Ousted Perak menteri besar Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin reveals that he was unfairly targeted over his relationship with DAP leaders. Edited excerpts follow from the second and final part of his interview with
Malaysiakini: How would you describe your relationship with Ngeh Khoo Ham and Nga Kor Ming? They have been following you to quite a number of ceramah in Malay areas.
Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin: Yes, YB Ngeh wanted to make use of a golden opportunity which he did not have over his many years being an assemblyman in a Chinese-dominated area. When he was selected as a member of parliament for Beruas, which means now he also has to (be attuned to) Malay voters in Beruas, particularly in Pengkalan Baru. So, I was the only person he would cling to, to achieve that.
So, again, the thinking of the public and the Malays would have been, ‘Look, YB Ngeh is in control of even Nizar. Even in a temple, even in a mosque, even at a Malay upacara…he is there’. You know what I mean?
But, he being a new member of parliament for a Malay area like Beruas, he never had got that exposure before while he the assembly(person) for Sitiawan. It is a highly Chinese area. The fact that he wanted to be with me was because I was the only (channel) for him to (be able to enter a) mosque, for him to come into a (Muslim) religious function.
He sat for a function with me until the end, which no Chinese leaders have done, not even from MCA. I have not seen any MCA leader saying prayers with me in the house of a Malay family, (whose member had died in a blast in a factory).
If Umno leaders want to use this (to attack the PAS-DAP relationship), then people will say that your thinking is still traditional, you are not being contemporary, and you are not up-to-date. I think it is an advantage for us.
YB Ngeh is a senior exco member. So rightly, if the menteri besar is not (around), then he assumes the position of the acting menteri besar. And in a way, I think what YB Ngeh did is also to changed the mindset of DAP members who, probably due to Umno and Barisan Nasional, fail to understand the Malay culture deep enough.
So what Ngeh has done is actually a sacrifice. To open up the minds of DAP members and supporters. So I think that was a great challenge for him. I think he has gained respect in DAP now, not only in Perak but also in the whole country.
Since he can assume the post of acting menteri besar when needed, does this mean he is your trusted deputy?
Trusted deputy? Definitely, because he – being a member of the House for the last three sessions – is an opposition leader and a very senior lawyer. The trust just builds. And I don’t see that as wrong.
In fact I should be doubling that trust, not only in him but also in a few others who have that same qualification and experience in the House. YB Nga, YB Seah (Leong Peng), YB Thomas (Su)…they have been in the House longer than I have, or more than any PAS assembly(person) for that matter.
Do you blame Ngeh and Nga for having a part in the fall of the Pakatan Rakyat?
No, no. If I do that at all, then it would be very wrong of me.
But there are some quarters who say that they could have prevented (Jelapang state representative) Hee Yit Fong (of DAP) from defecting.
That is very much (an) internal (issue). I do not want to comment. But I have tried to play a role in harmonising all 31 members of the House as a single entity. I have never differentiated them as assembly(persons) or exco members, or (that they are) from PAS or DAP. I treated them (all) the same.
How did you ‘harmonise’ the state representatives during that crucial period in early February when the collapse of the government was imminent? How did you convince them not to defect?
Well, Hee did not actually exhibit any possibility of defecting. During the several short dealings I had with her, there was no indication that she would go to that extent.
And knowing Jelapang (folk) and her traditional Chinese family, that would have been a cardinal sin. So, I did not want to think that way (that she would defect) – unlike (my feelings about) Osman and Jamaluddin, who I had suspected would defect.
I did not think that way due to my association with my Chinese friends in Kampar when I was small. A fight is a fight, and you do not compromise on your principles. That was what I learned from my friends in Kampar. Even in the Chinese business communities that I was involved in, they never say die.
There could be some other factors which changed her mind, I do not know. So when I had that information (that she was defecting), I tried to cool down the (others). One or two of them were saying, ‘Forget her, let’s rule her out’. But I said, ‘No, let us try our best. Can we have a team comprising of persons who are close to YB Hee?’
That was a crucial moment, in early February. I said, ‘Can we have YB Zainuddin, who could talk in a very diplomatic manner, and Dr Lee Boon Chye, assigned to talk to YB Hee?’ I went to that extent, because I thought that maybe she could not get along with the DAP leadership.
Later, I got messages from Pakatan Rakyat leaders, saying that we should not take any more risks because, if after 24 hours, DAP leaders still could not contact her, then something was greatly wrong.
So I took their advice and made a decision, although a few others disagreed. I did not regret that, to seek audience with the Sultan (to seek dissolution of the state assembly).
What was it like when the Osman and Jamaluddin went missing?
(Osman and Jamaluddin was reported ‘missing’ days after Bota state representative Nasarudin Hashim briefly left Umno to PKR on Jan 27. But on Feb 3, Nasarudin rejoined Umno)
It was difficult when the two of them went missing. But at the time, it was not critical because we were being assisted by Nasarudin. When Nasa (left Umno to join us), that gave us a few more days to play. But if Nasa had not moved into Pakatan Rakyat, then I would have been in utter difficulty at that time, because we would have a majority of (just) one at the time.
Would you say that Nasarudin was a Trojan Horse?
I don’t think so, because Nasa left Umno with the sincere interest of leaving a party which is heavily dominated by racists as well as corrupt leaders. And he expounded that, he said that during his press conference.
He was not given any promise by (PKR de facto leader) Anwar (Ibrahim) or me. And I asked him personally, ‘What made you come in?’ Nasa said it was just his pure feeling of maximising his effort, his strength and his service for the people.
Also, of the 28 assembly(persons), he was the only one whom I could single out as someone who showed personal integrity. He did not shout madly and yell abuse like the others. So I could tell from the assembly (proceedings) that he was a respectable man.
Nizar: DAP’s Ngeh a trusted deputy
Much controversy surrounded Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin during his 11-month tenure as Perak menteri besar over his relationship with the DAP.
During that period, Umno had repeatedly questioned Mohd Nizar’s authority given that Chinese-based DAP had 18 seats in the state assembly and held six of the 10 executive council (exco) posts.
This left only three Malay exco members in – PAS’ Mohd Zainuddin Yusof and PKR’s Jamaluddin Radzi and Osman Jailu. In early February, however, the PKR duo quit their party to become Independents, which contributed to the collapse of the Pakatan Rakyat-led state government.
Under the circumstances, Umno leaders had repeatedly labelled Mohd Nizar a “DAP puppet”, and as being under the control of exco members Ngeh Khoo Ham and Nga Kor Ming.
“Right or wrong, that is a perception which I cannot run away from,” Mohd Nizar told Malaysiakini in an interview at his Ipoh home last Wednesday.
He said this perception stemmed from his numerous public appearances with DAP leaders, for example at the press conference following the weekly exco meeting.
Mohd Nizar claimed that Jamaluddin and Osman were chain-smokers and would disappear after the meetings, leaving him and Zainuddin as the sole Malay representatives.
“By right, Jamaluddin and Osman should be there because there is a press conference. So (that left Zainuddin and me) with non-Malay exco members.
“So, what can I do? It is a perception I know. But if I do not want my DAP exco members to be there, then I am left alone, which is even more absurd!
“I cannot erase that, can I? I cannot tell Ngeh and Nga, ‘Look you can just sit aside and I will force these three guys (Malay exco members) to be there’. That is not reflective of the real situation”.
Cousins Ngeh and Nga are Perak DAP’s most powerful figures. This led to allegations by Umno leaders, particularly former menteri besar Tajol Rosli, that they were the de facto Perak menteri besar.
Mohd Nizar, however, attributed his close relationship with the duo as due to their years of experience as state legislators. He said he even regards Ngeh, the elder of the two, as his “trusted deputy”.
“Ngeh has been in the House for the last three sessions. He has a lot of experience and is a very senior lawyer. It would be absurd of me and would look stupid of me as a professional not to tap into his resources and experience… Why should I be stupid enough to leave them aside just because they are non-Malays?” he asked.
However, Mohd Nizar said he expects Umno to use the ‘Ngeh-Nga factor’ to the hilt, adding that this is an irrational move for a party that is leading the federal government toward a multiracial Malaysia.
“(Ngeh and Nga’s) only sin is that they are brothers [sic]. Why should we penalise them for that? If Nga’s name is ‘Teoh’ and Ngeh’s name is ‘Chong’, I don’t think they (detractors) would have this perception, would they?”
Andrew Ong & Gabrielle Chong, Mkini