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Friday, 25 October 2013

Haris Ibrahim in Australia : In conversation with Sen Lam of Radio Australia



Anything but UMNO: Movement calls for change in Malaysia

Updated 25 October 2013, 12:09 AEST
Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak tables the national budget in parliament today, the first in a new political cycle after the May elections. Economists point to the huge government debts and deteriorating fiscal position, while NGOs say Malaysia's widening gap between rich and poor, and ongoing ethno-exclusive pro-Malay policies must end.
Malaysian lawyer and activist, Haris Ibrahim thinks 40 percent of Malaysians live below the poverty line.
Mr Haris, who's a member of the movement, Anything But UMNO, was denied a visitor's visa to Australia last month.
He's since been given one, on a private visit and also to deliver several public lectures.
Haris Ibrahim says he was surprised by the initial refusal of a visa by Australian authorities.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Malaysian lawyer and activist Haris Ibrahim, a leading member of the group, 'Anything But UMNO'
HARIS: I was, although I thought with the pending sedition charge, and the fact that I had to disclose it in the form, I thought that might pose a little bit of a question, but I had expected that if there were any concerns around that, the least I would get, would be to step into the (Australian) High Commission to perhaps, clarify.
But having said that, I understand that perhaps that decision was taken, albeit to me erroneously, but in the best interest of Australia.
LAM: What was the reason given to you by the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur?
HARIS: I had a sedition charge that was hanging over my head, I was on bail and owing to my work with the movement, Anything But UMNO over the last two years, I have not been in gainful employment, so I think the concern was that the application did not disclose a sufficient incentive to return Malaysia, after I had concluded my business here. I think the concern was with the pending charge, Haris might come to Australia and say, "Hey, I ain't going back!"
LAM: You were scheduled to give a talk when a visa was refused you last month .. many people of course are now anticipating your address at the Australian National University next week. What's your message to these Malaysia-watchers? What's your primary message there?
HARIS: I think alot of people are speculating, as to was the election on the 5th of May as dirty as many might suggest? We just had the People's Tribunal concluded. There're many people who are asking "Where do we go from here?" Many people who're concerned about what we see or we've been seeing the last couple of months since the elections. The race, religion rhetoric, the recent Alllah issue, the ban on the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims, by Christians. There're alot of issues that Malaysians overseas are looking at and are asking, "Where is the country going to?"
We've seen international reports that suggest that the economy of Malaysia is on the verge of a disaster. Now, those questions are being asked. Alot of the Malaysian diaspora would like to know where the nation is going, and what can they do, to take it back in the direction that our forefathers had intended - one people, one nation - all equal.
You'll forgive me, but from the 6th of May (the day after elections) I had said I did not recognise Najib Razak as my prime minister, I do not recognise his regime as the legitimate government of Malaysia, because there was wholesale fraud on the 5th.
We've seen the UMNO (party) elections just conclude and Zahid Hamidi, the Home minister of a government i don't recognise and therefore, I do not recognise his position - but for the purpose of this programme, let's acknowledge that Zahid does have that position - He was heard to say that a known notorious bunch of gangsters should carry on with what they're doing, that there may a policy on the part of the Malaysian police, to shoot first when there is evidence, rather than to allow for due process.
Now, should I to be encouraged then, by his recent huge victory at the UMNO elections? Is that a message of the kind of leadership that Najib is going to bring, to take this country forward, One Malaysia? Sorry sir, I beg to differ.
LAM: It's a very bleak picture you're painting of Malaysia. Where do you see all this heading, because UMNO is not going to hand power or its position to the opposition, or to Pakatan Rakyat. Where do you see this heading, in the next five years?
HARIS: In the short term, we need to very closely monitor the economy, to see whether we can in fact survive the huge foreign debt that this regime and its predecessor has built up. If we do survive this. We are expecting price hikes over the next one year. Whether the general population and most specifically, the forty percent to fifty percent who live below the poverty line indicator - the real poverty line indicator - not the one that has been contrived by the government. If we do in fact, go into GE14 (the 14th general elections), it is a battle to take the truth to the masses in the heartlands.
I serve the 40 percent who are marginalised, and if they are prepared to wait it out, then, I will serve them to wait it out. If they cannot sustain their daily lives, having to wait out four years, I'll (also) serve them.
LAM: I think you might find that many Malaysians would be very nervous to listen to your message to take the streets and to institute (regime) change right now. I think they might prefer to wait out the next four years.
HARIS: Again, like I said, if those Malaysians you speak of, make up the forty percent who're marginalised, then I will listen to them. But if it's the middle class who're concerned that their life-style may not be maintained, the numbers who are marginalised are growing. And history has taught us, the history of revolutions will teach us, that when the numbers who're marginalised are large enough, they will come around and change the way of life of the middle class. Now they (the middle class) don't want that to happen - so stand with the marginalised now.
LAM: You left what might have been a fairly comfortable life practising law, in exchange for the uncertainties and the stress of activism. What was the deciding factor? What drove you to the seachange?
HARIS: Over the years, as I worked on the ground, I have seen the injustice, the inequality that has been perpetrated, that has been served to the forty percent, and I think I reached the point, where I said this cannot go on.
It began to make, as you said, the 'comfortable life' that I had, seemingly meaningless, when around the corner, I had to pass abject poverty to get to my comfortable home.
You reach a point where it becomes meaningless, if your fellow Malaysians, so many are deprived of the basic opportunities that you've been given, that you've had, simply because of ethnic considerations.
I don't enjoy the Cuban cigars anymore, I guess I find the comfort in perhaps seeing little incremental improvements, if at all we can manage them. And that more than makes up for any loss of comfort that I've had to undergo.
LAM: And do you draw comfort also from the younger generation of Malaysians who seem to be demanding more of their leaders?
HARIS: Undoubtedly. I tell you the young Malaysians give me hope. The young Malaysians give me hope that even as we appear to be in a state of seeming hopelessness, we will see light at the end of the tunnel. God willing.
LAM: Insyah Allah.
HARIS: Insyah Allah.