I always describe my political journey as colourful. I started my career as an intern at a political think-tank, serving Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin when he was the Minister of Youth and Sports, in 1996. I was a law student at that time. I was made a full-time research officer at the think-tank when I graduated in 1998.
But the 1999 Reformasi and its firebrand politics attracted me as a young man then into the wilderness of opposition politics. I volunteered to help set up Parti Keadilan Nasional (now Parti Keadilan Rakyat – PKR) in 1999 and was appointed its Executive Secretary.
However, I was not cut out to be a politician. After a short six-month stint at the Keadilan headquarters, I accepted a job offer as a teacher in a law department of the International Islamic University Malaysia Matriculation Centre (now Centre for Foundation Studies). There began my foray into an intellectually stimulating academic life.
But my love for politics remained. While working as a law teacher, I pursued my Master’s degree in political science at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. After obtaining the degree, I applied for a teaching post in the IIUM political science department. Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), I got the job.
Interest in politics but …
I told myself that I am lucky. I enjoy teaching and, so, I became a lecturer. It has always been my dream job. I have great interest in politics but, the problem is, I am not cut out to be a politician.
So, never mind, God is Great. He gave me both. I became a political science lecturer instead so that I could study politics, analyse politics, talk about politics – in classrooms – and get paid.
I also obtained a government scholarship to pursue my PhD in political science and international relations at the Australian National University. That is another dream come true for me.
I remember as the saying goes – if you can do what you like, it is freedom. If you like what you do, it is happiness. I was both, free and happy.
After completing my doctoral studies in 2008, I returned to the university to teach political science.
However, my career in political science followed a new trajectory in 2009 when I was appointed as Special Officer to the Deputy Prime Minister by Tan Sri Muhyiddin. This was my second stint as his ‘aide’ after serving him indirectly when he was the Minister of Youth and Sports.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin – firm but considerate
I got to know him better during this second stint. He is a no-nonsense person, meticulous and very firm when making decisions. Don’t try your luck to change his mind!
But behind his firmness, there lies the softer side of his personality. He is very considerate, kind-hearted, diplomatic and willing to listen to different views before making a decision. And most of the time, he is very careful, too.
Describing himself as a technocrat-bureaucrat politician, he will insist that his officers get the views of the bureaucrats first before he makes any decisions on any matter. Principally, he wants to be guided by government policies rather than whims and fancies in arriving at decisions.
That is why I observed that he never had any problems working with government officers. There was mutual respect between him as a member of the political executive and the civil service. The relationship was cordial and respectful. It makes my job as his officer easy, too.
After the 13th General Election, he told me he wanted to appoint me as his Political Secretary. I was not very sure at the beginning. I told him I am not good at politics. I am a novice.
But after discussing with my colleagues who assured me that they would assist me in doing my job, I said okay. I would give it a shot.
The rest is history.
And the history took a new path two years later. Tan Sri Muhyiddin was thrown into the wilderness of opposition politics when he was removed as Deputy Prime Minister on 28 July, 2015.
What was his wrongdoing? Questioning former Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, on the 1MDB scandal.
I vividly remember, on that fateful day, Datuk Seri Mohd Nardin Awang (then the DPM’s Political Secretary and now Senior Political Secretary to the Prime Minister) and I waited outside the PM’s office while Tan Sri Muhyiddin met Datuk Seri Najib.
Doing the right thing
When Tan Sri Muhyiddin came out from the room, he just told us to pack up and leave. We then walked toward the DPM’s office on the fourth floor of the Perdana Putra Building where we were told what had transpired during his meeting with Datuk Seri Najib.
He said Datuk Seri Najib could not tell him that he wanted to sack him. It was Tan Sri Muhyiddin who asked whether Datuk Seri Najib wanted to sack him, and the latter just nodded.
Datuk Seri Najib offered him several positions with attractive pay and, of course, prestige – perhaps as ‘compensation’ – but he refused to accept any of them.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin told us we were free to choose whether to follow him or leave. I told him he did the right thing and I would follow him. A few of my colleagues told him the same thing.
He then walked to his table, grabbed a book and left the office. That’s it.
That was how it ended. Forty years in politics and in the government, serving as Parliamentary Secretary, Deputy Minister, Menteri Besar, Federal Minister and, finally Deputy Prime Minister – the No 2 man in the country. His last day in office was very lonely and sober. No word of thanks, no farewell.
We took our last group photo at the DPM’s office, with the thumbs-up gesture, which Tan Sri Muhyiddin described as quite provocative. I said, “Well I don’t know. It was instantaneous. Maybe you will make a comeback because you do the right thing”.
Yes, we normally give the thumbs-up sign to those who do the right thing.
True enough. He was thrown to the wolves and came back, leading the pack five years later.
That is the power of doing the right thing.
Datuk Dr Marzuki Mohamad is Principal Private Secretary to Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.