Monday, November 16, 2015

Saifuddin Abdullah on life after Umno


BY ANISAH SHUKRY
Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, the former head of Putrajaya's moderates outfit, now operates from his simple office room in the PKR headquarters. The former deputy minister says there is now nothing to hold him back from speaking his mind.  – The Malaysian Insider pic by Kamal Ariffin, November 16, 2015.

Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, the former head of Putrajaya's moderates outfit, now operates from his simple office room in the PKR headquarters. The former deputy minister says there is now nothing to hold him back from speaking his mind. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Kamal Ariffin, November 16, 2015.
Since resigning as the CEO of Putrajaya's Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMM) to join PKR, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah is now, as he puts it himself, "technically unemployed".
A month ago, the former Umno Supreme Council member would welcome guests to his tower office in Damansara Heights.
Last week, he met The Malaysian Insider for this interview in a cramped, decor-less room at the PKR headquarters in Petaling Jaya.
But the change of scenery, the loss of a monthly pay cheque and the jobless tag did not seem to bother Saifuddin, who was his usual laid back, cheerful self.
"Well, I have my pension from being a former deputy minister and member of Parliament, and that's enough for me and my family.
"We've never lived a lavish lifestyle, anyway," said Saifuddin with a cheeky laugh.
It was apparent that Saifuddin had no regrets over leaving Umno, despite having held the positions of deputy minister and Umno Supreme Council member at the height of his career.
PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and her deputy Mohamed Azmin Ali (left) welcome Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah into PKR on October 15. The former Umno leader is now busy organising state launches of the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition, and heads its common policy drafting committee.  – The Malaysian Insider file pic, November 16, 2015.PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and her deputy Mohamed Azmin Ali (left) welcome Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah into PKR on October 15. The former Umno leader is now busy organising state launches of the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition, and heads its common policy drafting committee. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, November 16, 2015.Yes, some friends were contacting him less, and one or two Umno leaders had publicly insulted him.
But as a PKR member, Saifuddin said he had more room and freedom to promote his core passion: moderation and political reform.
Saifuddin had always been known as pro-moderate and critical of the establishment, even during his years in the government.
As the higher education deputy minister, he had, among other things, defended students' rights to take part in politics, sympathised with the Bersih rally, and spoken out against the federal government's loan freeze for Selangor-owned universities.
Of course, there are limitations to espousing moderation and change when you are in a ruling Malay party, said Saifuddin, especially in a party which has increasingly succumbed to right-wing influences.
Now that he is on the "other side" of the political divide, there is nothing to hold him back, and people have become more receptive to his message, he said.
"Before, when I talked about these things, people in Umno would just look at me blankly and go, 'what are you saying?'
"People on the fence would say, 'yeah, what you say resonates with me but... you're in the wrong party. I don't think you can do much in your party'.
"Now, I can sense that, yes, the reception is warmer and people understand perfectly what I want to say.
 
"I feel freer as to what I want to say, I'm also given a wider space to operate in. In Umno, I was held back. Now, lebih tenang, lebih peluang (more relaxed, more opportunities)," he said with a contented smile.
Saifuddin joined PKR at a time of factionalism and discontent in Umno.
Before, when I talked about these things, people in Umno would just look at me blankly and go, 'what are you saying?' ... Now, I can sense that, yes, the reception is warmer and people understand perfectly what I want to say. – Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah.
He played this down, saying that factions existed in every party, and that the dispute over the timing of the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan's launch had already been resolved by the time he signed up.
Without a day job, Saifuddin said he considered himself the "full-time chief secretary" of the new coalition, although he still made time for the numerous civil society groups he heads.
He is now busy organising the state launches of Pakatan Harapan and heads the common policy drafting committee.
The first draft of the common policy was already complete, and they hoped to have the document ready by the time Pakatan Harapan hosts its first convention on January 9, he said.
Saifuddin was frank about the challenges coming up with a common policy that must not only sound impressive, but also practical.
"We have to strike a balance between coming up with 'motherhood statements', where we talk about ideals such as being just, fair, transparent, with actual, practical policies," he said.
On his appointment as the Pakatan Harapan chief secretary, Saifuddin admitted he had not expected it at all.
"In fact, it was very clear to all, that I was coming into PKR as an ordinary member.
"I take the role of Pakatan Harapan secretary as a responsibility," he said, adding that he was still looking for an office to work in that would not be associated with any of the three parties in the new coalition.
He was coy about his future in PKR and whether he would contest the Temerloh parliamentary seat in the next general election, saying that it would be up to his party leadership.
"My focus now is really just helping Pakatan Harapan grow, be stronger and ready for the next general election." – November 16, 2015.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/saifuddin-abdullah-on-life-after-umno#sthash.m4Pe5ZAT.dpuf

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