PUTRAJAYA: In conjunction with Umno's 68th anniversary on May 11, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak made an appearance on BernamaTV's Ruang Bicara Khas talkshow, where he was interviewed by Bernama editor-in-chief Datuk Zulkefli Salleh, BernamaTV chief executive officer Datuk Ibrahim Yahaya and Bernama assistant editor Jamaluddin Muhammad at the Prime Minister's Office.
The following is a full transcript of the interview.
Question: Datuk Seri, my first question. Umno will observe its 68th anniversary on May 11. If Umno is equated to a human being, it is now aged, less energetic, less active and, perhaps, low-spirited. How do you see Umno in this context?
Najib: Umno remains competent. In fact, in the last general election, we won more seats. This goes to show that no matter what is being said, Umno is still the strongest party in the country.
This indicates that though a party is 68 it does not mean it is growing weaker or becoming less energetic. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that a party must undergo transformation. We must overcome the challenges to keep Umno relevant at all times.
Question: Transform or fall. I remember what Datuk Seri said after taking over the leadership of the party. However, there is dissent that there have been no significant changes in Umno. Perhaps, the change is not tangible. Do you see any change in attitude and mindset?
Najib: I look at it from several aspects. Firstly, from the viewpoint of Umno, the policies buttressed by Umno through the Government; these are perceptible. For example, Umno supports the national transformation policy, Umno supports the 1Malaysia concept and Umno supports all the initiatives of the Government.
From the viewpoint of Umno, we have brought about change and reform. For the first time in our history, we implemented what we call a direct election. We no longer banked on the 2,600 delegates who come to Kuala Lumpur to elect the party leadership from the top to the level of the Supreme Council. We conducted the election with the participation of 160,000 grassroots members.
I admit that we need more time to effect change in terms of values and culture that reflects what we should do in the context of the new political environment. I wish to emphasise that we must be practitioners of the new politics, not the old. I admit that this takes time because changing the human mindset is a time-consuming exercise.
Question: The new process of elections you introduced was aimed at doing away with money politics. Are they (Umno members) prepared to change in terms of mindset and culture; to do away with offering bribes to garner support? Have they discarded that after you introduced the new election process?
Najib: Not yet fully. I admit that it has not happened fully as yet ... but I believe we are getting there. This may be the first phase. Then, we have to determine whether there is any better way, and how to change the mindset or attitude and values of members and leaders at the grassroots.
They are so loyal to the party; they serve the party. However, I hope that when it comes to party elections, we uphold noble values.
Question: Do you see any change for the better?
Najib: There has been an improvement in some aspects, but we have to continue making improvements in other aspects.
Question: One more thing, Datuk Seri, on the rejuvenation of the party. Rejuvenation of the party does not necessarily mean more young people joining the party. In the last general election, Umno won more seats while fellow component parties saw a drop in support. Did the reformation or transformation have an effect on Umno in the last general election?
Najib: Some increase in support for Umno indicates that the change we brought about has been well-received by the people, but support for Umno in the urban areas is not that satisfactory.
In moving forward, we have to continue to defend Umno, our strength, our base in the rural areas. Besides, we have to be seen as a party which enjoys growing support in the urban areas, including in the major cities.
Question: Do you see any success in the rejuvenation of Umno itself?
Najib: Not yet. I regard it as a process. It is not possible to bring about rejuvenation in one term or in less than one term. However, it is a journey; the process must be continuous.
So, in one term, some younger and new leaders will come on board and we will continue with this process. We have to identify new talent that we can promote. It must be a structured process, not one that happens on its own accord.
There must be a structured effort so that Umno is seen as a party which recognises new leaders, intellectuals, professionals and those who stand for what we often refer to as Gen-Y. We have to be a party which always executes this process of renewal.
Question: There has been talk that there were not many changes in terms of new faces in the last elections. Do you regard this as something positive or negative?
Najib: We cannot do anything disquieting. We have to have continuity and renewal. Both these elements have to be worked at simultaneously.
Some leaders have to be retained because their services are still needed. Some new leaders are brought to the fore; we promote them in the Government and in the party. Their contribution becomes extensive. So, these two elements have to move in tandem.
Question: At the level of the grassroots, the same people continue to be the divisional chiefs. How can rejuvenation take place if these people want to remain, even after four or five terms?
Najib: Umno is a democratic party. We can only portray in principle, but eventually it is left to the Umno members to choose. They do not have to retain the existing leaders ... they may even reject all of them. If the old leaders can continue to serve and contribute and have the support of the members, they can remain as leaders.
On the contrary, many divisions - about 35% - have seen a change in the divisional leaders. I see this as an encouraging change. If there has been a change in a third of the divisions, perhaps there will be a change in another third of the divisions at the next elections.
Question: I seek your view as the party president, Datuk Seri. Undeniably, Umno is the oldest ruling party, even in the world. Umno has served not only the Malays, but all the people in the country. Umno under your leadership has various good programmes ... transformation, raising the country to a high-income nation. However, at the same time, it is equated to an old man not respected by the young. It is said to have been in power too long, and is outdated. So, as the president, are you not hurt or angry as you aspire to lead the country towards the promised destination?
Najib: That opinion reflects the openness of our society. Our society is more open now. The role of the social media is so widespread. It has never been so, ever.
This diversity of views is ever vibrant in our society. We must admit that we are moving towards a more mature democratic society. The more mature our society, the more diverse the views.
In one sense, we can see this as a healthy development. In another, we, as the leaders, have to exercise great patience. It is said that we have to accept the fact that there is no more one school of thought as in the past. Diversity can be said to be the norm in a more open, more mature, more educated society.
This is a fact that we have to accept in any country. We have to accept differences of opinion and criticism as the norm. The important thing is the majority. Does the majority support Umno? If the majority among the young does not support Umno, it would have been impossible for us to have won more seats in the last general election.
However, those who oppose us, who do not accept Umno, are also large in numbers. The important thing is that the majority is still with Umno.
Question: What you mean to say is that dissent does not necessarily mean that Umno is disunited or weak? Is this a healthy democracy?
Najib: It is a sign of the changing times. We cannot hide what is happening now because our society is exposed to the elements of globalisation, for example technology, the success of educating our people. I regard this as the effects of Umno's success story in leading our country.
Question: Don't you think this extensive freedom can sidetrack people from appreciating Umno's struggle for or service to them?
Najib: I can accept differences of opinion but, as the Prime Minister, I give importance to peace and harmony in the country. It is for this reason that we have freedom, but with limitations.
Not absolute freedom without legal limitations because that can lead to chaos, anarchy. Surely, we do not want anarchy. We want a tolerant society in terms of differences of opinion, people who accept the principles of democracy.
While there are differences of opinion, the views of the majority will eventually determine who is in charge. Those people intent on causing trouble, instability in the country will have to face the law.
Question: Datuk Seri, you mentioned patience. Do you regard yourself as a man of patience?
Najib: I have to accept that we live in a liberal democracy. As such, differences of opinion will be the norm. You can see that in countries which have practised democracy longer than us, this is something normal for them.
Question: People regard your patience as a weakness to act.
Najib: No ... no. I do not regard that as a weakness. I would like to ask, do they want a situation where anyone who expresses an opinion is arrested under the ISA (Internal Security Act)? Do we want that? Surely, the majority of Malaysians do not want such a situation.
They want us to be a society that has latitude to express opinions, even if they differ. But do not go to the extent of causing harm to the country. That is what I want to emphasise.
Question: Datuk Seri, some quarters in Umno feel that you are too gentle. Perhaps you have a high level of tolerance. They say go ahead and make arrests because inaction can lead to something undesirable. However, you say that politics has changed; people are more democratic, highly educated. How far can you push this tolerance?
Najib: I believe the majority of Malaysians want more latitude for political discourse. They do not want their opinions stifled; they do not want to live in a state of fear. If you make an evaluation, not all want to return to the era of the ISA.
I view this as a positive development. Although there are people who want a return to the era of the ISA, we have adequate powers to act against those who attempt to destroy peace and harmony in the country.
We have acted against some people under Sosma, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012. We can act under Sosma against those who show a tendency to commit violence.
We still have the Sedition Act. We can act, based on the principles of this law, against those who instigate, touch on sensitive issues that can lead to brawls and such.
We act based on the country's laws. We do not make arrests at our whims and fancies. I believe that if we do that, more people will be angry with the Government.
Some countries of the Middle East have laws tougher than ours, but what happened? The people got angry and the regimes were eventually toppled.
Question: Don't you think this patience or tolerance portrays that you are not firm, and that may result in a decline in the Malay support for Umno?
Najib: No. Support for Umno grew during the last (general) election. We proved that support for Umno increased. We must try and understand that if we act as in the past, will the support remain or will the people be angry with the Government? We must make an evaluation.
Question: People relate the abolition of the ISA to openness. Will the people be open without the ISA, by resorting to condemning the royalty, religion? What is your view, Datuk Seri?
Najib: We have to select the type of society we want. As a Government, we would have to take the majority opinion. We cannot take the opinion of any one group.
I want to know the opinion of the majority of Malaysians. Do we want a society where we have latitude to discuss politics even with differing opinions or do we want a society where we have absolute power and cannot be questioned by anyone? We can arrest people if we want to. Do we want that? We ask the people to show us the type of society that we want. As a leader, I am prepared to do whatever I feel is best and I have to also evaluate the acceptance of our society. In my opinion, what the Government and I are doing today is the best for our country.
Question: While on the differences of opinion, you have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and they also carry criticisms against you. How do you deal with these negative comments?
Najib: There is no reaction. I reject all of them. If they talk nonsense, condemn, insult, I consider them to be from the lunatic fringe or people who are ill-mannered or irrational.
Some offer rational criticism. I can accept rational and civilised criticism. I try to evaluate the criticism, whether it is made with or without basis. This is the kind of society we want.
We are courageous enough to accept criticism so long as it is made in a civilised manner. And, with all sense of humility, we consider ourselves not as know-alls. I have said that the era of the Government knows best is over.
We accept the opinions of the people if they are good and with basis. The Government is prepared to consider them. This is the openness of the present age, which I think our society needs.
We must not forget that we want to progress to being a developed country. All of us say we want Malaysia to be a developed country. Do the old ways match the characteristics and values of a developed country? That is what I want to ask.
Question: After 2008, we have seen a proliferation of politically-oriented Malay NGOs. They seem not to want to voice their interests/desires through Umno and they are among those who want the ISA reinstated. How does one reconcile with this group?
Najib: We must understand that we have various opinions in our society. The question is whether these opinions are reflective of the majority or otherwise, or they are just the voice of a group in society. This is what we have to evaluate.
Question: Cadreship. Is this process ongoing and is Umno still striving to shape new leaders.
Najib: We are searching. Firstly, I want Umno to give room to new leaders so that they do not feel it is troublesome to join Umno, that they have to work their way up from the grassroots. Some professionals do not wish to get involved in the processes at the branch level and so on.
That is why we have to give them room. What's wrong with appointing three or four people from among the professionals, such as ulama, lawyers, doctors, as additional committee members so that the committee reflects the composition of society as a whole without having to dispense with grassroots leaders?
Question: What is Umno celebrating on its 68th anniversary? Unity, integrity or diversity in Umno specifically?
Najib: We can celebrate a most successful party in an open democratic system in the history of human civilisation. This is excellence for Umno. No one can deny the fact that we are the oldest party and also the most successful.
Question: Umno cannot stand alone. Umno won more seats (in the last general election). However, while Umno moved forward, fellow BN (Barisan Nasional) component parties fell behind. Is there a formula for them to progress together?
Najib: This is what we are figuring out. Perhaps we could adopt a measure whereby we emerge more as the Barisan Nasional in terms of our programmes and activities, without Umno catering to just Umno, MCA to MCA and MIC to MIC.
We have to share one platform where we come together and are seen as the BN, and not separately as the MCA, MIC and Umno. It will be a new political model that we can consider, looking ahead. We have to consider the plight of our friends in the BN so that we can increase our strength as a whole.
Question: What is your advice to leaders of the Chinese community? Is there a need for them to work harder, like in the case of the Kajang by-election? What is the best formula to win the hearts of the Chinese voters?
Najib: They (MCA) cannot feel disappointed. They must continue with their efforts to convince the Chinese community. Secondly, they must increase their engagement with the Chinese community.
They have to give explanations and listen to their grievances and find out why they do not support the Government. Then, they must explain the actual situation so that they are not confused by the instigations or allegations of the opposition parties.
We, as Government representatives, can also provide them with explanations. Hopefully, any confusion can be cleared through engagement with them.
Question: Will the MCA's return to the Cabinet help?
Najib: I believe the MCA has to be in the Cabinet. Unless we have input from the Chinese community representatives to draw up the country's policies, they cannot say that they also participated in the process to formulate the country's laws and decisions.
Question: One year after the last general election, what is your preliminary analysis of the strength of (BN) component parties such as the MCA, Gerakan and MIC?
Najib: There is some improvement but much has to be done until we can say that the process of rehabilitation has been completed. It is not done yet. We have time (until) the next general election. Nevertheless, we must understand that we have a time limit and must do our best.
The Najib administration
Question: Datuk Seri, your party (Umno) has won more seats (in the last general election). However, the BN does not have a two-thirds majority (in Parliament). In this scenario, you are facing an era of openness, a diversity of views, the challenge of moving the country towards developed nation status ... too many issues, I observe. I would not want to be the Prime Minister. How are you coping?
Najib: In a liberal democracy, we are strong enough if we have 60% of the seats.
In the UK (United Kingdom), for example, the Conservative Party did not get an overall majority. It had to partner the Liberal Party to form the government together. But, it is still administering the country. Our mindset should not be too bound by the two-thirds factor as if it is the ultimate yardstick.
So long as we are not trapped by that mental block, I believe that with the majority that we have we can administer our country, but the only thing that we cannot do is amend the Constitution.
However, we can still formulate policies and laws. We have done that. These can be approved by Parliament with a comfortable majority.
The integrity of our administration is not undermined. We can carry on with our administration smoothly. That (two-thirds factor) is merely a mental block. So, I hope we will all focus on the work to develop our country.
Question: Where did this courage come from? Was it from the Umno members, past champions of Umno or friends in the Cabinet?
Najib: I do not feel threatened. I got the mandate of the people through a healthy democratic process, the most open in the history of our country.
I believe this is a responsibility that I have to shoulder and I am committed to undertaking that trust with great determination. I want to leave it to the people to make their evaluation when the time comes. I am not perturbed. I will continue to run the administration according to what I think is best for the country.
Question: In your first term (as the Prime Minister), your administration seemed to have many new policies and programmes, such as 1Malaysia, GTP (Government Transformation Programme), ETP (Economic Transformation Programme) ... However, in your second term, many feel there is no direction. What's your comment?
Najib: They do not understand. Firstly, when I introduced the 1Malaysia Concept, it was not a question of elections. It was all about nation building, shaping a nation. Shaping a nation does not mean that I have to introduce a new concept every term. People will ask what happened to the 1Malaysia Concept after just four years.
As for the transformation, I have said that it goes on until 2020. Don't tell me that in 2014 I should announce that Vision 2020 is no more.
With the commitment and support given to me in this second term, I will persevere until Vision 2020 is achieved, until our desire to be a developed nation becomes a reality. Only after 2020 can we have a new vision in place.
What does vision mean? A vision stretches over a long period. Don't tell me, we must replace the vision with a new one in just four years. That is ridiculous.
Question: Datuk Seri, what you need is time. How much time would you need? Up to 2020?
Najib: I assumed the leadership of the country in 2009. My pledge to the people then was to make the country a developed nation in 2020. We are just at 2014. Give me the time to prove that I can achieve what I have pledged to the people.
We are still moving towards 2020. Much remains to be done. We have achieved a lot, but much more remains to be implemented.
We can see from the economy, for example, that we have done well in a situation of uncertainty. We achieved a most satisfactory growth rate of 4.7%. This year, God willing, we may do better.
Question: I see that this issue of not understanding (something) is also associated with the GST (Goods and Services Tax). What's the problem?
Najib: They (the people) do not understand. They think this a new tax, a fresh burden they have to shoulder. No one likes taxes. So, when the opposition branded it as a new tax, it struck fear in everyone. Spontaneously, they said they would not support the GST when the GST merely replaces the existing sales and service tax. It is a system of taxation that replaces the existing one.
Secondly, they do not understand that we have exempted many essential goods from the tax. These are zero rated. We have to list all these goods.
Many people do not know about fiscal consolidation; they do not want to know about the national deficit. They want to know the price of their nasi lemak, pre-GST and post-GST. About (the price of) infant milk formula, pre-GST and post-GST.
If we can illustrate the prices of several goods pre-GST and post-GST, the people will realise that the GST actually will not burden them.
I would not deny that the rate of inflation may rise a little, but only in the first year of the implementation of the GST. After that, it will return to normal.
Question: We have explained what GST is over the electronic media, newspapers and the new media but, when you go to the villages, people ask whether they will be affected by the GST. This happens even after it has been explained that the prices of fish, flour and cooking oil, for example, will not be affected. Why are they so afraid of the acronym GST?
Najib: It is because some people have frightened them by saying GST will be an added burden, an additional tax and so on.
We have to go on giving explanations to the people. One explanation will not be enough to make them understand. We have to keep repeating. They have to listen to one message several times to understand.
Question: Some people are saying that the Government is introducing the GST to raise money for its coffers, after which it can spend lavishly.
Najib: It is not a question of the Government running out of funds. It is to stabilise the country's sources of revenue. We will have more sources of revenue. We can reduce the national deficit. Malaysia's rating will improve and we will have greater capacity to implement various projects and services for the people.
Secondly, we can also take care of the welfare of the civil servants because this is dependent on the sources of our revenue. Our revenue is too small compared to the number of people employed.
And, do not forget, there are people who do not pay taxes who 'dwell' in the black economy. Anyone who engages in any activity will be required to pay taxes and these people in the black economy will also have to pay taxes, but these taxes are fair.
Wage earners cannot avoid paying tax but many people who engage in business and other services may be able to avoid paying taxes or not pay taxes in full.
Question: During the general election campaign last year, you often quoted the slogan 'People First'. However, after winning the election, it is said that you implemented a subsidy rationalisation that apparently placed a burden on the people, particularly the low-income group.
Najib: No. The subsidy rationalisation is something we had to implement because of much leakage and wastage. For example, if the subsidy for fuel price is too high, up to RM23bil annually, much leakage occurs. People who should not, the rich and so on benefit.
So, we replaced it with a targeted subsidy (direct subsidy). That was why we raised the quantum of the 1Malaysia People's Aid (BR1M), to strike a balance when we raised the fuel price. This is how we do it. We reduce the bulk subsidy, but help those eligible for the direct subsidy.
Question: The opposition argues that leakages occur in the Government and that if these leakages and wastages are reduced, it is needless to reduce subsidies.
Najib: We do tighten (controls). We take action based on the Auditor-General's Report. I have asked the Chief Secretary to the Government to announce the action taken by the Government against irregularities.
Almost all Government procurement is done through tender. There is no direct negotiation, but through tender - whether it is open tender or restricted tender. We make sure that the Government makes purchases at reasonable prices. We are more careful in terms of Government procurement.
Question: Datuk Seri, there have been accusations that you have not been doing enough for the Bumiputeras. And then, you introduced the Bumiputera empowerment policy. What's the development?
Najib: It is progressing well. We introduced various programmes for Bumiputeras. We established the Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Council, which meets monthly. We are implementing the measures mentioned in my speech (at the launch of the Bumiputera Economic Empowerment Council) in Shah Alam last year. For example, we have increased by RM500mil the allocation for the Mara education aid. We launched the Superb Scheme (Bumiputera New Entrepreneurs Starting Scheme) and the first batch was awarded Government assistance. We launched the ASB2. We have fulfilled all our pledges.
Question: Does the Government have an alternative if the GST is not implemented, an alternative that can raise the national revenue and capability?
Najib: The GST had been given much thought, not only during my administration, but long before that. Some 160 countries have already implemented the GST. That being the case, the GST seems to be the choice of most countries to other systems. This means that the GST is the most transparent and progressive system that gives a country added revenue.
Question: Much was achieved during the recent visit of President Barack Obama of the United States to Malaysia. I hear that soon you will be going to China. In the international political constellation, Malaysia is seen to be favoured by the two superpowers. There is much to benefit from, but many say Malaysia seems to be controlled by these major powers.
Najib: No. As a nation, we have our principles; our foreign policy is based on principles. Our principle is to have cordial relations with all countries based on what we think fit. We are not a lackey (of any major power), we have never been. We have our own independent stand.
For example, on the question of the rights of the Palestinians, we have continued to champion the people of Palestine. I conveyed this to President Obama. He knows our stand. In this case, we do not compromise on our fight for the justice and rights of the people of Palestine. We carry on (with what we have been doing). But, this does not mean that we cannot have a strategic relationship with the United States.
Question: Does Malaysia maintain its stand as to the TPPA (Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement)?
Najib: We must realise that Malaysia is a significant trading nation. Our total trade is 167% of our GDP (Gross Domestic Product), placing us among the biggest trading nations of the world.
If we are a part of the free trade regime, it will benefit our country. We get access to markets. Potential investors will see Malaysia's advantages because they prefer to invest in countries which have wide access to markets.
Malaysia's exports will be free of tariffs or subjected to low tariffs, so we have an advantage. Right now, 12 countries are engaged in the TPPA (negotiations). The number may rise to 20.
What are the implications if Malaysia were to stay out of the TPPA? There is definitely a cost. We do not see the cost today, which is why we have to evaluate our overall preparation pertaining to the TPPA. Besides, we must also make sure that we do not sign anything that can undermine our interests.
I am not saying that we can gain in all areas. So long as our benefits outweigh the sacrifices that we may have to make it will be good for us.
Question: Finally, I want to ask Datuk Seri to convey to the people via this Bernama programme what you expect of them.
Najib: I hope they will give us, meaning the Government that has the mandate from the people, an opportunity. We have a five-year mandate. The people must give the Government a chance to govern the country without raising too many problems. - Bernama