Monday, October 26, 2009

Here is an Interview with karim Raslan which appear in Straits Times Singapore

The view from middle Malaysia

By Cheong Suk-Wai

SINGAPORE, Oct 27 — As a young lawyer starting out at the law firm of Skrine & Co in Kuala Lumpur, Karim Raslan helped prepare cases for his colleague Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein, the son of Malaysia’s third premier Tun Hussein Onn and now the Home Minister.

Raslan, now 46, soon found himself having lunch often with Hishamuddin and his family. But he was no stranger to such a rarefied world, being himself the second son of the late Mohammad Raslan Toh Muda Abdullah, Malaysia’s first Accountant-General who, among other achievements, founded Bank Bumiputra (now CIMB Bank) and Pernas International Holdings.

The financier died in a car crash when he was just 40, leaving his English wife, Dorothy, to bring up their three sons. Today, Raslan’s elder brother, Johan, is executive chairman of accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in Malaysia and his younger brother, Kam, is a writer.

Raslan gave up practising law not long after founding his own law firm, Raslan Loong, in the 1990s.

“I’m not a paperwork person,” he says. “I’m a restless soul.”

That restlessness has seen the Cambridge University alumnus writing weekly columns which are run in Malay, English and Chinese dailies and magazines in Malaysia and the region. He is the only Malaysian columnist with that wide a reach.

His columns have been collected in three books under the banner Ceritalah (Malay for “tell a story”), the latest being Ceritalah 3: Malaysia — A Dream Deferred, which he launched in Singapore in August.

Since 2001, he has divided his time between Kuala Lumpur and Bali and runs a 45-strong regional media and communications consultancy called KRA.

In town recently, he took time to chew the fat with me on the future of Singapore’s neighbours:

The world keeps getting bigger but the minds of Malaysia’s Malays have stayed small, some say. What say you?

This is the logical conclusion of 22 years of Malaysia Boleh under Tun Dr Mahathir (Mohamad), Melayu Boleh and Melayu Baru. It’s kind of a crass nationalism that Dr Mahathir mediated himself. Also, we are not being well-served by our mainstream Malay language media, which has taken an aggressively extreme path. That is a reflection of how outdated Umno’s way of thinking is.

What happened to Umno’s consensual approach to sharing power with Malaysia’s minorities?

It’s been sidelined.

Why and how so?

Partly because (opposition leader) Anwar (Ibrahim) and his Parti Keadilan Rakyat have taken the middle ground. After the March 2008 general election, there was a sense that Umno should take back that ground. But there came an angry refusal from Umno, that it can’t bow to the Chinese and Indians, that it has to strengthen its position first before negotiating with others. All my friends, everybody, went over to that side. So I’m kind of a lone voice here.

Why is Umno persisting on that path?

For so long, they’ve had this idea of the Umno Supreme Council being the centre of power, and the Malaysian Cabinet somehow being second to that.

Well, let’s see.

The Liberal Democratic Party has just lost in Japan, so I’m not particularly upbeat on Umno’s chances.

You criticise Umno a lot, but then you yourself have benefited greatly from Umno’s policies. How do you live that down?

I’ve always been very open about that. I am a product of the elite.

What, to you, would be optimal Malay unity?

The idea of Malay unity is ridiculous... The Malay community now is so diverse, from rural communities in Kelantan to provincial cities to urban Malays. We’re all different. Get over it and start representing our different interests.

But aren’t Malay interests already well-represented?

Good, solid middle-class Malays don’t have access to politics, so they can’t get all the juicy jobs. So they want things as fair as possible, (hence) their interests are becoming more and more aligned with those of the middle class of every race.

So what are you telling their leaders?

I keep telling MPs I meet: “You listen to me. I write for the media... You treat me like dirt, you are treating my readers like dirt.” They don’t like it, but that’s life.

What about your views don’t they like?

They feel that I am maybe too much of an apologist for Umno. And then some in Umno feel I am too critical of them... What I would say is that what I write comes out in the English, Malay and Chinese (media), so I have to write for middle Malaysia. That’s the world I’m from.

No, you’re not.

Maybe I’m not, but that’s who I write for.

Being so privileged, why do you care at all for middle Malaysia?

Privilege comes with responsibility.

Why then have you based yourself in Indonesia?

We’re so used to it being the sick man of South-east Asia... But what emerged from the financial crisis is the importance of critical mass and size. Indonesia has that and investors are realising that they have to be there for future growth.

For example, Research In Motion, which produces the Blackberry, has come under a lot of fire in Indonesia because it’s tried to distribute its products without service centres there. The Indonesian government has said: “No, you open proper service centres here. Why should we have our instruments serviced in Singapore?’ It is also saying to its citizens: “Hey, you, why are (your companies) listed on Singapore’s stock exchange when you are Indonesian?’

So it’s an economic power shift.

A political and diplomatic one, too. Look at the G-20. Indonesia is now there on its own account... You know how Singapore has used its ability to speak for Asean in Washington as part of its diplomatic leverage? That’s going. Totally.

How so?

The relationship between Jakarta and Washington is going to be direct, with Singapore and Malaysia now secondary. Indonesia is (America’s) big, strategic (prize) and... big source of resources. — The Straits Times


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