Tawfik Ismail: Malaysia needs moderation to have a future

Radzi Razak
·3-min read
Tawfik Ismail speaks to Malay Mail during an interview September 5, 2020. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Tawfik Ismail speaks to Malay Mail during an interview September 5, 2020. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 29 — When the news broke that Tawfik Ismail, former Sungai Benut MP, will return to politics as an independent, political observers dismissed his chances in an arena dominated by Malay parties.

However, some activists have expressed hope that Tawfik, eldest son of the late Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s second deputy prime minister, could shake up the traditional power structure.

Malay Mail met with him and the aligned Gerak Independent joint initiative headed by Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity Foundation (Maju) and other NGOs pushing for independent candidates in the 15th general election.

Tawfik was only 35 when he won the Sungai Benut seat in 1986, but the 69-year-old is finally ready to return to politics.

Seasoned activist Haris Ibrahim, who is now with Gerak Independent, said Tawfik embodied the spirit of “the reluctant politician”, a term given to Tawfik’s father who returned to politics after retiring to join the efforts to heal Malaysia after the 1969 race riots.

Haris was with Tawfik when the latter announced his intention in Maju’s webinar last month entitled: Your First Reluctant Statesman.

“We have to regain our nation’s moral compass,” Tawfik told Malay Mail when asked he was signing on with the initiative.

Tawfik said that GE15 is a chance for a new political future, one without the shadow of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

He acknowledged that Dr Mahathir has formed a new party — Parti Pejuang Tanah Air — after being ejected from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, but said he did not see the former making yet another comeback.

“When I said moral compass, it means where we are and where we will go as a country in order to unite and integrate our people.

“We have wasted our time for 60 years trying to find our way, not just for the nation but how far we progressed in our goals.

“For example, to make the Malay race better, I don’t think we have done very much. What have we done to unite the Malay state and the Borneo state? Not very much because we betrayed them in the Malaysian Agreement 1963,” he said referring to the ongoing broken relationship with Sabah and Sarawak.

Tawfik, an outspoken moderate, also said that he was worried about geopolitical happenings that might leave the increasingly politically conservative Malaysia at a disadvantage.

He said elected representatives should advocate adherence to the Federal Constitution, which guarantees and defines the rights of the state, rulers and people including their powers and liberty.

He said some have lost sight of this.

“If there are Islamic arguments, I want to know what is in the Constitution that is unIslamic that some Malays demand for an Islamic country.

“Even Arab states have become more centrist and moderate in their international relationships; they are becoming more moderate than the Malays are.

“Are we ready to be moderate in our education, culture and our people, or are we becoming stagnant?” he said effusively.

However, he also admitted that running as an independent meant a different set of obstacles than traditional party-based politicians.

Speaking from experience, he said joining a party meant access to funds and its machinery, which were invaluable when campaigning.

“As an independent you are on your own,” he chuckled.

Tawfik left Umno after the party’s crisis in 1987, when the feud between Dr Mahathir and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah led to the party being deregistered.

Tengku Razaleigh went on to form the now-defunct Semangat 46 while Dr Mahathir registered Umno Baru.

The two reconciled in 1996.

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