When you said you have failed, what exactly have you failed in?
I have failed to convince those in authority to effect changes about how this government should move forward. I failed to convince them.
I believe in the basic principle that this country respects all rights and citizens. This country is for all, there is no room for discrimination, this country is about rule of law and transparency, these are the things that we need to change.
If you don’t subscribe to these principles or just pay lip service to them, it will be difficult to translate (these) into policies. This is my feeling.
You are adamant about resigning despite the prime minister rejecting it?
I am not adamant, I am just saying that I have made up my mind. I thank the prime minister for asking me to take leave but I have my point, I think it’s best I leave (resign).
Why are you giving up on your efforts to push for reforms?
This is not giving up, this is paving the way for transformation. In a way I hope (my decision) can wake up people and result in some changes, that’s my hope, to trigger some positive changes.
You’ve been brought in to the cabinet to introduce judiciary reforms, what is going to happen to that?
All these (questions) you have to ask after December (Umno party polls,). I don’t know, you have to ask the prime minister, maybe he will re-organise the cabinet and supreme council (line-up who) will be more supportive (of reforms). It depends on so many things, I can’t answer that.
Will judiciary reforms come to a stop with your resignation?
I don’t know, you will have to ask the new prime minister (smiles), or rather the prime minister.
Are you disappointed with Prime Minister Abdullah (Ahmad Badawi)?
He is a nice man. He has other things to deal with that I may not know (of). Remember he is the party president, I am just an ordinary guy, I don’t have to worry about other things, he may have other things to worry about, you have to ask him.
Did the prime minister support your reforms?
Within the constraints he got, yes, he was supportive but he got constraints.
Do you think the internal party conflicts are hindering his ability to be an effective prime minister?
I believe so. That’s why I feel that things will be better - for the government or the Barisan Nasional - after December.
Do you think if Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim forms government, you will have the support to initiate reforms?
I just hope that anyone who forms the government - be it Abdullah, Najib Abdul Razak, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Muhyiddin Yassin or Anwar - I don’t care who - but I just want all those (things on) my wish list to be transformed. That is of course my hope, but as I said we have to see what happens first.
What's next for you - still with Umno or join PKR?
It’s a very difficult question. The reforms I talk about, I got much criticism from Umno. Sometimes I think I should have changed (to be) like them instead of me trying to change them.
I do have some problems (in Umno) but at the same time I don’t know PKR well, I don’t know the leaders, so it’s too early to say but I have an open mind and I’m not in a hurry to make any decision.
Have you been courted by the opposition?
Courted? The last time I was courted was 30 years ago (laughs). No, but I have friends all over the place who call up but these are things happening to everybody.
But there is a rumour that you are joining PKR?
No, I have not made any decision of joining anybody. I am just saying that I have to do this. I hope it will trigger some good things, it will trigger some changes on the people in power, self-reflection and I hope the prime minister will overcome his challenges without the burden I carry (on him).
Are you going back to practice?
I don’t think so. I want to start a foundation to help build closer relations among the people in this country. I think race discrimination, prejudice and race relations are very bad. When I was young, I remember I thought we had much closer interracial (ties). Today we are a divided country.
Are you staying on as a senator?
Yes, because it will be nice to talk sometimes in the Senate to give my views on public issues. I love and care for this country very much like you all, I will do what I can. I believe this country is founded on very simple principles but very strong principles - fairness to all, justice, freedom, all those good things, I will work towards that.
What is the cause of the racial divide?
We have to do something to bring back trust and take action against some people who are bent on creating this division because of their own political agendas. We must overcome this.
You have been hailed as a hero and a man of principle?
I am not a hero, this is exaggeration. If I am a hero, I would have been successful in transforming this country. I just happen to say what I feel and do what I think is right.
What is the most important thing that the prime minister should do to bring some sort of changes?
The one single thing I think, is (for him) to trust the people in this country - all races. If you can’t bring yourself to that level of trust and acceptance, you will always worry if a particular policy will benefit this group or not. You worry whether you will upset certain benefits and privileges you have.
So long as you think sectarian or (along ) racial (lines), if you have too much thinking of that, it’s hard for you to have a policy that reaches out to everyone and applies to all. That psychological barrier has to be overcome.
We have to trust that we are one people and want to build one country and we want to have laws that apply to all.
In that sense, is it time for race-based parties to go?
I said before you can have race-based parties, you can fight for your community but you still can think of the country and common principles which bind us. You don’t have to be narrow-minded or cultivate the feeling of hatred, you have to do the opposite. These changes and reforms are for the country.
What do you have to say about your cabinet colleagues who have criticised you?
To my cabinet colleagues, I think some of them are very fine gentlemen. We have differences of views but there is no hard feelings, I hope to maintain that.
Before the Internal Security Act arrests, has it ever crossed your mind to resign?
Yes, it has crossed my mind a couple of times, even in the early days (of my tenure).
Excerpts taken from Malaysiakini