Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi uses aggression to try to intimidate reporters, but he was hiding something behind the bully-boy mask which he wore at the press conference on Oct 4. If Zahid thinks he can use his altercation with Malaysiakini to pursue an agenda which will curb press freedom, then he is seriously misguided.

It is amazing how much Zahid has changed in 15 years. At the Umno Baru assembly in 1998, Zahid attacked former PM Mahathir Mohamad for corruption, cronyism and nepotism. By 1999, he was practically eating out of Mahathir’s hands and referred to the then-premier’s remarks as “advice from a father to his son”. Then, he vowed to back the party leadership, but today he shows little concern for the way in which our money is mis-spent.

No one could accuse this writer of spinning; not with video footage showing Zahid bringing rudeness and thuggish behaviour to an art form. This is not the first incident of unbecoming behaviour from Umno Baru politicians, or their supporters, against members of the media.

A few months ago, Zahid was embroiled in a court case in which he was alleged to have assaulted a businessman. Zahid is not known for his powers of reasoning. His preferred mode of problem-solving is to threaten people and order those who are dissatisfied with the state of the country, to emigrate.

Zahid should realise that attributing the loss of the police weapons to human error, is too glib. In all probability, neither he nor the inspector-general of police (IGP) knows what became of the weapons. If they have the information, then why are they withholding it?

Zahid started a running dialogue with Malaysiakini, when he should have been fielding questions from reporters. This diversionary tactic was a ruse to waste time.

ahmad zahid warn malaysiakini 041013Having beratedMalaysiakini, he made a hasty retreat, just like a coward. Zahid’s (right) body language showed that he was keen to avoid further questioning.

Umno Baru spends hundreds of millions of ringgits on its internal elections and on foreign consultants to spruce up its image. Why does it not spend money for its politicians to attend classes in civility and manners? How about educating their politicians to answer reporters’ questions properly?

As taxpayers, we want to know the measures the Home ministry or the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) will take to stem further wastage. What specific forms of human error does Zahid think could account for the loss of the weapons?

Zahid claimed that none of the losses were from “a breach of trust, deviant acts or elements of bribery.” How does he know? Did someone file a police report and were detailed investigations conducted?

Zahid denied that carelessness and mistakes made in the line of duty were to blame. What exactly does he mean? If the system is at fault, then he should say what remedial steps he or the IGP will take to rectify the mess.

Carelessness and error?

In August, it was reported, in a daily newspaper, that a policeman’s pistol and ammunition had been stolen as he lay sleeping in his car, with his window wound down, in a lay-by in Shah Alam. It was odd that he had just returned from a funeral, carrying his gun, passport and lots of cash.

Is this the sort of carelessness and error Zahid referred to? Was this policeman punished? Did he sell his gun to a syndicate? How do we know either man is telling the truth?

Zahid’s curriculum vitae states that before venturing into politics, he worked for two banks, OCBC and Bank Simpanan Nasional. Any bank staff member will confirm that at the end of the month, every sen has to be accounted for and no one is allowed to leave the bank and return home, until the books are balanced. Zahid may not have started his banking career as a teller, but this practice is drummed into every bank employee.

The video clip of Zahid’s infantile and childish behaviour at the Oct 4 press conference shows him acting like the school bully in a playground. He is verbally aggressive and he knows he can use his powers as home minister to make reporters compliant.

His angry outbursts are a means of showing off. He attempts to shame anyone whom he accuses of doing something wrong. He is fiercely argumentative when anyone tries to make a point. He threatens to punish and tries to humiliate in public anyone with whom he argues. This is not spin, but is accurate reporting. Zahid is damned by his own words and actions.

Zahid likes reporters who publish only what Umno Baru want them to say. Incredibly, Umno Baru is the only political party which bansMalaysiakini from covering its functions, especially its supreme council meetings. This action compromises freedom of speech.

Many people will have noticed the steady build-up, since GE13, of harsher laws. Mahathir came out of the woodwork to support stricter laws, claiming that the streets were no longer safe; not that he would know or care.

Zahid claims that the Prevention of Crime Act (PCA) will be used to punish criminals, but cynics suspect that the draconian law will be used to gag opposition politicians, activists and reporters. We appear to be returning to the bad old days of restricted freedom.

The PCA was forced through parliament and Zahid would be foolish to think he can broaden this latest attack on Malaysiakini into an attempt to gag the media, but the indications are that he is heading that way.

NONEA day after the attack on theMalaysiakinijournalist Lawrence Yong, Zahid was at a security seminar for community leaders in Malacca, where it was alleged that he had made “sensitive remarks”.

Upon the discovery of the presence of journalists, Zahid banned them from publishing what was discussed and he followed this with a threat that he would have their newspapers shut down. The audience booed the media representatives, who were then forced to retreat.

Would Zahid have dared to humiliate, finger wag and slap the shoulders of a foreign correspondent? Perhaps, his rude behaviour is reserved for Malaysian reporters because he can gag them and punish them, with the laws at his disposal. A bully boy attracts loyalty by fear. If Zahid harbours ambitions of becoming prime minister, he should tread warily.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO).

~ Malaysiakini