Penang Institute: Fellowship offer was not to compensate for senatorship
KUALA LUMPUR, May 16 — The Penang Institute’s fellowship offer to Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim has been misconstrued as compensation for his senatorship, its CEO Zairil Khir Johari has said.
The 78-year-old former DAP vice-chairman was recently dropped as senator following his criticism of the April 28 Bersih rally.
“It was not meant to be compensation for his senatorship, but in fact, a genuine offer based on a desire to make the best use of Tunku’s talent in the service of the state after his retirement as a senator for Penang,” Zairil said in a statement to The Malaysian Insider.
The Penang Institute’s “enthusiasm” to have Tunku Aziz on board has been used to justify his departure from DAP and to attack Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, Zairil added.
“When it became clear that Tunku did not wish to be re-nominated for another term as a senator for Penang, we at Penang Institute saw it as an opportunity to recruit a public intellectual with a valuable global network.
“It was based on such intentions that the management of the Penang Institute, led by Executive Director Professor Datuk Woo Wing Thye and myself, decided to propose the offer to Tunku Aziz of a senior fellowship in the Penang Institute,” added Zairil, who is also Guan Eng’s political secretary.
Tunku Aziz told The Star that Lim had called him on Sunday offering him a senior fellowship in Penang Institute and “[dangled] travel as an attraction” after his tenure as senator was not renewed.
“Then yesterday, Zairil Khir Johari (Lim’s political secretary) called and repeated the offer and stated there was a stipend of RM50,000 to go with it.
“Totally, totally insulting, and I could only conclude that it had come from someone who had no sense and not even a modicum of respect.
“Did he think I was that kind of person? This man has no sense of decency. The only word is a Malay word, and it’s ‘biadap’,” he was quoted by the English daily as saying.
Zairil confirmed he had called Tunku Aziz on Monday morning regarding the terms of the senior fellowship and reiterated that the RM50,000 cash stipend was part of the package.
“Penang Institute has a standard package for senior fellowship that includes a yearly stipend of RM50,000. So far, three persons have been appointed as senior fellows on this package,” he said.
Tunku Aziz has been publicly censured for saying that Bersih should not have gone ahead with an illegal street protest despite the party making a clear stand to back the electoral reform movement’s April 28 rally.
The founding president of Transparency International Malaysia told The Star the rebuke gave the impression that what he had said was against the party as well as Bersih, and this was why he decided to “withdraw from the party.”
“I am not against the party. I am just against the attitude taken by the party secretary-general, particularly when he falsely accused me of going against the party decision to support Bersih. I have always stood for free and fair elections,” he said.
A distant relation of the Kedah royalty, he said he has always supported Bersih but only disagreed with proceeding with an illegal gathering after the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and police had refused to allow the movement to use the historic Dataran Merdeka for their rally.
The ex-Bank Negara advisor also said that there was “absolutely no question” that this was his last venture into politics despite Guan Eng saying he will try to convince Tunku Aziz to reconsider his resignation.
Although Tunku Aziz had earlier said he withdrew his candidacy as a senator for the party, he revealed in the interview that he only did so after DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang “saw me and said ... it may be a bit difficult for them to nominate me again.”
The 78-year-old also said in the interview with The Star that he felt “a deep sense of relief at being freed from the tyranny of a demagogue.”
DAP has tried to reach out to Malays, who make up 60 per cent of the 12-million strong electorate, by recruiting leaders such as Tunku Aziz.
But he has conceded his failure to win over the community to the Chinese-dominated party that has been accused by Umno of being anti-Malay and anti-Islam.