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CSIS Seminar: A Complete Washout
by Raja Petra Kamaruddin in Washington DC
It was a strange scene at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington on Wednesday morning. When the seminar on Governance & Rule of Law in Malaysia began, only one of the speakers came into the room, Nazri Abdul Aziz.
Attorney-General Gani Patail and former Chief Justice Abdul Hamid Mohamed were somehow nowhere to be seen. And in good Malaysian fashion, the seminar started 10 minutes late.
The seminar’s chairman, Ernest Bower, looked tired and nervous, saying that he had received a number of e-mails expressing concern that the seminar would not be balanced. He said that he wants a dialogue on important issues. Therefore he also has invited the opposition to speak at CSIS. He hopes they will accept.
Ernest Bower then shocked the audience of about 40 people by saying that the session was ‘off the record’. The flyer announcing the seminar never said it was an off the record session. It doesn’t matter though. The session was so boring there is very little to report anyway.
Malaysian Ambassador to the US, Jamaluddin Jarjis a.k.a. JJ, spoke for two minutes. He just said that he is working very hard to improve relations with the US (whenever he happens to be in town, that is). He made no mention, though, whether the new US$150,000 Porsche he just bought is paid for by the Malaysian taxpayers or by him personally.
Nazri said that it was just a coincidence that he, Gani and Abdul Hamid happen to be in Washington at the same time. (Sure. If you believe that then I have half a bridge to Singapore to sell you.) He said he didn’t know where the two missing persons were.
He then introduced the “four members of my delegation,” all MPs. (Talk about wasting the taxpayers’ money!) Two of them were PKR turncoats, including the infamous Zahrin Mohamed Hashim.
In a tribute to Malaysia Today, Nazri held up an Internet printout and referred to Martin Jalleh’s article, Malaysian Circus Goes to Washington. He claimed that he had been planning the trip to Washington for nine months because he and the Prime Minister believe it is important to strengthen ties with the US.
Nazri then started his formal speech and spoke for 30 minutes. It was a very academic and therefore a very boring speech. There was no real substance to it and the audience quickly grew bored. Even JJ got so bored as he sat next to Nazri on the podium.
But what shocked the audience was to watch JJ’s antics at such an “important meeting” at such a “prestigious think tank.“
The whole while Nazri was speaking, JJ was sending and receiving messages on his Blackberry and mobile phone. He never turned off the ringer. When he tapped out a message, one could hear the “click, click, click” of the keys. He even called his aide up to the podium twice to have conversations. He also got up and left the room and then came back.
And here is a first for Washington. Then, as Nazri was still speaking, JJ picked up the Washington Post and started to read it — not once, but twice.
Nazri went on and on, quoting Malaysia’s many laws banning corruption. But of course he never said that they apply only to the opposition and not to UMNO politicians or taxi permit holders (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).
Finally, he stopped speaking and said he would welcome tough questions. He got one right from the start from Kumar, the head of Amnesty International’s Washington DC office. Kumar said Nazri and JJ had both just said that they want to improve relations with the United States. But that will never happen as long as people in Washington have concerns about Malaysia’s harassment of the opposition and Anwar’s trial.
Referring to the Malaysia Today article, Kumar said if there’s a Malaysian circus, it’s Anwar’s trial. Nazri replied, “Anwar is a friend of mine.” (With friends like Nazri, who needs enemies?). Nazri said he underwent his legal training in the United Kingdom and claimed that if he ever sensed that the Prime Minister was interfering in the case and there is political interference in Malaysia’s independent judiciary, he would tender his resignation.
He added, “When we heard about Saiful’s charges against Anwar, I thought it was unfortunate. For the sake of the country, we don’t want the nation to endure a trial like this again. But Saiful is entitled to justice. Why talk about rule of law if you ignore his report? He had a right to report to the police. In any event, Anwar’s acquittal before shows that our judiciary is independent, and we did not appeal that decision. That shows we are interested only in justice, not political persecution.”
Nazri went on. “We do not have an agenda against Anwar. Why would we want to use the same old charge of sodomy, again? If you don’t believe me, there is nothing I can do.”
JJ was the only one who clapped.
Murray Hiebert then stood up to introduce himself as the former Asian Wall Street Journal correspondent in Malaysia (but politely declined to mention his experience with ‘good governance’ and ‘the rule of law’ in Malaysia when he was the guest of a Malaysian prison).
Murray asked about the Allah issue. Nazri turned to the Malaysiakini reporter in the room and told him, “Don’t you dare report what I am going to say.”
Nazri looked alive and gave a 20-minute history and language lesson, repeating the usual government line. As Nazri finished his long-winded answer, JJ leaned over to whisper to Ernest Bower, who suddenly jumped up and brought the seminar to a halt. It was still only 11:30am and the seminar was supposed to go until noon.
JJ probably thought an early halt would be wise before they put their foot deeper into the mouth. Or maybe he was really getting bored and just couldn’t take it anymore. Or maybe he was hungry. So JJ led Nazri out of the room and the audience followed.
So much for the so-called ‘dialogue’.