A 25-year-old Malaysian politician has announced he will postpone plans to study a Masters in Public Policy at the University of Oxford in order to continue working for the community at home.
Syed Saddiq – who is the Youth chief of the opposition Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Pribumi) led by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad – announced over the weekend that he will put his country before his own personal goal of attending the iconic British institution.
Back in June, he announced he had received a scholarship from Oxford’s School of Public Policy. “Allah is great. When someone closes one door, Allah opens up multiple doors of opportunity,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
“I don’t come from a materially rich family, but my family is rich with love and care.”
Syed previously studied at Malaysia’s Royal Military College and has won the Asian British Parliamentary Debate’s Best Speaker award, representing the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM).
On Sunday, however, he announced that he would be turning down the Oxford scholarship in order to continue his career as a politician in Malaysia. “Malaysia will always be my No.1 priority,” he tweeted. “Oxford will just have to wait.”
In a press conference, a teary Syed called going to Oxford a “lifelong dream” and that “until today it remains very close to my heart.” He nevertheless confirmed that he would not be accepting the scholarship for RM400,000 (US$94,600), because his “heart would not be there, but in Malaysia”.
“If you knew what I know from being in the government … it all stinks.” Syed vowed that “I will not bow down” despite personal “attacks” on him.
People had threatened him and his family and offered a bribe of RM5 million (US$1.2 million) to leave his party and the country, he said. Syed has previously claimed to have received death threats for being part of Mahathir’s Save Malaysia movement.
Save Malaysia aims to topple Prime Minister Najib Razak, which it claims is corrupt. Najib has been the subject of allegations of major corruption regarding the state-owned 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund, from which he is accused of channelling almost US$700 million into his personal bank account.
People had told Syed to “be selfish” and “focus on yourself” he said, but that “I believe in one thing … that our fate is intertwined with one another. We have a shared destiny, we have a shared cause, we have a shared history. Malaysia is one community.”
A report by The Star tabloid – a newspaper majority owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association, part of the ruling Barisan National (BN) alliance – on Wednesday claimed his scholarship was, in fact, worth much less than US$94,600.
According to The Star, an Oxford University representative confirmed that Syed’s was “only” granted a partial scholarship.
Syed recently implicitly criticised The Star, the New Straits Times and other Malaysian media outlets as being too close to the government by noting that the “circulation of mainstream newspapers has been steadily dropping,” leading to the “weakening of the Umno-BN information monopoly.”
**This story originally appeared on our sister website Asian Correspondent.