Muslim.

The state's constitution has it that only a Malay Muslim can be the menteri besar. This resulted in a Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) nominee becoming the menteri besar.

Why did Raja Petra decline the offer?

"I would have lost my freedom. In fact, if I had taken up the offer, I wouldn't be able to sit down here talking to you this freely. I am happy as of now," said the 58-year-old editor of Malaysia Today, sitting outside a café in Kuala Lumpur's upmarket Bangsar Village.

Freedom to speak his mind, like allegedly implying that the Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak was involved in the killing of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a 28-year-old Mongolian interpreter.


It was that allegation which saw him being charged with sedition on 6 May. He spent three days in jail, before being bailed out by Marina Abdullah, his wife.

He was held in solitary confinement in a cell that measured about 1.5 m by 2.5 m, with a squat toilet and a tap.

The Sungei Buloh prison had other bigger cells, some of which housed 80 to 100 prisoners. "The whole place was smelly," he said.

Raja Petra suffered severe back pain while in jail. He had to sleep on the floor, on a ½ inch foam mattress, which did not help his back.

He alleged that prison officials did not want him to be taken to the prison hospital because Abdul Razak Baginda was there.

Abdul Razak, a political analyst and friend of Mr Najib, is on trial for abetting the killing of Altantuya.

"The prison officials told me that they did not want me to meet Abdul Razak. So they asked me to tell my wife to take me out by posting bail," he said.

The blogger had refused to seek bail initially and even refused food. He said his refusal to seek bail was to "make it into a people versus government issue and not Petra versus government".

That was why he sought to raise money for bail by appealing to his readers – just RM1

(42 cents) per person.

So far more than RM70,000 has been collected. It has been put in a trust, to be used to bail out any blogger or writer who is arrested by the government.

He was also threatened while in jail. He said the two police officers, accused in the killing of Altantuya shouted at him while he was being brought in. Was he worried?

"No," he said. Threats have become part of life to him. Over the years, he has received several threatening phone calls. Some have even called him a traitor to the Malay race.

Raja Petra is a member of the Selangor royal family. He is a nephew of the late Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, who later became king.

Raja Petra, whose mother was Welsh, could easily pass off as a tourist in Bangsar Village. But while his wife sipped her latte and he narrated his experiences to me, several people who passed by waved or wished the couple. It was clear that the two are popular visitors to the area.

His eyes lit up when he was asked to compare former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

"Dr Mahathir is an adventurist. He took risks. But he does not listen to others.

"He is a good commander – strong, but a lot of people have to make sacrifices for that," he said.

He pointed to Dr Mahathir's adventurist streak in building structures like the Petronas twin towers, which were then the world's tallest, and other mega projects.

Mr Abdullah, according to him, has "no strengths... But he is willing to listen.

"However, he does not make any decisions. He is just the opposite of Dr Mahathir."

So who would make a good leader for Malaysia?

"A little bit of Dr Mahathir and a little bit of Mr Abdullah, would be excellent," was his view.

When asked whether Mr Anwar fit that bill, his answer was that even though the Keadilan leader had both qualities, he has a problem.


"Mr Anwar is strong-minded like Dr Mahathir. He listens to others. He is prepared to say he is wrong.

"But the problem with him is that after he has made up his mind, he changes it if someone tells him something and again changes it if another group approaches him. He goes by what the last person tells him. This can create friction."

Our discussion gradually veered round to the ruling Umno. If Mr Najib fails to succeed Mr Abdullah, what were the chances of Umno vice-president and trade minister Muhyiddin Yassin?

"On his own, his chances are slim but if he teams up with former finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, then their chances brighten.

"Ideally, Mr Muhyiddin should aim to be the deputy of Mr Razaleigh and take over after one term," he said.

Does the fall of Umno and Barisan Nasional in the eyes of the Malaysian people mean the aspirations of newly-elected MP Khairy Jamaluddin, the son-in-law of the Malaysian PM, are over?

Raja Petra wouldn't buy that argument. "Khairy is smart. He is not finished. He has a good future. He made the mistake of trying to cut the queue. He has to learn to work his way up. He has opportunities. Malays being feudalistic helps his chances."

Followers of Malaysian politics keenly watch Raja Petra's website. He is known to come up with explosive stories of Malaysian politicians which others fail to report. Has he anything significant up his sleeve which is due to appear soon on his website?

"A lot of things. But certain things cannot be revealed." That was all what he would say.

He is willing to stop his blog if the present government is ousted and Malaysia gets a two-party system. But he has conditions.

The ruling party should have only 55 per cent of the seats with the opposition taking the rest. There should be an independent judiciary and and an independent commission against corruption with powers to prosecute.

If these materialise, he will give up Malaysia Today and "drive all over Europe". Something which he has done before – once on a bike and then in a van with his wife and two other couples. Those days, he said, were his most memorable ones.