Why fear a Malaysian Spring
DEC 5 — In his speech at the 2011 Umno general assembly, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir claimed that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Pakatan Rakyat are trying to topple the federal government through a form of democracy that is alien to Malaysia. This desperate statement illustrates how out of touch the Umno-BN government has become.
Mukhriz justified his claim by referring to Anwar’s interview with Bloomberg recently when the latter predicted that a “Malaysian Spring” would emerge to bring political change in the country.
Mukhriz probably missed the part when Anwar told Bloomberg, “When will the Malaysian Spring be? The next elections.”
While opposition parties in Malaysia have faced an uneven playing field for decades, most — including Pakatan Rakyat — have faithfully participated in the various elections. Disgruntled opposition parties sometimes resort to extra-parliamentary measures when they get disillusioned with unfair elections, but this has not and will never be the case in Malaysia.
That is why Pakatan and Malaysia civil society are pushing passionately for the electoral reforms that the Bersih movement champions. Elections are the best and most legitimate way to bring change in a society. As John F. Kennedy once said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.”
Indeed, we believe that free and fair elections are crucial for any state to be legitimate. Unfortunately, Umno-BN has thus far resisted the most substantive measures advocated by the electoral reform movement. It is mind-boggling how a party that claims it is democratic can be so opposed to any effort to improve the electoral process.
This came to a head during Bersih 2.0 when Malaysians from various backgrounds witnessed the crude and confused response of Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration. How can a demand for clean and fair elections be controversial unless one does not subscribe to democracy, a principle that is enshrined in our Federal Constitution? The Bersih 2.0 committee was even willing to compromise by shifting the peaceful assembly to the stadium as first offered by Najib and then advised by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong when they were granted an audience with him.
But as the record will show, Najib reneged on his promise and forced tens of thousands of Malaysians from all races and background to take to the streets. Thousands of Malaysians abroad also gathered across the world in solidarity with Bersih, an act that, banana republic-like, was deemed “illegal” in Malaysia.
Thanks to the backlash from his indecisive handling of Bersih 2.0, Najib relented and formed a Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms — an admission that Bersih, Pakatan Rakyat and the civil society were right all along: that there are deep and serious problems with our electoral system. The rationale of the PSC was supposedly to ensure the credibility of the upcoming elections.
Two days later, however, the government appeared to dither, saying that Parliament can be dissolved any time and would not be subject to the result of the parliamentary select committee.
Similarly, on Malaysia Day 2011, Najib announced plans to revoke the country’s archaic Emergency laws, repeal the Internal Security Act and amend the Printing Presses and Publications Act as well as the Police Act, among other things.
Interestingly, Najib’s own Cabinet was not informed of the sweeping announcement, underlining the fact that at best our prime minister seems to be the only man in his Cabinet who believes in the need for reform — assuming of course he actually does so. Of course, the Cabinet publicly had to appear to be enthusiastic about the announcements.
But the cynics were unfortunately proven right with the latest developments. Recently, 13 alleged militants were arrested in Tawau under the ISA a few months before the Act is supposed to be repealed. The Peaceful Assembly Bill, which Najib has described as “revolutionary”, has been proven to be more restrictive than the Police Act, and even Myanmar — yes Myanmar — now appears to have better freedom of assembly legislation than we do.
The debate in the Umno general assembly this year — which has more of the same racial and authoritarian rhetoric that we’ve come to expect — is undeniable proof that all the talk of transformation by Najib is empty. Led by a flip-flopping PM, Umno-BN is on the wrong side of history, backwards-looking while the rakyat are trying to forge ahead to a more inclusive and open future.
There is nothing “alien” or Western about this — India’s multiparty democracy has long been robust and resilient, while Taiwan, Korea and Japan’s one-party dominance have given way to competitive mode. Turkey and Indonesia have progressed significantly to show that Islam and democracy is compatible and the Arab Spring has spread change further.
It is those who are so violently opposed to political change who are out of step with Malaysia and her people.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.