The Batik Curtain in Malaysia

I rise to associate myself with the Motion of Thanks to His Majesty for his Gracious Address on the official opening of the First Meeting of the First Session of the Fourth Parliament.

I wish also to congratulate your election as Speaker. I am sure that under your guidance, this Chamber will be able to fulfill it is triple tasks, firstly, to pass laws, secondly to vote monies to meet governmental expenditures and thirdly and most important of all, as the highest political forum in the country.

His Majesty was gratified that the “recent national election was held peacefully “. He said: “This proves that the people firmly believe and uphold the concept of parliamentary democracy.”

It is a matter of regret however that the people’s firm belief and endorsement of the concept of parliamentary democracy was not reciprocated by an equally firm belief and scrupulous regard for the concept and practices of parliamentary democracy. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Malaysian citizens, above the qualifying age of 21 years, were denied the sacred right to vote. In my constituency of Kota Melaka for instance, at least 10,000 persons were struck off the electoral rolls although they had previously voted in elections.

The mass deregistration and disenfranchisement of voters who had previously registered and voted and the non-registration of eligible voters who had reached the qualifying age of 21 years were two of the leading factors which gravely detracted from the usefulness of the 1974 general elections as a fair, proper and valid ascertainment of the political will and wishes of the people of Malaysia.

What is shocking is that no high-level inquiry was held to find out the causes of the missing voters or simplify the electoral system after this scandalous state of affairs was brought out in the August general elections.

Although a few government front-benches did express concern and called for changes in the electoral registration system, like Tunku Razaleigh, Dr Mahathir, Tunku Rithaudeen, Dato Asri and Senator Datuk Athi Nahappan (and significantly, not a single MCA or Gerakan leader was bothered about this problem of missing voters), the ‘action-oriented’ Cabinet seemed to have taken this grave democratic defect lightly.

This is why there has been no reform or change in the revision of voters exercise which is currently going on, although it is these very methods which have caused hundreds of thousands of citizenship to lose their constitutional right to vote.

It is surely not beyond human ingenuity to devise a system whereby every citizen is a registered voter. It is surely vital and urgent that this should be immediately done to restore the people’s confidence in the democratic system and in the Elections Commission.

The Prime Minister should not continue to disregard this problem, but should take action to ensure that there will be no more repetition of the scandal of the missing voters.

I suggest that this can be simply resolved by the introduction of legislation to introduce the compulsory registration of voters.

My other colleagues will go into greater details about the many grave defects of the electoral system on August 24 general elections and I have also a motion standing in my name asking the House to express no confidence on the members of the Election Commission in view of the mass disenfranchisement of registered voters and the non-registration of eligible voters in the 1974 general elections which undermined the whole democratic process and the constitutional principle of the “importance of securing an Election Commission” which enjoys public confidence. I shall not dwell any further on this subject, except to urge for a Royal Commission into the irregular, unethical and unfair practices in the 1974 general elections.

Despite the people’s firm belief in the concept of parliamentary democracy, as mentioned by his Majesty the political developments in the recent period do not augur well for a healthy and steady growth of meaningful democratic processes and institutions in the country.

There has been a growing trend towards authoritarian rule and intolerance of opposition, criticism and dissent. The Minister of Home Affairs, Tan Sri Ghazalie Shafie appeared to be providing an intellectual justification when he said recently that at this stage of our political development, there was no need for an opposition and that the nine political parties confederated in the Barisan Nasional have their own built-in checks and balances to avoid dictatorial trends and attitudes.

This is the biggest fallacy of the year. We just need look at Sabah which has become an international scandal and embarrassment. Political rights of Malaysians in Sabah simply do not exist where these political views diverge from the line laid down by one man, whose whim rather than the laws of the land resigns supreme.

Malaysians in Sabah who attempt “to exercise their fundamental rights of freedom of speech, religion and political assembly,” as enshrined in the Constitution are hounded, harassed, persecuted and detained.

In fact, the reach of the dictator extends far beyond the borders of Sabah. Sabahans in the West Malaysia talk in whispers when it comes to politics, and will frequently look over their shoulders as if expecting the dictator anytime to materialize beside or behind them. I once met a few trade unionists from Sabah over here for some labour functions in their hotel room, who became very nervous and uneasy when politics was raised. Even after one of them had made sure that the hotel room was securely locked, they did not cease to be ill at ease and even frightened.

Where are the “built-in checks and balances” inside the Barisan Nasional to avoid these dictatorial developments in Sabah? What has happened to the government’s declared resolve to “defend the rule of law in this country” as mentioned by his Majesty in his gracious speech? What has happened to the Rukunegara objectives of creating a democratic way of life as contained in the Royal Proclamation on Rukunegara.

Far from having “built-in checks and balances” to avoid dictatorial trends and attitudes, the dictatorial trend is spreading to other parts of Malaysia, as if some Barisan Nasional leaders are hankering for the NOC days when they were answerable to no one for their actions.

In Sarawak, the political trend is becoming more and more unhealthy. Last week, the SNAP Deputy President, Dato James Wong, former Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak and Opposition Leader in Parliament, was arrested under the PPSO for allegedly taking part in activities detrimental to the country’s interests and security. Also arrested as one former SNAP member of Parliament, Awang Bongsu Abdullah.

The reasons given by the government for Dato James Wong’s arrest are too ridiculous for words. Those who know Dato James Wong, realize that he is incapable of any action which is detrimental to national interest or security.

It is clear to both national and international opinion that they arrests were solely motivated by partisan political reasons and that they constitute a gross abuse of power and a lurch in Sarawak towards dictatorial trends and attitudes.

All right-thinking Malaysia deplore Dato James Wong’s arrest and my party, the DAP calls on the Prime Minister to personally intervene in this matter and get Dato James Wong and his colleagues released from unjustified detention.

The James Wong affair is only the latest in a series of undemocratic and dictatorial trends and attitudes in Sarawak. During the general elections the Sarawak Chief Minister banned a daily newspaper, the Sarawak Vanguard. I have studied from Sarawak Vanguard from nomination day till the date of its ban, and I can find nothing to justify the action. There was no article which posed a security threat or incited the people to violence or the unconstitutional and illegal overthrow of the government. The crime, if this be a crime of the Sarawak Vanguard was that it supported the SNAP and it carried daily a column which contrasted the past and present stands and policies of SUPP leaders in particular its secretary-general, Dato Stephen Wong and its chairman Dato Ong Kee Hui and their broken promises.

But then Sarawak Vanguard was not the only paper to give support to a contesting party in the 1974 general elections. The majority of the papers in Sarawak openly supported and campaigning for the Barisan Nasional parties. Even in West Malaysia, daily newspapers including the Straits Times,were unashamedly supporting and campaigning for the Barisan Nasional, even to the extent of stooping to distortions, half-truths and downright falsehoods about the opposition in particular the DAP.

Can the Sarawak Chief Minister, the minister of Home Affairs or even the Prime Minister, give a satisfactory explanation for the reasons for the ban the Sarawak Vanguard?

Again, on 16th Sept, Sarawak took another step closer towards Sabah. When I arrived at the Kuching Airport that Morning to visit Sarawak and meet SNAP leaders, the Chief Minister invoked State immigration powers and prohibited me from entry into Sarawak. Sabah and Sarawak were given autonomy on immigration to protect the youths of East Malaysia from being swamped and displaced by hordes of West Malaysia unemployed, but now these powers have been abused and perverted to restrict free travel by Malaysians within their own country.

Mankind have dismantled the ‘Iron Curtain’, the ‘Bamboo Curtain’, but we in Malaysia are erecting the ‘Batik Curtain’ to separate Malaysians from Malaysians! We are coming to a stage where it will be easier for Opposition political leaders to visit Peking or Moscow than to visit Kota Kinabalu or Kuching!

The Sarawak Chief Minister’s abuse of state immigration powers make a mockery of His Majesty’s found hope of the fostering of closer relationship between those who live in Peninsular Malaysia with those in the States of Sabah and Sarawak, as contained in Paragraph 14 of the Royal Address.

The second Malaysia Plan itself starts with the declaration that ‘national unity is the overriding objective of the country” and that this “direction towards national unity is fundamental to the New Economic Policy and the Second Malaysia Plan.”

We are told in the Second Malaysia Plan, in the Rukunegara and by all the ministers that there must be a closer integration of the peoples of all races, groups and from all the different states in Malaysia, particularly between Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak.

I want to know how the objective of fostering a closer integration of the peoples and states of Malaysia can be achieved if elected Members of Parliament from West Malaysia are barred from entering Sarawak and Sabah, for Sabah has in fact set the example in 1969 in imposing a ban on my entry and recently when Dr.Tan Chee Khoon and his colleagues in his party were told that they would not be allowed to visit Sabah.

It is indeed ridiculous that Members of Parliament cannot enter Sabah and Sarawak, which is part of their own country while tourists, foreigners and even professional fortune hunters can enter Sabah and Sarawak without a visa for two weeks without questions asked.

I call on the Prime Minister to take immediate steps to dismantle this ‘Batik Curtain’ and put a step to this misuse and abuse of immigration powers by the Chief Ministers of Sabah and Sarawak if we Malaysians want, as a people to genuinely work towards the Second Malaysia Plan objective of achieving ‘national unity’ and if we want to fulfill the Rukunegara objective of maintaining a ‘democratic way of life’.

These developments in Sabah and Sarawak, which proved that there are no built-in checks and balances in the National Front to avoid dictatorial trends and attitudes are matched by similar developments in West Malaysia. Two recent instances are the blanket ban on DAP rallies throughout the country to thank the people for their support during the general elections and to keep the people abreast with the latest national developments which are not to be found in the press; and the spate of mass arrests under the Internal Security Act away from public knowledge, questioning and accountability.

It is thus clear that we have a long way to go to give substance to what His Majesty has described at the beginning of his Royal address as the people’s firm belief and upholding of the concept of Parliamentary democracy.

Government profession of democracy of dedication to national unity and Rukunegara principles and objectives are not enough, if the government does not bestir itself to take strong action to foster and promote these ends and remove the obstacles to these ends.

In this connection, I suggest that a Rukunegara Commission should be set up which will have the power to receive and investigate complaints about violations and infringements of the Rukunegara objectives and principles by pressure groups, government leaders and governments.

Malaysia will be facing a big economic storm in the months ahead. It is all the more imperative that in these trying times, Malaysians should be even more united so that together, we can tide the coming economic storm as one people who can concentrate their energies and efforts on the economic crisis.

We can achieve this only if we give a correct reading of the recent general elections. Because of the many factors which detracted from the usefulness of the 1974 general elections as a valid ascertainment of the political will and wishes of the people, it will be a great pity and tragedy if the National Front should misconstrue their so-called landslide victory as a whole-hearted national endorsement for it’s policies, without subjecting them to a searching reappraisal. Greater national unity cannot come from dictation or imposition but only from accommodation and the acceptance of criticism, opposition and dissent.

(Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, on the Royal Address on November 9, 1974)