INTERVIEW | It was Dr Mahathir Mohamad who ended the free speech culture in Umno by making it compulsory for delegates to have their speech scripts approved by the party before they can debate in the Umno's annual general assemblies.
"This practice has been there for 25 years. It was (the doing) of Mahathir," Umno presidential candidate Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah told Malaysiakini in an interview ahead of tomorrow’s party leadership elections.
Mahathir helmed Umno from 1981 to 2003 and he resigned from Umno in 2016. He has since worked with several other former Umno leaders to set up Party Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).
"The delegates (list) needed to be verified by the supreme council before they can speak at the AGM. Their speech scripts must obtain the approval too," Tengku Razaleigh said.
The leadership might even edit the speech scripts of the delegates if needed, said the Gua Musang parliamentarian.
"During the era of Tunku (Abdul Rahman) and Abdul Razak (Hussein) and (ex-deputy president) Dr Ismail (Abdul Rahman), the members could speak freely. What they needed to do was just to raise their hands (to be allowed to speak).
"The speakers at the party AGM would choose those who observed the standing order," he said.
Tengku Razaleigh, who has been with Umno for six decades, said the party leaders then were too "gentleman" to take action against vocal delegates.
According to him, many grassroots members have demanded freedom of speech during his campaign trail.
"Some said it is better for them to go a coffee shop, where they can speak freely. There is no need for their script to be edited and or for them to be reprimanded before they can speak at the party AGM," he said.
As such, Tengku Razaleigh pledged that he would reinstate the culture and practice of freedom of speech if he wins in the June 30 party election.
The 81-year-old is facing Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (photo), Khairy Jamaluddin and two others in the race to be Umno president.
Khairy has included the promotion of a reformed Umno that will be open to criticism in his election campaign pledge.
Elaborating further, Tengku Razaleigh said he wanted party members to voice whatever issues they wished to in the future, even things similar to the 1MDB scandal against the party president and leadership.
"What's wrong with that (bringing up something similar to 1MDB)? As long as it does not infringe on the standing orders, then it is okay," he said.
There will be no repeat of the incident where former Umno deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin was barred from speaking on the 1MDB three years ago, according to him.
"They can speak anything (against me). I will respond when it is my turn," he said.
Asked if Umno should amend its constitution to guarantee the freedom of speech in the party, he gave a negative reply.
"Where in this world do we have such a quarantee?" he said, adding that the future leaders can have the party constitution changed if they intended to stifle the free speech of the delegates.
Asked if he would push for shadow cabinet, as pledged by his rival Khairy, Tengku Razaleigh said he would have a line-up that would respond to different issues.
"I will form a line-up that will (act) according to the subjects to tackle on issues raised in Parliament.
"We have thought of bringing with us the expert knowledge which can advise us and guide us, (such as) a think-tank committee," he added. - Msiakini