Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, at the Current Issues Debates on the theme “New National Leadership – Hope and Challenge” organized by the University of Malaya Students’ Union at Dewan Tunku Chancellor on Monday, 2nd November 1981 at 8.30 p.m. The topic of the forum is on “Politics in Malaysia: Towards what Direction?”
Call on Mahathir-Musa leadership to move away from the authoritarianism of the Sixties and move towards greater democratization of Malaysian life in the l980s
With the take-over of the Mahathir-Musa political leadership, there were hopes that there would be greater democracy, freedom, with a government which be more open and liberal, more accountable and dedicated in the fight against corruption.
This image was assiduously cultivated in the first l0 days of the Mahathir-Musa leadership, starting with the much-publicised and much-welcome release without conditions of 21 detainees under the Internal Security Act on July 30, including PSRM Chairman Kassim Ahmad and two DAP MPs, Chian Heng Kai and Chan Kok Kit, after four years and nine months of incarceration.
Accompanying the announcement of the release of 21 detainees was the announcement on the lifting of the ban on the famous or notorious political work of Dr. Mahathir, The Malay Dilemma.
During this period, there was great play by both the two top government leaders about the need for a Government which is BCL, “berseh, cekap and lichen”, and which is accountable to the public.
The newspapers competed with each other to publish the Auditor-General’s Reports on the Federal and State Government Accounts on financial irregularities, improprieties and malpractices; there were reports of the 2-M leadership berating the government servants and government agencies and public enterprises for being inefficient; Datuk Musa went around closing SEDC subsidiary companies; while Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Mentri-Mentri Besar, Chief Ministers and State Executive Councillors were told that they would now have to declare their and their family’s assets to the Prime Minister in the overall campaign against corruption.
These developments, when viewed in the light of the long years of denial of human rights, democratic freedoms and the sufferings of the people in the hands of a system ridden with corruption and bureaucratic arrogance, are welcome changes. But it is a big mistake for anyone to think that the entire political landscape had changed. Whether the changes that had taken place in the first l00 days of the 2M leadership would prove to be merely cosmetic, only time and history will tell.
But it is necessary to see the changes, welcome and commendable they are by themselves, against the real political background.
Thus, although 21 long-serving ISA detainees were release on July 30, it must not be forgotten that there are as of today 513 detainees in various detention centres under the Internal Security Act, as this figure was given by the Minister of Home Affairs, Datuk Musa Hitam, in Parliament during question time today.
During the l00 days, the ISA was invoked to detain the former Watan editor, Halim, and Watan publisher, Only a few days ago, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs when visiting Terengganu make no bones about his determination to invoke the laws, including the ISA, against political opposition which he said were playing into the hands of the communists.
Although the communist threat is a very real one in Malaysia, I must be forgiven for being skeptical about allegations of top government leaders against opposition parties and political leaders attacking them for posing a threat to the security of the country by consorting or aiding the communist or communist United Front cause.
This is because I have personal experience of how completely without basis of such allegations against opposition leaders, which even became the basis for their detention under the Internal Security Art.
Or instance, my colleagues, the two DAPS Chiang Heng Kai and Chan Kok Kit were detained under the ISA, according to the grounds of their detention, for “directly or indirectly, wittingly or unwittingly” aiding the Communist United Front Cause.
How a person could ‘indirectly’ and ‘unwittingly’ aid the Communist United Front cause, and even worse, be arrested under the ISA for them, I simply cannot understand. For if we stretch the ‘indirect’ and ‘unwitting’ return of aid to the communist united front cause long enough, everyone in the country, including the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir and the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Musa Hitam, could be charged for the same offence.
Thus, I have close experience of the spurious and baseless nature of the allegations for detaining oppositions political leaders, where their crime is not being a threat to the security to the country, but to the security of the ruling political parties!
When 21 detainees were released on July 30, I wondered to myself whether after the general elections, the jails would be filled up again.
Recently, the Amnesty International launched international campaign known as the Prisoners of Conscience Week, and chose 16 detainees to highlight the sufferings of thousands in the world, and the former Deputy Secretary-General of the Labour Party, Tan Hock Heng who had been detained for over 14 years, was chosen as one of the 16.
Malaysia, therefore, has still a long way to clear its poor human rights record both nationally and internationally.
Although the lifting of the ban on Dr. Mahathir’s Malay Dilemma, and today’s announcement by Datuk Musa when replying to my question in Parliament of the lifting of the ban on Aziz Ishak’s book ”Special Guest” could be used to point to a more liberal attitude on the part of government to ideas, this is still too early to reach such a judgement. Dr. K.S. Vasil’s book on Politics in a Plural Society’ is still under consideration, and there are no indications that the Government lift the ban on the Amnesty International’s Country Report on Human Rights Situation in Malaysia.
But it is clear that the Government intends to keep a tight rein on the communication of dissent and contrary ideas from those held by the Political Establishment. This, in fact, prompted the major onslaught on dissent as reflected in the amendments to the Societies Art, and is inherent is the decision to keep the loan on public rallies.
In 1978, when announcing the ban on public rallies just before the general elections, the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Haniff Omar, said that the Communist Party of Malaya was going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1948 armed struggle, and that the ban was necessary as the police anticipated a series of incidents.
In the event, not a single incident occurred. Everybody know that the purpose was to ban public rallies for the 1978 general elections to put opposition parties at a disadvantage.
Although this is now 1981, the ban on public rallies to prevent troubles being created by the MCP for celebrating its 30th anniversary is still on. Probably, the Police believe that the MCP are celebrating their 30th anniversary from 1948 for over four years!
Even the professed claim of Government to have a ‘BCL’ administration – ‘berseh, cekap and licin’ – has still to show actual results as distinct from a blare of publicity fanfare. Clocking-in and clocking out of 750,000 civil servants will not guarantee an efficient, smooth and clean administration which is accountable to the rakyat.
What happened in the Johor Bahru customs is a good example. When the NBI made a surprise check and arrest of two customs officers at the Customs causeway who were found, contrary to regulations, to have cash of a few hundred dollars on their person, the Johor Bahru causeway customs decided to prove their ‘effierency, smoothless and cleanliness’ by staging a ‘go-slow’, counting apples and lychee tins and holding us cars by over one mile and more!
There is here a total lack of accountability of the Johor Bahru customs to the public, and in fact, what we have is the Johor Bahru customs holding the suffering public to ransom in a departmental power game with the NBI. What is surprising is that under the Mahathir-Musa administration, which gives the impression of brooking no-nonsense of such bureaucratic abuses, the Johor Bahru customs are allowed to get away with such obscene display of its power to inconvenience the public.
Although there is greater recognition of the principle of ‘public accountability’ of the government to the people, especially with the great publicity given to the Auditor-General’s Reports, it is still to be seen how deep-seated such concepts had influenced policy-making levels.
There are still many discouraging signs that the idea of ‘public accountability’ is still more on the publicity stage rather that implementation stage. Thus, recently, the Deputy rime Minister visited Negri Sembilan and announced the write-off of $23 million of Federal government loans to the Negri Sembilan State Government over the losses suffered by Gula N.S.
No reason was given to the public for the failure and losses amounting to some $50 million incurred by Gula N.S., despite all the expert advice, feasibility studies and Federal government backing. The Deputy Prime Minister said that such write-off should not be regarded as condoning failures by SEDC agencies, but should be seen as a warning. If this is a the type of warning which is being administered by the Mahathir-Musa leadership, I am sure most, if not all, government corporations and subsidiary companies would be queuing up to be administered such warnings, the bigger the warning the better, so that more Federal loans could be written off without a public accountability.
Despite the great publicity given by the press for the Auditor-General’s Reports on the financial irregularities, improprieties and malpractices of the various government departments, not much more had been done to follow the follow the accountability to a meaningful conclusion.
The new Prime Minister had sounded rather serious about fighting corruption, especially in high political places. But then, previous Prime ministers had also sounded very serious about the war, launched various times ever since Merdeka, against corruption without much results.
These change and developments of the last Hundred Days of the 2-M leadership, must be seen against the backdrop of the panoply of authoritarian laws and powers which the Government had acquired for itself, especially in the few months before the accession of the 2-Mleadership, for instance, in the amendments to the Societies Act which dealt a crippling blow on freedom of speech, expression and association, and the amendments to the Constitution permitting even greater powers to the Executive to declare an Emergency merely on the ground of suspicion that it is necessary.
Taking into consideration the other authoritarian laws like the Labour Law amendments and the University and University colleges Act which placed trade unions and workers, university students and student unions, under the close control of the authorities, the new 2-M leadership can probably afford to be ‘liberal’ at the beginning of their administration.
What the country reeds is that such ‘liberal’ changes should be institutionalised, and for this to being, the DAP call s on the Mahathir-Musa leadership to move away from the authoritarianism of the Sixties and Seventies and move towards a greater democratisation of Malaysian politics in the 1980s.
The changes of the Hundred Days of the 2-M, if they are not to be cosmetic and temporary, must be accompanied by the dismantling of authoritarian and undemocratic laws and regulations, as for instance:
1. Repeal unfettered powers to the Executive to declare and impose Emergency rule in the country. At this point of time, Malaysia is living under four Proclamations of Emergency, of Indonesian Confrontation in 1965, the Sarawak Crisis of 1966 to topple chief Minister Stephen Kalong Ningkan, the May 13 Incident of 1969 Emergency and the 1977 Emergency to topple the PAS government in Kelantan. I have up to now been unable to elicit the rationale of having four Proclamations of Emergency concurrently in force in one time in our country.
2. repeal the undemocratic features in the battery of laws designed to deprive Malaysians of their basic freedoms and human rights, whether of speech, expression, association, or liberty of the person, as to be found in laws like the Internal Security Act, Societies Act, Trade Unions Ordinance, the University and University Colleges Act, the Police Act, etc.
3. Allow dissent free communication, especially in the mass media, including radio and television to permit a free interplay and contest of ideas.
In my view, the immediate task in the next few years is to strengthen the democratic forces and country, so that the dangers of extremism and chauvinism would not be allowed free play. In this connection, I will regard it as a step in the right direction if efforts are made in the next general elections to deny the ruling parties the two-thirds parliamentary majority which permitted the government to chop and change the Constitution at will, in utter disregard of the democratic rights of the people and country.