I assumed the first time I met former PAS member, now newly-elected PKR Lumut MP, retired Admiral Mohamad Imran Abd Hamid, was during the May 8 Blackout 505 rally in Kelana Jaya. Surrounded by throngs of excited Malaysians as we exchanged pleasantries, the retired admiral related how he knew me during my days in the Navy.
Imran is a rare politician. He says what he means and means what he says. He is well-liked among former and current military personnel, but more importantly, he has a reputation for being a ‘straight’ guy.
“No funny business,” says a former Navy admiral who makes it his business of keeping track of the nexus between the political and military establishment.
Although Imran gained a reputation of having a ‘sharp tongue’ during the campaign period, he is in reality extremely humble. Now I understand that whenever the word ‘humble’ is used to describe a politician, the reality is anything but.
However, there is a sense of earnestness when Imran describes his role as a politician and when he uses the term ‘rakyat’, you understand that he feels part of the problematic Malaysian polity and not detached from it like most politicians, something many feel is necessary, because in most cases politics is a career.
A spiritual man who understands the religious plurality in Malaysia, in this interview, the former admiral in his usual frank manner discusses what he thinks is wrong with the political landscape in this country.
Readers should consider this an introduction to one of the few good men that Pakatan Rakyat is in desperate need of.
What made you decide to enter politics and why Pakatan?
I did not come to this decision lightly. I wanted to halt the pervasive, rampant corruption in Mindef (Defence Ministry) and other government agencies.
As someone who has served this country, I wanted to protect these institutions that belong to the rakyat. I believe only through Pakatan that action can be taken. For far too long BN has been sheltering the culprits from judicial action.
As a high-ranking member of the armed forces, did you notice first-hand the corruption that was rampant?
I was involved in the KD Kasturi and KD Lekir (both frigates) procurement in the 80s. It should have involved two parties only – the shipbuilder and the government.
Surprisingly the contract to procure the (Scorpene) submarines, three parties were involved – the government, the shipbuilder and Perimekar Sdn Bhd. We were told Perimekar is the company that provides training and accommodation for the submarine crews.
How could this Malaysian company perform this function? What did this company know of submarines, much less training? Furthermore, this was a Malaysian company and there is conflict of interests.
Later, it was discovered that they pocketed more than RM500 million. This is just one example. What of other equipment, not to mention helicopters, APCs (armoured personnel carriers), etc?
Direct negotiations provide room for corruption but when reported, nothing happened.
What do you think are the biggest mistakes Umno-BN has made in its decades-long rule?
They have failed to reduce and maybe even encouraged corrupt practices in government agencies. The crime rate is alarming. Institutions that are supposed to serve the rakyat like the police, SPRM (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission), the judiciary, are perceived to be hostile to the rakyat.
Political leaders’ criminal acts are protected. Government debt is alarming. The list goes on. This has nothing to do with race but governance.
How do you think as an ex-military officer you can contribute to Pakatan and the rakyat?
I could be the link to voice out the dissatisfaction of our soldiers. Members of the armed forces and their families are an important component of the rakyat.
However, this does not mean I only concentrate on the welfare of the armed forces personnel. It just means that I can offer specific insight into this community. At the end of the day, the rakyat is made up of many groups of people.
Could you describe some of the “attacks” made by Umno-BN when you announced your candidacy?
None directly from BN. However, the Navy chief did invite former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and Perkasa on April 23 to the Navy base (in Lumut, Perak) to discredit Pakatan and myself. As a result, (in my opinion) I received fewer votes from Navy personnel.
What is your response to being denied entry into Lumut naval base?
I was denied entry to perform Friday prayers in the base on May 3 only, otherwise I have never had a problem. Politics got in the way of common sense and professionalism. Very disappointing, when you consider what those invited said about Pakatan and I.
Are you shocked by the response of the military establishment to your candidacy?
Not at all. I was convinced however that I might get good support from the “other ranks” if they were not threatened by their commanders. What I want to see is less politics in the armed forces. They serve the Agong and rakyat, and not political parties.
You have mentioned you were sidelined in the Navy. Why do you think this happened?
There is always talk. Some said “no way Haji Imran can get one star”, but instead I was promoted to First Admiral in October 2008. I was only ever interested in doing my job well. Even in the armed forces, there is professional conflict and petty squabbles.
Why did some people think that you would not get promoted?
They probably were not aware of my contributions to the Navy. My academic qualifications are varied. For instance, I have a Diploma in Electrical Engineering (Power) in 1977 at UTM (Universiti Teknologi Malaysia), Kuala Lumpur. Also maybe it was the usual politics that happens in any career.
Do you think that Pakatan should continue with the 505 gatherings and why?
Black 505 is a gathering to show the rakyat’s dissatisfaction over the GE13 result that is mired in controversy. There is something very wrong with our electoral system, after years of the present government’s interference.
It will go on until we get the decision to our petitions. Please remember that these are peaceful gatherings. All our gatherings have been peaceful.
What are the problems faced by your constituents in Lumut and how do you intend to solve them?
One of the more important issues is that my constituents want to avoid a “local brain drain”. They want boarding schools and a university to be built to avoid bright students from leaving Lumut.
I have to urge the Education Ministry to plan and implement this. People need education. If they are educated, they are better equipped to make choices.
If more educational facilities were to be opened in Lumut, would they be open to all races?
The university is of course open to all races. The boarding school is more of a Malay cultural experience but this does not mean that it should be exclusively for Malays. I want input from everyone. ‘Muhibbah’ means listening to all points of view and people’s experience.
What are your views on religion being used as a political tool?
It is unwise for anyone to use religion to influence the rakyat. It is not right to use religion for political gain. We all have certain basic principles we agree to which makes for a better society. We should concentrate on those principles.
What is your response to thecontroversial comments of Home Minister Zahid Hamidi?
It is an unwise remark by a minister. He might have forgotten of his ancestors’ land of origin. I do not bother at all. We need to get down to the hard work of making this country better for all Malaysians, regardless of which political party you support.
Is the armed forces racially polarised and if so, what are the reforms needed?
It is complicated. Of course, there is a difference between how the armed forces was and what it is now. It remains to be seen if non-Malays do not like the armed forces culture or if there are other reasons for the lack of non-Malay participation.
We need to have an honest and open discussion on this. Pakatan has shown that it can handle discussion without resorting to threats.
How has your experience been as a politician as compared to the structure of military life?
As a politician, you are dealing with civilians from all walks of life as compared to the military that is more specific in terms of people of all walks of life conforming to a specific structure.
In the military, you have a chain of command and problems filter through this chain. In a sense, it is easier to take charge and implement changes. Seniority also helps when you are dealing with personnel higher up the chain of command.
As a new politician, I have to be willing to listen to the rakyat’s demands but they have to understand it is a different power structure. Sometimes what they want is beyond my means to deliver for various reasons.
There is a system and it is the rakyat’s job to see that the politicians do not abuse the system but at the same time, they have to understand that unfortunately certain demands take time to fulfill, especially when you have to deal with people who hamper your efforts.
There has been great tragedy in your family. How do you cope with running a campaign and dealing with your personal loss?
I lost my four daughters in February 2005 in a car accident in Grik. My candidacy to contest for Lumut was announced by (PKR de factoleader) Anwar Ibrahim on April 5 in Grik. Therefore, Grik is very significant to my wife and me.
Campaigning was tiring but if you have a sense of purpose, you can overcome nearly everything. My family tragedy reminds me to always speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.