Malaysia Outlook talks to blogger and political observer Raja Petra Kamarudin to get a better understanding of his motivations and what he hopes to achieve by putting pen to paper, or rather, fingers to keyboard.
Q: People say you are a turncoat. What do you have to say about that allegation?
A: I first met the PAS President, Abdul Hadi Awang, in the 1970s. I think it was around 1977 or 1978 when he first came back from the Middle East. Since then I have had a good relationship with him and I became an active PAS supporter in Terengganu. In 1982 I was in Saudi Arabia together with Hadi. I even wrote for the PAS party newspaper when they started an English section in the 1990s. I still support Hadi and PAS until today, 40 years later. Hadi does not consider me a turncoat. He considers me a loyal friend. So who is it who is saying I am a turncoat? Hadi does not think so.
Q: I think they mean you have betrayed Pakatan Harapan?
A: I never supported Pakatan Harapan. So how can I betray something I never supported in the first place? I also do not support Pribumi and Amanah. Have I betrayed them as well? Hindraf is going to be turned into a political party and will be part of Pakatan, according to today’s announcement. So if I do not support Hindraf are you saying I have betrayed them as well? There is something very wrong with these people.
Q: They say you are a mercenary who writes for money. They say you are paid to write?
A: Are you saying all those reporters and writers in Malaysiakini, Free Malaysia Today, Malaysia Chronicle, Sarawak Report, The Malaysian Insider, Malaysia Outlook, The Malaysian Insight, and so on, are working free-of-charge? The Malaysian Insider cost the financiers RM13 million before it closed down while Free Malaysia Today has cost more than that so far. I was told Malaysiakini cost RM6 million a year and it has been in operation for more than ten years.
Why does it cost that much? Are not all the writers and reporters working free-of-charge with no salary? Or is every single person in Malaysiakini, Free Malaysia Today, Malaysia Chronicle, Sarawak Report, The Malaysian Insider, Malaysia Outlook, The Malaysian Insight, etc., being paid a salary? Even Clare Rewcastle Brown is being funded. Do you think she can continue with Sarawak Report and fly all over the world and stay in five-star hotels if she is not paid? Will you do this job of interviewing me if you are not paid a salary?
Why do Chinese not want to become policemen, soldiers, prison guards and so on? Simple. Because the salary is so low, less than RM1,000 a month. So they would rather sell pirated VCDs on the streets and make much more than RM1,000 a month. And these are the people who accuse others of working for money. These hypocrites are the very people who work for money and would not do the job unless it paid good money. They are so full of themselves and talk as if they are Mother Teresa. Even Mother Teresa needed money to do her job.
Q: What do you hope to achieve with what you are doing?
A: Over time, as life goes on, our priorities change. That is natural for everyone. When I was a teenager I only wanted to race motorcycles, party all night long and get drunk. I crashed my motorcycle 12 times but always managed to walk away from the crash. I also lost more than 10 friends who died in motorcycle crashes or gang fights. Yes, I was also ‘running’ with the triads in those days.
Then I got married in 1973 and after we got our first child I wanted to build my career. One year later I went into business and was a businessman for 20 years until the 1990s. Over those 20 years from age 24 to age 44 all I wanted was to get rich. I spent all my time ‘chasing’ money and it did not matter how I made that money, by fair means or foul.
But that contradicted my religious beliefs and it troubled me. I was heavily involved in corruption because you could not get large government contracts unless you paid for them. I won probably RM100 million or so government contracts over those 20 years and towards the end we were doing RM1 million turnover a month. But it was ‘dirty’ money because it involved under-the table payments.
That was when my wife, Marina, pulled the plug and told me to get off the merry-go-round. So, in the 1990s, after 20 years of rolling in the mud, I decided to fight corruption instead of profiting from it. That was when I decided to become a writer and speak my mind. I have been doing that for the last 22 or 23 years.
During the first 20 years of my life I just wanted to party. During the second 20 years of my life I was a capitalist and profited through corruption and by bribing government officers and politicians. During these last 20 years or so of my life I became a writer and later a blogger. So we change as we get older and our objectives also change.
In the 1970s to 1990s I believed in the Islamic State and propagated turning Malaysia into a Caliphate or the Islamic Kingdom of Malaysia. In 1982 I even joined the Iranians in Mekah to demonstrate against the United States. There I was carrying Khomeini’s poster and shouting anti-American and anti-Saudi slogans. Looking back now I was lucky I was not shot because that happened the following year.
Today those are no longer my objectives. What I hope to achieve is to educate Malaysians so that they become an informed voter. Most people do not know why they are voting. And that was what happened in the UK for the Brexit vote. Vote for whoever you want. Barisan or Pakatan. But know why you are voting Barisan or Pakatan. There is just so much hate in Malaysia. And one day that is going to explode and Malaysia’s streets are going to flow with blood.
Q: You used to be pro-Anwar Ibrahim but now you criticise him. Why is that?
A: I actually knew Anwar since school in 1963. But I became anti-Anwar in 1982 when he joined Umno. Then the ABIM boys in Terengganu approached me and asked me to help Anwar campaign for the Umno Youth leadership. I agreed and spent a lot of money to help the campaign. In 1991, Anwar became the Finance Minister and that was when we noticed the change in him. Anwar became what we were fighting against. He and his people were making deals left, right and centre. He became just like Mahathir Mohamad and Daim Zainuddin, who we were against.
Many of Anwar’s ABIM comrades started to condemn him and began to distance themselves from him. When in 1993 Anwar challenged Ghafar Baba, that was when I washed my hands off him. I realised Anwar had become a monster and had turned into the very animal that we hated. We knew back in 1997 that after ousting Ghafar in 1993 Anwar was now going to oust Mahathir. And we also knew he was going to fail.
True enough, in 1998 Anwar got ousted instead and we clapped and cheered. The first thing we said was, ‘Padan muka’. When the Reformasi movement ‘exploded’ we did not support it. We did not even join the 20th September 1998 demonstration, that day Anwar was arrested. We just stayed home and watched the fun.
Then, when the PAS President, Fadzil Noor, supported the new Reformasi movement, we too started supporting it. And when they formed Barisan Alternatif in 1999 we supported it mainly because of PAS and not because of DAP or PKR (then called PKN before it merged with PRM). What people do not understand is that our loyalty is to PAS, not to DAP, PKR, Barisan Alternatif, Pakatan Rakyat or Pakatan Harapan. So when they kicked PAS out of the opposition coalition we no longer need to support the opposition. What about that do you not understand?