Big dreams? Time to wake up!

  • Thinking Liberally
  • Tuesday, 27 Feb 2018

THIS will be my last column in this newspaper. On Thursday, I will announce my entry into party politics.

In my column two weeks ago (“It’s high time for a shift to policy”, Feb 13), I said hypocrisy is rampant in our politics. Each side claims it monopolises the truth, and accuses opponents of being the root of all evil.

In the same week that column was published, several unexpected conversations took place with leaders of different political parties. These eventually led to my decision to formally switch from my current membership in PAS to another party. Things moved very quickly over just a few days.

My intention with this switch is pretty straightforward. For many years I have been saying that our politicians must up their game and improve the quality of our political debate. Yet, as we get closer to GE14, things show no signs of improving.

PAS has warped into their 1980s thinking. Identity politics still dominate. We are overly fixated with the past. And we are not sufficiently debating the future.

I intend to at least try to change that trajectory. Perhaps I am being naïve. But I will never forgive myself if I decline the invitation to enter the fray and help push the quality of the debate upwards.

At the very least, I want to be able to hold my head up and say that I am trying to reduce the hypocrisy.

As someone who has been going down to the ground, interviewing and talking to people from across the country, I know that the new path will not be easy. But, as I said, I want to at least try.

I have learnt a lot from the last nine years that I have been back in Malaysia, after 18 years of living in the United Kingdom.

I have learnt that there are many people who want to do the right thing for the country. They exist in all layers of society, in both the private and the public sectors. I hope in my next step, I will continue to have the privilege of engaging with these amazing people.

I have learnt that there are good individuals in all political parties. But our political environment is so antagonistic that we too often miss the fact that there are many sincere politicians out there who may not be getting enough airtime while too many clowns get unnecessary amount of coverage.

I have also learnt that there are some really crooked individuals out there, in various parts of society. But our political system is so vindictive, such that people are often afraid to speak up against them.

This is the reality of life in Malaysia. I will need to face these challenges as I step out on the new path.

I will have to adjust quickly, but I am sure there are many readers here who will help hold me to account if I do the very things that I have complained about in my past writings.

The biggest privilege is of course the opportunity to lead Ideas (Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs). I am lucky to have had such a passionate and talented team at Ideas. They grew Ideas into a relatively recognised brand that it is today, regularly producing cutting-edge research outputs.

Some friends from England were a bit baffled that I have to resign. They told me that people from think tanks take part in active politics every day. That is true, but not in Malaysia. Stepping down is of course not easy, but necessary.

One person, however, asked me a question that left me a bit stumped. He said that it is public knowledge that I am a member of PAS. So, if I am simply switching to another party, why is it so different such that I must leave?

I don’t have an answer to that. But that is the environment we are in today. And this is also why I think I need to at least try to do something to change it.

Lastly, let me say thank you very much to this newspaper for giving me the space to air my views. I have been writing for The Star, irregularly at first, since 2009. But this fortnightly Thinking Liberally column started on July 9, 2013. So it has been just under five years.

If you visit The Star online and go to my very first article, you will see that I started this regular column after a banter with the newspaper’s supremo Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai.

Late Sunday evening, I told Chun Wai that it looks like this arrangement will have to end. I am grateful to Chun Wai and everyone at The Star. I have benefited a lot from their invaluable advice and generous support.

I am sure we all have a dream. I pray that we will all wake up and act on that dream, sooner rather than later.

Tomorrow is Wan Saiful Wan Jan’s last day at Ideas. He will answer comments and questions via his Facebook page ( The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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