By AZREEN HANI/ Pic By HUSSEIN SHAHARUDDIN
The annual general meeting of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) that begins today would be an avenue for its leaders and delegates to raise issues of national importance and represent not only the grassroots sentiment but also the people’s plight, says party president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Muhyiddin, 71, also said that the AGM, the first after the 14th General Election would serve as a platform for Bersatu to deliberate and discuss on the party’s role in the national political landscape, especially to strengthen the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.
“It is important for us to take our chance in this meeting to talk about strengthening Bersatu and PH, be it in the party or as a part of the government,” he said in an interview last Monday.
Amid news that more Umno leaders and members would join Bersatu and that its youth leader Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman’s call for minister P. Waytha Moorthy to resign, Muhyiddin spoke in great length on how the party is addressing these matters and its aspiration to move forward.
“We want the people to feel confident that even though we are small in numbers, we are courageous to speak up on national issues,” he said.
Below are the excerpts of the interview:
On the message and direction of Bersatu’s AGM
MY: This is our second AGM but it is the first with delegates elected to speak. It is also the first after the GE14 where our party becomes one of the components in PH government, in which we managed to defeat the kleptocracy government under Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak.
It is important for us to take our chance in this meeting to talk about strengthening Bersatu and PH, be it in the party or as a part of the government. We have been mandated from the people to lead the country for the next five years.
Hence, the focus to be highlighted by our delegates during the debates and from the Chairman’s speech is on how we strengthen our party and the people’s acceptance on us since we have a role to play in the government.
We are not only a political party but also a part of the PH government. Hence, among the highlights would be on how to strengthen the PH government.
First, through the close co-operation and deeper understanding among all parties (in PH) to work as a strong team. At the same time, Bersatu would help the government to implement all the agendas, be they on what’s stated in the manifesto; within 100 days or beyond; proposals for transformations and reforms for the administration and legislative; and how do we recover from our economic conditions and strengthen our financial status. Most importantly, how do we help in alleviating the cost of living.
We are concerned over this issue and that’s why we would like to remind our delegates nationwide to represent the people’s voice. The people today want the PH government to help resolve the “bread and butter” issue, such as price hike, subsidies, the fall of commodity prices, as well as issues related to the ordinary people.
The message that we want to bring in this AGM is what efforts that can be undertaken by the government and us as a party to address these main issues.
On label that Bersatu is Umno 2.0
I have repeatedly said that this is Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. The name, constitution and policies have already been spelt out and there’s no mention of Umno in it.
Admittedly, I was from Umno. Tun (Dr Mahathir Mohamad) and Mukhriz (Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir) were from there too but we have migrated, leaving the old struggles which we deemed irrelevant and do not meet its core objectives that is to protect the race, religion and our nation.
There are a lot of damages in Umno that deviated from its old struggle. As such, we have formed a new party that is Bersatu. We have new struggles with a solid foundation as we have the experience.
Thus, it’s easier for us to recognise what are the weaknesses (in administration). So, when we establish a new political movement, we want to set a new path especially when the government is elected. We want to set a new course for the New Malaysia which is what we are focusing on at the moment.
Undeniably, when we are in power and the people know that we can achieve a number of things, there are many who have realised or starting to realise that the struggle in Umno is no longer defensible.
That’s why there are many of them who want to join us in Bersatu. Our policy is open. Whoever is interested can join us as long as they abide the constitution, loyal to our leadership and willing to fight for a better Malaysia. Then, they are welcomed to be with us.
That’s why despite our willingness to accept new members, we do have a policy on accepting them so that people do not brand us as Umno 2.0. Our approach is different. We are the proponent of transparency and against corruptions. Umno had never mentioned that they are against it (graft) but we explicitly say that we are against it from top to toe.
We practice good governance which is already taking place in the government. Every cabinet decision is made based on these cores: transparency, anti-graft and it is evident from the actions we have taken on many corruption cases.
This is our direction. That is why I am not worried of the label because ultimately people will realise that Bersatu, along with other component parties in PH, are fighting for a better Malaysia.
On ex-Umno members who join Bersatu to escape criminal probes and charges
They will not be safe. Those in Bersatu and outside (the party) who are looking at the party to seek refuge so that no action will be taken against them…that’s it’s a big mistake to think so.
We are not a refuge for people to seek protection when they are aware that they have committed offences. We have explained, especially for Umno leaders, that they have to declare that they are independent first before joining us, and that we will vet them.
This vetting process will be conducted by the MACC (Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission) and the police to look into past criminal records. That’s one.
Another process is political vetting. One might have passed the first process but when we see that there are things which we deem unsuitable for our struggle, we have the right to reject the membership’s application.
I would like to assure that we are doing this in due diligence. Anyone can declare that they are joining us but that does not mean they are accepted into the party especially if one is implicated in untoward cases. An implication has already given us the ground to reject one’s membership. It’s better for us to find someone who is free from any offence. This is the type of person we want to join us.
We are providing leadership from these ex-Umno members and if they want to be with us, we cannot stop them. In fact, there are thousands of regular Umno members who want to be a part of Bersatu. Of course, we cannot stop them.
It is better to have these ordinary members who have realised that they have been following wrong leadership in Umno and want to change their course. It’s not wrong for them to do so. In fact, I think it is a good move.
On the uneasiness of PH component parties in welcoming ex-Umno members and leaders:
I think the uneasiness is normal. There may even be a little bit of jealousy. But amid all this uneasiness, I have heard the statement from DAP’s Lim Kit Siang who said if there’s any Umno member who wants to join DAP, they are welcomed to do so.
I heard similar statement from Mohamad Sabu during Amanah’s (Parti Amanah Negara) convention. I have heard the same remarks from PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) leaders although recently I’ve heard that they will not accept these Umno members.
Despite all that, we know that there have been attempts to lure Umno members to join them (PKR). They know that if we are looking at bigger context, this is not about Bersatu. This is about PH.
If these ex-Umnos have fulfilled all our criterion and passed all the vetting process and are qualified, I don’t think it’s wise for us to sideline them. If they can solidify us (PH), why not? Who can safely say that PH is already strong? You can ask all of PH presidents, I myself admit that we are not that strong yet.
So, when there are people who have realised that and wanting to pledge their support for us, not only from Umno but other ordinary people who have never been a member of any political party, I cannot say no to them.
I know that there have been talks on this issue where it is said that more membership would only make Bersatu stronger and indirectly strengthen Tun’s position, my post, thus creating a competition with other parties in PH and threatening Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s post…that’s politics.
However, we already have an agreement, co-operation and understanding. If we are looking at the acceptance of new members in PH positively, it should not be viewed as something bad.
On Bersatu’s leadership succession
We don’t have to discuss it. It’s already happening. The fact is that Tun is 93. I am 71 but not too old (smiles) and Mukhriz is in his 50s.
We have a lot of young leaders with Syed Saddiq (Syed Abdul Rahman) being one of them and many others even within the broad space of Bersatu itself with a lot of people coming in right now. Those that are already inside have already been groomed.
For example, Syed Saddiq who started from nowhere and we gave him the chance to sit on the PH Supreme Council. I have trust in him. We tested him for an election and he won with a good majority.
Generally he’s performing better by the days as the Minister of Youth and Sports. He is one of the examples but there are many along the line.
I am not too concerned on our new batch of leaders (barisan pelapis). We have many young leaders in the Supreme Council whom we trust. Of course, they are not given certain positions until the time comes. I don’t deny that the new generation of leader is important because the older ones will retire one day, and it is this young ones will take over.
On Bersatu’s take on Pas and anti ICERD rally
I don’t see the rally as a yardstick to measure on people’s support. I have always believed in elections.
When we talk about power we are looking at the election. Pas is good at mobilising people for rallies but they still lose the election. I am not underestimating them but when it comes to polls, how many actually supported and voted for Pas?
For me, the rally shows a sign of support but ultimately the people will show their support through the ballots.
That’s why Bersatu is not only working for the government but we are working on strengthening our party, our election machinery to face any election in the future. I think it’s good that we have opposition party that can provide check and balance. Let Pas remains as the opposition forever.
On Bersatu as the backbone of PH
We are being realistic that we are new, smaller than PKR that have been around for almost 20 years. That’s why it is important for us to strengthen our party and continue to recruit new members.
We have seen an increasing support to our party that we have to improve our system in accepting new members.
Secondly, is on our core struggle. Admittedly, we are not big but we are seen to be effective in raising people’s issue such as cost of living. You can check that I’ve raised this during Cabinet meeting with Tun and Finance Minister have reacted to it.
So even with our small voice, we are seen as effective to bring about changes. There’s no point of being big but not vocal or remain silent in the government.
We want the people to feel confident that even though we are small in numbers, we are courageous to speak up on national issues.
On Syed Saddiq’s remarks against P. Waytha Moorthy
We don’t have any autocratic or dictatorial approach in our party. We are open. We have young leaders with views and aspirations.
As long as it’s not overboard, at times when a leader wants to speak up, I just let it be. It’s a learning curve, where a person has to go through until he is matured. In politics, young people need more space to do and say something.
As for me, I have been asked on the issue of P. Waytha Moorthy and I have said it’s the Prime Minister’s prerogative and wisdom to decide. I believe that he (Syed Saddiq) is conveying the message from the people who want him to speak up, given his post as youth leader.
In the process, there are people who disagreed with him. I view this as his learning process.
I agree with Datuk Seri Anwar, who as a senior politician observing this issue, feels that some friendly fires are akin to shooting one’s own feet. Any view on this issue should be made internally because it would only create a negative perception on PH as a whole. A reminder like this is wise so that certain issues would not be discussed openly. However, we cannot keep limiting people from speaking up as well because it will not give a healthy perception on us.
For example, there were remarks from some leaders that the PM is not doing his job thus he should resign. To me it’s inaccurate. We are in the cabinet and we know how hard it is to take over and build a better future in a situation where the country is saddled with many huge problems.
Despite that, many efforts have been taken gradually to improve the situation. To say that the PM is not doing his job, I think it’s irresponsible especially when it comes from the same party and coalition.
As such, I think that Anwar’s timely reminder is wise so that we are not overboard in our words.
Bersatu’s direction post-Dr Mahathir’s leadership
It will not change as long as there’s the moon and the sun. Our struggle remains although the leadership will change. Just like other parties, the president would not remain at the post forever, it will keep changing.
What matters is not the leader but the direction. With that said, Tun had already drawn out the course for us as the chairman of PH and Bersatu. All aspects have been taken into consideration and the course has been set as a guideline for future leadership.
I too, will retire and be replaced with new leaders. The party will continue irrespective of the leader. The most important thing is what the party stands for. We have to be consistent and have a clear, straight direction so that people will remain supportive of us.
As of now the leadership in Bersatu remains as status quo. However, there will be party’s election next year. As a democratic party, it is up to our members to choose the leaders.
There will be changes and like me, if there’s anyone is elected to take over my post, I am okay with it. As for now, I have my responsibility to carry on.
Our members know better what they want and if they feel that the leadership should be changed, they are free to make their choices.
On advice to Bersatu delegates
I’ve already told them to nominate their representative to speak on their behalf. They are free to speak their minds. I think it’s important for top leadership to really listen at the grassroots level. Most of them are from the state and divisions.
We have to be very open about it. We cannot condemn and limit them. I don’t think it’s fair. What’s most important is the message they want to convey.