By Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published in The Star 9 July 2013

I am really glad to start a fortnightly column in this newspaper. The Star has a long history with Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia who was also our greatest Prime Minister. When he was a columnist for The Star, he never shied away from making principled commentaries about difficult issues. The country owes him a lot, and his legacy is one that must not be forgotten.

As an organisation inspired by Almarhum Tunku’s vision to see this land becomes a nation of “liberty and justice”, we at IDEAS are always looking for the opportunity to follow his footsteps.

The Founding President of IDEAS, Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz, too had a column in this newspaper. His wit and style of writing would be difficult to match. But the key messages that we all bring in our writings are similar.

Everyone in IDEAS is committed to classical liberal principles, and we look for opportunities to apply this political philosophy in public policy. Our thoughts and opinions are guided by four principles: the rule of law, limited government, free markets, and individual liberty and responsibility.

In a publication that we released back in 2010 entitled “The Tunku’ Great Ideas”, we outlined how Tunku Abdul Rahman himself consistently advocated these four principles. The publication can be downloaded free from our website

However, since classical liberalism puts emphasis on individual liberty, it would be wrong to say everyone in the organisation always speaks with one voice. We in IDEAS are opinionated individuals in our own rights and our interpretation of the philosophy may differ from one another. So while the big picture may be the same, the details may differ.

I accepted the invitation to write in this newspaper following a chance encounter with The Star’s Group Chief Editor, Dato’ Seri Wong Chun Wai. At the height of the campaign period for the 13th General Election, we were both invited to be on a panel in RTM. While waiting for our slot, we chatted about the role of the media in the campaign.

We discussed the differences between mainstream press like The Star and party organs like PAS’ Harakah. As one of the accredited election observers, I told Chun Wai that many people I met have been complaining about how many of the mainstream media were very one-sided in their reporting. I jokingly told him that if The Star does not change its tack, it would become an English version of Harakah.

Soon after GE13, I received an SMS from Chun Wai inviting me to be a columnist in this newspaper. He said he wants new voices, and that The Star is not an English version of Harakah. I was pleasantly surprised that he remembered what I said in jest, and I am delighted and humbled to be invited into this newspaper.

Actually, I am not new to The Star. I was once a columnist for The Start i-Pad edition. But I started that venture at the wrong time, and had to stop after just a few articles. At that time IDEAS was not even two years old yet. As the founding CEO, I had to prioritise my time to build up the think tank and this made the column suffer. That’s why I thought it would be fairer to the editor if I stop the column instead of continuously missing deadlines.

I was hoping to start writing sooner but unfortunately this first article had to be delayed a bit. My house caught fire on 9 June and most of my belongings were either burnt or damaged by water. Searching for a new house, buying furniture and clothes from scratch, and moving took a lot of my time (and bloated my credit card bill too!). But I do hope that from today I can play my little role to be a “critical friend” in The Star.

The country is still grappling with the outcomes of GE13. Prior to GE13, only a small number of people believed that BN could do better than 2008. The vast majority of informed analysts have always said that BN would perform worse, but PR would not win. So the outcome of GE13 was not really a surprise to many of us.

What was surprising to me, however, is to see how many of our politicians failed to prepare for the results. And today we see several BN leaders keep making mistakes after mistakes.

The biggest mistake was when some suggested that Malaysian Chinese and urban voters of all backgrounds are ungrateful. To this, my response is that we citizens have nothing to be grateful about when dealing with politicians.

Instead, it is the politicians who should be grateful to us. We elected them. We pay their salaries, housing allowances, car allowances, and many more. Every single sen they earn by virtue of being a salaried politician, including the money they use to support their families, is because of us. They owe their living to us, not the other way round.

The death of feudalism is certain and the true masters are we, the people. If these servants continue to think that they are the masters, then they are paving the road to retirement in GE14.

And I hope that sets the tone for my future articles in this newspaper!

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Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (

1 Comment

  • Hashim bin Abdul Wahab 2013 Jul 11 / 10:07

    I read with interest the write-up entitled ‘Setting the Tone’ in your column ‘Thinking Liberally’ published in The Star on July 9. This is your inaugural article to a fortnightly series that will discuss issues guided by the principles of rule of law, limited government, free market, individual liberty and responsibility. My search for the writer to respond to the article led me to this website where it is reproduced.
    The setting of the tone was I thought disheartening to me as a Malay/Muslim first and Malaysian second, on a number of premises. Arrogantly you have brushed aside politicians (the way I sense it you are specifically referring to Malay political leaders) by expressing why be grateful to them as we have compensated them with salaries and other perks. Unlike your thinking self there are so many aspects that I am grateful to them for the many contributions and policy directions that have brought lasting peace and harmony, economic development and education opportunities to the people. If not for Dato’ Onn Malaya would have been a colony of the British imperialist with the erosion of powers of the Sultans and the rakyat particularly the Malays. It was Tun Abd Razak that established FELDA and provided lands for the landless and present generations of settlers are enjoying the fruits of the Schemes, creating the spirit of ‘peneroka’, adventure and entrepreneurship through various economic schemes and programmes that enable quite a few of the adventurous youth to climb Mt. Everest. It was during the premiership of Tun A. Razak the concept of Tabung Haji to facilitate pilgrimage to Mekah was mooted and the inculcation of the savings culture among the Malays with the establishment of Amanah Saham National. The Government under Tun Dr Mahathir (TDM) undertook massive infrastructural development such as the North-South Highway, the Subang International Airport that are used by millions of visitors to the country, the twin towers that become an icon of the country for tourists and the new city of Putrajaya. The infrastructure systems attract many investors both local and foreign, with an accompanying Industrial Policy. TDM also started an aggressive foreign policy and with his policy of ‘Enrich Thy Neighbour’ Malaysian investors are welcomed all over the world particularly the ASEAN countries. The Langkawi Dialoque with African countries facilitate investments in these countries and presently, the country is reaping dividends from the many foresights of these political leaders. African is currently the fastest growing region in the world. On education if not for the opportunities provided I would not have known my potential of succeeding in getting my doctorate. I believe your father and you yourself and the many thousands have benefitted from the many places allocated in the public institutions of higher learning and now we have professionals – doctors, engineers, agriculturists, architects, IT experts etc – serving in public and private sector institutions.
    On the question of feudalism, whatever the word connotes to you, it is a system like Adat Perpatih among the Minangs in Negeri Sembilan, that has nurtured over the years for the good of the community. Certainly it is not going to die easily as you have predicted.
    On the four guiding principles, do not be carried away by concepts developed by white Judeo-Christian capitalistic economic system that has formulated and propagated it for their ultimate interests. Capitalism and free market favour the big nations/companies; promote greed, dishonesty and corruption; individualism; destruction of environment. The recent economic malaise of USA and countries in Europe is attributed to this greedy capitalistic and free market economy where CEOs are self-centric at the expense of the companies they manage and the country. We need to promote a more equitable economic system. Large economies like China and Singapore have a balanced market of individual entrepreneurs and state corporations. Singapore has its Temasek to handle strategic and critical industries and cannot be left to the selfish, self-centred capitalists. Malaysia should guard jealously its many GLCs that are well managed like TNB, Banks, utility companies, Tabung Haji, plantation companies, PETRONAS, telecommunication companies, Johor and other state Corporations etc.
    The world is looking for a more balanced development agenda. A small nation, Bhutan, is pioneering its Gross National Happiness (GNH) Agenda with the harmonisation of creation of wealth with care for the environment and programmes for the wellbeing of the people. The spirituality elements embedded in Buddhism become the guiding principle. Perhaps we need to examine this new approach.
    Whilst respecting individual liberty, the wellbeing of the bigger community, society and nation must override individual interest.
    In fulfilling one’s task like writing in this column, one must not forget whose interest one is serving in performing this task. Without realising it one can become an instrument of the enemy, destroying the institutions and practices that are our pride, and the religious tenets that one professes under the guise of Thinking Liberally.

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