By Leslie Lau
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 4 — Amid widespread speculation over his political future, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim has criticised his own party Umno for contributing to race relations problems.
He also urged Umno to engender a more fair-minded administration, and lead the Malays towards having better race relations with non-Malays.
Speaking to the mass-circulation Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily in his most extensive interview since resigning as a member of the Cabinet recently, Zaid also called for more open debates over "sensitive issues”.
He also pointed out that the results of the March general election were a clear message from the people that they wanted change, but the government had failed to change.
The former minister in the Prime Minister's Department, who resigned in protest against recent Internal Security Act arrests, said he had joined the government for the wrong reasons.
"I became a minister for the wrong reason. That reason was reform, but I have failed.
"I thought they would no longer use the ISA. I thought the government would be more open to the rule of law and the constitution, but I was wrong."
There has been, in recent weeks, intense speculation over the political future of Zaid, but the Umno man did not address the issue in his interview with the Chinese-language daily.
But he was highly critical of the "culture of fear" in Malaysia, which he appeared to blame on Umno and the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
"When we face an issue we cannot discuss it, we cannot debate it. We only use fear or we take to the streets. That is not the way things are done in a mature society," he said.
He said the leadership style of "those with political power" had resulted in race relations being a sensitive issue even after 50 years of independence.
The former minister said race politics had been constantly used because it was easy to get support that way.
"Umno feels that it is a party needed by the Malays. Umno leaders keep telling the Malays that they are constantly in danger and therefore need Umno.
"They always feel that only they know what is good for the Malays."
He said there was no need for "real Malays" to feel any fear or insecurity.
The real question, he said, was that too many people did not understand or respect the historical fact that for the last 100 years, the Malays, Chinese and Indians have contributed to nation-building.
He said Malaysia's status today as the 19th largest trading nation in the world was due to the contributions of all races.
Zaid also felt that under today's circumstances, a "May 13" race riot is not likely to happen again.
"I am not afraid of the Chinese being smart, because I too am smart. We keep talking about the Chinese having more shops and how we should be worried. The fact is we should not be worried. We should think of how to catch up," he said.
He added that it was no longer necessary for "one party to represent one race" anymore.