Face To Face: Raja Petra Kamarudin
Raja Petra Kamarudin, dubbed the ‘Asian Reformist’, is changing the way Malaysians look at themselves. Sometimes seemingly shy, but never backing down from confrontation with the powers-that-be, he is somewhat of an enigma. Face to Face talks to the man behind Malaysia Today and uncovers this reformist.
1. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Malaysia Today has been hugely successful. Into its 3rd Anniversary, would you do anything different in terms of the stated objectives and direction of Malaysia Today?
Raja Petra: I suppose if I died and was born again I would still live my life exactly the same way I am living it now. I know this sounds blasphemous coming from a Muslim considering that Islam does not believe in reincarnation. But I am of course speaking figure-of-speech-wise. In that same spirit I would not do things any differently as far as Malaysia Today is concerned.
2. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Malaysia Today seems to be down or inaccessible more often these days. Is this the result of attacks from Umno cyber-troopers as you alleged? It appears that they are close to shutting Malaysia Today down completely.
Raja Petra: Initially the problem was bandwidth. I had to increase our bandwidth multi-fold and bandwidth costs money. That is why I sometimes whack those who post ‘junk’ in the blogs. They are using up valuable bandwidth and this would deny the other more genuine readers access to Malaysia Today, especially those who do not have Broadband access and have to depend on dialup.
Anyway, I have resolved the bandwidth problem. All you need is money to buy more bandwidth, that’s all. And as a ‘pensioner’, so to speak, I am surviving on my pension. Therefore I do not have income or bottomless pockets and it was certainly painful to have to increase my expenditure on the website. Since I started Malaysia Today three years ago my expenses have increased ten-fold. I also have about half a dozen staff to pay and some of them are on fixed monthly salaries.
The current problem we are facing has nothing to do with money or bandwidth. We have been attacked many times, sometimes two days in a row, with DOS (denial of service) attacks. On Monday last week we were shut down for seven hours and the following day for six hours. I have since beefed up our security. Again, all it takes is money…..sigh…..
But we are not the only one getting hit. Screenshots and Harakah too were attacked. I believe they are attacking all ‘anti-government’ websites. Yes, they might finally try to close us down for good. But I don’t know how they are going to do it. Maybe they will find something to charge me with and lock me away. I really don’t know and I can’t be bothered. In fact, I challenge them to do their worst.
3. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: You have vowed to keep Malaysia Today an open avenue for all views yet the comments posted on your site are now the subject of legal contention. You talk about the inability to monitor the bulk of comments posted and now practice some form of censorship. I put it to you that you have strayed from your promise?
Raja Petra: We see thousands of postings a day so how can I read everything on top of searching for news items, updating the site, editing, all which I do myself, plus writing as well? I probably read about 10% or less of the comments so invariably many junk postings get through.
But a friend is scanning through the comments and editing or deleting those he feels are overboard, obscene, racial, and so on. I have given him full authority because it would be impossible for him to contact me and discuss case-per-case each posting. I trust my friend’s judgement and leave it to him to decide what gets thrown out.
There are of course certain parameters we work within. For example, postings such as Keling Pariah, Malay dog, Chinese pig, %$#! your mother’s #@!!, and such profanities, definitely get thrown out. I don’t think anyone can accuse us of unfair censoring if we clamp down on these types of postings.
But other than that we are quite liberal and many are actually unhappy about this. They feel we are allowing or even encouraging Malay and Islam bashing. My contention is that when Malays shout and scream about Ketuanan Melayu and label this and that Islamic or un-Islamic then they are inviting comment or criticism.
Sure, non-Malays or non-Muslims criticise Malays and Islam respectively. But the question is: whose fault is this? When you walk around naked then you can’t fault people for calling you cuckoo. Don’t walk around naked, then no one will have any reason or opportunity to insult you. We are stripping the Malays and Islam naked for all and sundry to see, so expect the criticism. Stop screaming about Melayu and Islam and no one will scream back. But then Malays think that since this is a Malay-Muslim country they have every right to scream about Melayu and Islam and that others should never dare scream back. That is when the problem starts.
4. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: How do you feel after being named as a leading ‘Asian Progressive’ by World Business Magazine (May 2007)?
Raja Petra: Actually, it’s second most progressive, not leading. But I really don’t know how they named me although they did mention the criteria applied. But that is only the opinion of one journalist from one journal. I am sure others will not agree with his opinion. So I am not popping champagne just yet.
5. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Critics charge that you change ‘teams’ from Anwar Ibrahim to Tun Dr. Mahathir, that you are disloyal to your chosen allies. What would you say to the critics?
Raja Petra: Why must everything be looked at in terms of teams? I did not support Anwar when he was in the government. I supported Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in his Semangat 46 days. Of course, I did support Anwar for awhile, but that was before he went up the Umno ladder. I was in fact closer to PAS since the late 1970s.
I support causes, not personalities. If that personality carries a cause I can relate to then I rally behind him. If I do not like his cause or feel that he has abandoned the cause then I move on. Life is too short to bitch and whine. If we meet eye-to-eye, we talk. If not, we walk.
Politicians carry this concept of ‘if you are not with me then you are against me’. Even Bush is like that. Why can’t I not be with you, yet not be against you? Today, Tun Dr Mahathir is the closest thing we have to an opposition. He is doing the job of the entire opposition. I like that and can relate to it. That does not mean I overlook his mistakes of past. But if he can redeem these mistakes and make up for what he did by correcting things, then that is all I care.
Even God forgives you if you repent and turn over a new leaf and make up for your past mistakes. Are we above God that we can choose to reject Mahathir for what he was rather than look at him for what he is now? This country needs saving. And if the opposition will not do that then we have to work with the next best thing.
Many say that the present problems facing our country are Mahathir’s doing. Well, in that case then that is even more the reason why Mahathir should be the one to correct them. Anyway, if Mahathir will not do it, who will? I don’t see anyone else doing it.
So I support Mahathir in his effort to correct the wrongs. I will also support anyone and everyone else who wishes to bring about reforms, even Khairy Jamaluddin if he wants to reform the nation.
6. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: I put it to you that in your widely read articles, your enemies often suffer personal attacks. Do you agree?
Raja Petra: True, but once you are a leader then you no longer own a private life. You are a public servant so you become public property. You are in office because of us and we are paying your salary. So we own you and what we own we can do what we like with it.
I don’t care about Siti Nurhaliza or Sharifah Aini or whoever. They are not in public office and they are not earning their salary from money we pay the government in the form of taxes. They can do what they like, even screw around and hold sex parties. But if you are a Yang Berhormat, civil servant, and so on, then we are watching you. We own you. And if you get out of line and we will screw the daylights out of you.
7. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: The common view is that you are opposed to the administration of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Is this fair comment and if so what is your ultimate goal in this context?
Raja Petra: I have been opposed to the administration since Hussein Onn’s time. I have nothing personal against Pak Lah. I just don’t like the way this country is run. It is not enough we have a CEO. We also need accountants and auditors. Look at me as the auditor. Our job is to hassle the CEO, the Board of Directors, accountants….. to make sure they are doing their job and are not having their hands in the till. I support Tengku Razaleigh for Prime Minister but you can bet your last dollar I will also give him a hard time when he finally does become Prime Minister….. as I know he will.
8. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: You allude to the heightened public profile/statements of members of the Royal families of the country lately as one of tacit support for your cause….. Comment?
Raja Petra: The Royal Family has been fed up with the way this country is being run for almost 30 years now. This is not something new. But they have always been very careful about what could be perceived as interfering in the administration of this country. But there is a limit. Everything has a limit and I think this limit has been reached. Just because the Royal Family kept quiet for 30 years out or respect and so that the government does not lose face does not mean they didn’t care.
And what makes you think it is wrong for the Royal Family to speak out? Malaysia is supposed to be a democratic country which practices freedom of speech. Why should the Royal Family be denied its fundamental right just because they carry a Tengku or Raja in front of their names. Members of the Royal Family too are citizens of Malaysia, pay taxes, and vote in the elections. That gives them the right as any other Malaysian to express their views.
And the Royal Family has just about had it with the way this country is being managed. It is time for change and the Royal Family is calling for change. Of course, protocol does not allow the Rulers to make official statements so they don’t. But their family members are not prohibited from speaking out. It is not illegal to speak out. In fact, as Muslims, it is their Islamic duty to speak out.
9. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Quote: – “Perhaps I can show that the Royal families are not a total bunch of useless leeches” – Are you attempting to reassert the powers of the Royal families back to the time of the pre-constitutional crisis of 1993?
Raja Petra: What do you mean? Reassert which power? You mean the Royal Family had its powers removed? Maybe until up to very recently the Royal Family kept silent but this does not mean it was because they had no power or that their power was removed.
In 1993, as you say – actually it was in the 1980s – it was another group of people sitting on the throne. Today, it is the sons of those who sat on the throne in the 1980s who are now sitting on the throne. The 1980s bunch was the pre-Merdeka bunch. Today, you are seeing the post-Merdeka bunch. Times have changed.
These vocal members of the Royal Family are products of a Western education, the borderless internet, Globalisation, and what have you. They are all well-read and highly-educated, unlike the past Rulers. We are no longer dealing with people born and raised in the kampong. These are professionals who know what is good for the country.
10. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: In a recent public lecture, you stated that the opposition parties are disunited and have no real prospect of winning an election. What kind of realistic change then can you hope to inspire under the present circumstances?
Raja Petra: It is three opposition parties against 14 in Barisan Nasional. BN has 6 million members against the opposition’s 1 million or so. It is not an equal contest.
The BN has the entire government machinery and media at its disposal to be used as its election machinery. BN spends RM1.5 billion in the elections against the opposition’s RM10 million or RM20 million. For Sabah alone it will cost about RM200 million. And that is just 25 out of 219 seats, slightly over 10% of the seats. Sarawak is another 28 seats. These two states give BN 25% of the seats in Parliament. Added to Perak and Johor, BN can already form the government.
BN speaks as one voice although it consists of 14 parties. The opposition speaks as three voices. The race is lost even before the gun goes off.
In 1969, the ruling party won only 45% of the votes but still formed the government, although without a two-thirds majority. In 1999, BN got 54% of the votes and retained its two-thirds majority. The opposition can never win unless there are massive reforms in the electoral system. And this is what the 10th November rally is all about, a demand for electoral reforms. The gerrymandering and postal votes are stacked in favour of the ruling party. We have to change all this before we talk about holding the elections.
Actually, the opposition should just boycott the elections until the system is reformed. Participating in the election just gives BN legitimacy. Let them win 100% uncontested. It will not be as legitimate as them winning 90% through fraud, which is what is happening and will continue to happen. And it really does not matter if the opposition is united. They will still get whacked to kingdom come….. and it is even worse now considering that they are not united.
11. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Furthermore, you estimate that in 50 years time, Bumiputera, Malays in particular will exceed 80% of the nation’s population. Does this mean that the Bangsa Malaysia of 2007 will look a lot less like in 2057?
Raja Petra: The Malay population is increasing faster than the non-Malay population. When this nation celebrates the 100th Merdeka Anniversary in 2057, Malays will by then form 80% of the population. Not only is the Malay birth rate higher, but non-Malays are leaving the country. So it is double jeopardy. The Bangsa Malaysia can still happen but the Malays will form the majority, a higher majority than even now. Bangsa Malaysia is something in the mind. In reality the Malays will dominate this country.
Malaysia is actually a time-bomb with no solution in sight and we may even see that time-bomb go off in our life-time. I just hope the government realises that the clock is ticking and I hope it has a clue on how to defuse the time-bomb. If not, Malaysia will not be a nice place to live, if it is not already that. At the moment the government appears clueless though, in particular our sleeping Prime Minister.
12. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: Malaysians are known for their vocal opposition but secret approbation for the status quo. Do you think that this election will be any different? What do you predict the political outcome of the anticipated general elections will be… Realistically..?
Raja Petra: Malaysians talk only. They say one thing but they do the opposite. They will vote for stability, at least as they perceive it, at the expense of human rights and other issues which they regard as western notions.
As long as they have money in their pockets they don’t care about corruption, how many people die in the police lockups, whether ten more Altantuyas get blown up with C4, whether 20 more demonstrators get shot, and what have you.
People are such. People are selfish. If you touch what they own they will get very violent. As long as they are okay that is all that matters. The country can go to the dogs, and it is. So they will vote for BN because only BN can give them what they want. Everything else can go to hell.
BN knows this. They know what makes the voters tick. And they will play to the voters’ gallery and win the elections. The voters are fools and BN knows this. But the voters are happy fools so that is all that matters. And Malaysia Today will continue whacking. And the readers will continue whining. But they will continue voting in the same government, ‘the only government capable of running this country’, as how they normally argue in justifying voting for the ruling party. And I will wait for death to come and claim me. And they will bury me and all will be forgotten. Not much prospects for the future is it? Sheesh…..I think I will also migrate.
Thank you, Raja Petra, for talking to Face to Face.