By Tunku `Abidin Muhriz (The Sun, 5 February 2010)

In the autumn of 2006 in a dank room near the Tower of London I met up with Wan Saiful Wan Jan and Wan Mohd Firdaus Wan Mohd Fuaad. Both were well-known to the Malaysian student community in the UK: the former had led Hizbi for many years, while the latter had served as chairman of the United Kingdom and Eire Council for Malaysian Students and was active in the Federation of Student Islamic Societies.  

Although I had moderated several Malaysian-themed events at university, I was more interested in British politics at the time, and it was through those channels that we met: Saiful and I supported the Conservatives while Firdaus supported Labour.

(This, of course, is nothing new: Malaysian students from time immemorial have been active in political activities, including Tun Abdul Razak who was a Labour member and involved in the Kesatuan Melayu Great Britain, an organisation co-founded by both the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong [who had friends in the Conservative Party] and first prime minister of the Federation of Malaya.)

Although we had different political affiliations, we all appeared to agree on the fundamental precepts of freedom and democracy as articulated by Tunku Abdul Rahman and to see these principles protected and enhanced in Malaysia. We couldn’t agree on a name, so we went with “Malaysia Think Tank” with “London” tacked on the end to signify that we were based there at the time.

We all had full-time jobs elsewhere so could not really devote much time to the organisation, but by the time I returned to Malaysia (axing the “London” suffix in the process), we had agreed on our basic principles – rule of law, free markets, individual liberty and limited government – and our Wau Bebas logo.  This enabled us to accelerate our activities. 

In the three years since our inception we have published a book (Who Needs an Islamic State?), produced policy briefings distributed to all MPs, organised more than a dozen seminars, hosted workshops with political parties, written pamphlets on education and press freedom, accommodated over 200 young Malaysians in our Freedom Academy weekends and collectively published over 100 articles in the mainstream and alternative media, with the help of our associate contributors (Noor Amin Ahmad and Wan Fadzrul Wan Bahrum). Soon we will be opening Tadika Wau Bebas, a private kindergarten that we shall be running with Nur Salam (led by the indefatigable Dr Tini Zainuddin) for children denied educational opportunities elsewhere.

Throughout this process we have developed enlightening relationships with like-minded think tanks in other countries: not just the giants like China, India and the US, but also countries often compared to Malaysia, like Turkey and Ghana. This has enabled us to appoint intellectual supporters of global stature to our international advisory board (Anthony Cooper, Professor Julian Morris, Dr Tom Palmer, Dr Mark Pennington and Linda Whetstone) and towering patriots into our Malaysian advisory board (Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim, Datuk Seri Azman Ujang, Datuk Michael Yeoh and Edmond Yeo). 

We have brought together politicians from both the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat to sit on our Cross Party Advisory Group (Tunku Aziz Ibrahim, Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, Datuk Kamarudin Jaffar, Wong Nai Chee, Yusmadi Yusoff and Khaw Veon Szu). The generous contributions of our Senior Fellows (Professor Abdul Aziz Bari, Professor James Chin and Barun Mitra) and Fellows (Dr Helmy Haja Mydin, Wan Hamidi Hamid, Keith Leong and Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams) have also helped us on our way. 

But none of our activities would have been successful without the support of our diligent staff – Meor Isfandy Azizan, Adam Ismail, Cilia Chong and Munirah Hayati Muhtar – and enthusiastic interns – Christopher Choong, Justina Chen and Kon-Yao Kwek.

Donations from sympathetic organisations like the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the International Policy Network and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation have been vital.

With these accomplishments and many more ambitions for the future, we have decided
to end the gestation period. We shall be hatching as the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) on Feb 8, the birthday of Tunku Abdul Rahman, at his memorial. Many of the individuals mentioned above will be present, as will several descendants of Bapa Merdeka. There will be presentations from Wan Saiful, Tunku’s great-granddaughter Sharyn Shufiyan, myself, and Tunku’s friend and ally Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. 

Crucially, we shall be serving roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for lunch – a favourite dish of Tunku’s which he used to cook himself.

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