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IN GOOD FAITH: Articles, Essays and Interviews

IN GOOD FAITH: Articles, Essays and Interviews
By Zaid Ibrahim
Publisher: Zaid Ibrahim
Publications, 364 pages
ISBN: 978-9834352107

POLITICIANS should be good for something besides the art of compromise,” observes the author in his foreword to In Good Faith.

And indeed, throughout his book, Kota Baru MP Datuk Zaid Ibrahim does not compromise and spares no one – not Barisan Nasional; not judges, “who need to be brave” and “need not be politically correct”; not MPs, “who serve as the voice of the electorate”; not the press; and not Umno, in which “the no-contest practice for party president and deputy president should be abolished”.

If at all he dealt kindly with anyone, it was the ordinary Malaysian whom he enjoined to reflect on what the next 50 years would bring.

The author takes an honest look at a spectrum of issues with characteristic equanimity, including the Subashini case (where a mother sought to have her young son’s conversion to Islam by his now-Muslim father re-examined) and the “close one eye” saga involving the Jasin MP that prompted a discussion of the concept of parliamentary privilege and immunity.

The book is a very readable compilation of articles, interviews and excerpts from speeches, although exposure to some of the controversies of the past two decades would be helpful in understanding nuances.

Zaid shows himself to be a thinker, a pacifist, and passionate about unity and the Constitution. Through his words, we see an idealist: On the Interfaith Commission and the Article 11 Forum, for instance, he urges those who opposed both to engage with the organisers.

They might better understand the forum’s objectives, which, like its organisers, were not anti-Islamic, he writes.

Some of Zaid’s ideas do fly in the face of convention. For instance, his proposal that all the component parties within the Barisan Nasional merge to form a single entity that accepts direct membership of all races is thought-provoking even if not strikingly new. As a lawyer, Zaid is passionate about the judiciary. Something, he feels, must be done to shake it out of its current malaise. He claims that the country has not recovered from the 1988 judicial crisis, the sacking of then Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and Supreme Court judges Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawan Teh and Datuk George Seah.

“The selection (of judges) must be based on transparent criteria,” he writes, and should not be “shrouded in secrecy”. He questions why 85% of Malaysian judges come from the Judicial and Legal Service Department of the government and not from the ranks of practising lawyers.

Every now and then, we catch a flash of sardonic humour. Zaid finds the notion of collectively describing a Sikh, a Bengali and a Tamil as Indian “laughable” given the ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity of the sub-continent where wars have been fought along communal lines. Looking at the direction the Barisan is taking, Zaid observes that “the BN machinery puts enormous pressure on opposition parties,” citing the experiences of the Parti Bersatu Sabah, Semangat 46 and Gerakan prior to its entry into the BN in 1969.

Applauding the emergence of local, especially urban, groups that transcend ethnic boundaries, he says, “It’s not as if you get a discount at the tolls or have cleaner water piped into your home just because you’re of a certain race”.

His conclusion on race relations says it all: “One day, I hope all Malaysians feel they belong in this country”.