ABU - ASALKAN BUKAN UMNO

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Teach us to fish, don't give us the fish

Sulaiman Kamal | 11:59 PM | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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John Malott, a former US ambassador to Malaysia, in his article Malaysia’s Political Awakening: A Call for US Leadership has brought to the attention of law-makers in America, the plight of democracy in Malaysia. It is a call for the US leadership to pay more attention and be more vocal during a time when Prime Minister Najib Razak's government seems to be reneging on democratic practises.
In an interview with Malaysia Chronicle, Malott had explained what he meant by "US leadership" and stressed that US concerns did not lie in who formed the government of Malaysia but about the continuation of and support for democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.
"I called for US leadership. By that I mean, we need to be more visible and vocal in expressing our concerns about developments in Malaysia. We need to be more supportive – moral support and encouragement - of those members of civil society in Malaysia who want Malaysia to become a true democracy and have the same freedom that we and others have. We should support the call for electoral reform. It is not up to America who forms the government in Malaysia. But we should be concerned whether the playing field is level," Malott had said.

Help civil society, pressure the Najib administration
Yes, the US should not take it upon themselves to be the mastermind of change in Malaysia, but rather stand by the Malaysian people in supporting the drive for reform and a better Malaysia. Teach us to fish, don’t give us the fish.
Help the civil movement in Malaysia by being the partner that highlights our plight on the international scene. And continue to exert pressure on the current administration to push for reforms in every aspect of government.
Pressure on the Najib administration has been stiff in the aftermath of the high-handed tactics employed to disperse the Bersih marchers, the blatant demonizing of a coalition of NGOs calling for free and fair elections and the abuse of authority in the police and judiciary in the days leading to and after the July 9th rally.
Yet, despite the scare-mongering, everyday Malaysians still turned out in droves to support a cause they believe in. 50,000 people did not get it wrong when they sent a message that reforms are needed to clean up the elections process in Malaysia. And though the Najib administration and the Election Commission continue to deny the truth, Malaysians know better and the time for change has come.
"I don’t believe that the situation is near the boiling point. Malaysians don’t boil. They are a very patient people. That is why July 9 was such a remarkable event. The temperature went up, but it is nowhere near the boiling point. But if people don’t follow through – if the leaders of civil society, the opposition and others don’t follow through, the temperature will go down. If the government carves out more space for those who don’t agree with them, they also could lower the temperature," said Malott.
Greatest resistance to come from UMNO
Mr Malott is right in his assessment here. Malaysia’s civil societies need to keep the pressure on. The follow-through has to be strong and decisive. It still remains the prerogative of the everyday Malaysian to engineer and strive for democratic reforms in Malaysia.
However, there is bound to be resistance against Mr Malott’s call for more attention from the US administration - firstly from Barisan Nasional and specifically from UMNO.
Barisan Nasional will never be receptive to outsiders telling it how to go about its business. Thus, any show of support would be jumped upon as grounds for further arrests, repression and oppression within the civil rights movement in Malaysia. This was evident in the demonisation of Bersih when everything from Christians, Jews, Indonesians, the Opposition and Communists were used to build a skewed perception of Bersih in the minds of everyday Malaysians.
Indeed, the greatest resistance would come from the present day government that is not afraid to place the blame on its people first than its own poor administration.
The detention of opposition leaders in the 1987 Ops Lalang accomplished more than just arresting vocal and critical politicians under ISA. The incident provided Mahathir's government with the excuse to further tighten the executive branch of the government's stranglehold on politics. In the following year, the Printing Presses and Publications Act was amended so that it would be more difficult for printers and publishers to retain printing licenses eliminating the renewal process. They would have to annually re-apply. In addition if any license is revoked, it could not be challenged in court. A prison term was added for publication of false news, jail sentence for up to three years.
Amendments were also made to the Police Act making it practically impossible to hold any political meeting, including a party's annual general meeting, without a police permit. A conviction could mean a fine of RM10,000 and a jail term of one year. Even an assembly of more than five people in a public area is considered an "illegal assembly" and could not be held without a police permit. This law was intentionally made to be so restrictive in order to give the police arbitrary rights to detain any group in public by citing it is an illegal assembly.
Awakened generation
Such restrictions on civil liberties contravene the rights of the citizens as stated in the Federal Constitution, yet this does not seem to bother those who are only interested in remaining in power.
Against this backdrop, Bersih has awakened a generation that has long been conditioned to believe that they cannot make a difference. It is an intelligent generation that sees beyond the smokescreen and intimidation tactics of the establishment, and realises their true potential as Malaysians.
"The actions of the government, before and after July 9, backfired against them. Matthias Chang wrote that they acted with sheer stupidity. The Government still has a chance to turn this around, but that would require them to give more political “space” to those who don’t agree with them, and to make sure that the people get to enjoy the rights that the constitution guarantees them. Will they? I have my doubts. This is a government – even though they have spent millions on PR firms and management consultants – that keeps shooting itself in the foot. The deportation of the French lawyer is only the latest example. Now, for the first time, all the juicy details of that scandal – including the model who was murdered by the PM’s bodyguards – have appeared in the Washington Post. It just adds to the confusion among people here – what kind of a country is Malaysia, anyhow? And is Najib really the person that he has portrayed himself to be?" Malott added.
A call for concern and support from the US government towards the civil movement in Malaysia is indeed much welcome. However, we should also be aware that Malaysians are more than capable of standing on their own two feet and dictate the process of change at their own pace. We cannot be a tool for another government to resell their brand of democracy, but it sure is nice and extra comforting to have a solid and reliable friend watching our backs.


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