Zaid, a man with responsibilities but no authorityPUTRAJAYA, 16 Sept 2008: THE government’s decision to use the Internal Security Act (ISA) on civilians was the catalyst for Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s decision to resign his position in the cabinet as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.
Calling it “the final straw”, Zaid today said he was sticking to his decision to resign, despite Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi urging him to take two weeks off to reconsider. Zaid had tendered in his resignation letter yesterday afternoon, before meeting Abdullah later that evening.
Speaking at a packed news conference, Zaid said his resignation from the Cabinet was effective starting today.
Zaid is the first cabinet minister to resign over the use of the ISA, which was recently used to detain three individuals — blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, Seputeh Member of Parliament (MP) Teresa Kok and Sin Chew Daily reporter Tan Hoon Cheng — on 12 Sept. Tan was released the next day.
Zaid told reporters he “did not expect that the government would find a journalist and a Member of Parliament a threat to national security”.
“I am a minister, I am responsible,” said the former Kota Baru MP, who had in a press conference at his home in Pasir Hor, Kelantan yesterday decried the use of the draconian law on those who are not armed terrorists or out to topple the government.
Zaid had then said he was willing to step down step down as a minister if his actions were deemed to have undermined the government and cabinet.
Zaid’s decision to break ranks with his cabinet colleagues over the ISA detentions has been applauded by many quarters including the Bar Council and opposition parties for defending the interests of the people.
Explaining his quit decision, Zaid said: “I am facing a brick wall, I can’t translate or make them [the government] understand that this is a country for all rakyat and all races.”
At a packed news conference, Zaid announced his decision to quit his post in the cabinet.Zaid admitted that he had failed in initiating reforms to the judiciary and faced many objections from his fellow ministers, who criticised him for not being “a pure fighter of race and religion”.
“I was a man with responsibility but with no authority,” said Zaid, explaining his frustrations with his position as minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of legal affairs.
“I think I failed to convince those in authority to effect changes on how the government should move forward,” said Zaid, who had been championing judicial reform in the past six months. He stressed that reforms need transformation at a higher political level.
In a news conference earlier today, Abdullah insisted the process of reform would go on even without Zaid. “The government is not dependent on a single individual,” Bernama reports the prime minister as saying.
Zaid, who was appointed a senator and made a minister on 18 March 2008 after a cabinet reshuffle, said he hoped that his departure will trigger “some changes, some response and positive reaction in the part of my party, and hope this transition (within Umno) will take place in the way that maintains peace.”
Asked whether the internal politicking within Umno had affected the Prime Minister’s ability to govern effectively, Zaid said he believed it was so.
On whether he would leave Umno and join Pakatan Rakyat, Zaid said he was keeping an open mind and was not in a hurry to make a decision.
As for his future plans, he said he hoped to set up a foundation to study racial relations.
Zaid’s quit announcement received positive response from the Bar Council, who commended the principled stand taken by the politician.
“It is entirely appropriate that he distance and disassociate himself from these [the ISA arrests] acts. It sets an example of what responsible politicians should do in the interests of rakyat,” said the Bar’s president, Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan in a statement released today.
However, she also added that the only regret is the process of judicial and legal reform that the minister was putting in place will now face a serious setback.
“We know that this process was facing resistance from many quarters but we had hoped that it would eventually bear fruit. We regret that it may now be stalled indefinitely,” said Ambiga.