Malaysians should save democracy in Malaysia by ensuring Dr. Mahathir Mohamed wins only a slim Parliamentary majority in the next general elections with Barisan getting about 100-110 seats out of a total of 180

Speech by Parliamentary opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, at a DAP public forum on “Post-NEP and Policies for the 1990s” held at Federal Hotel, Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, 24.9.1989 at 9 a.m.

Malaysians should save democracy in Malaysia by ensuring Dr. Mahathir Mohamed wins only a slim Parliamentary majority in the next general elections with Barisan getting about 100-110 seats out of a total of 180

I flew into Kuala Lumpur from Kuching only late last night because if flight hitches, after a five-day visit to various of Sarawak. I brought back from my Sarawak trip two impressions which is symbolic of two decades of the New Economic Policy.

When I was in Miri and Bintulu, I publicly made a call to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, to put an immediate halt to the mass arrests of Penans and Ibans in the Marudi and Baram areas for their blockades in protest against logging which is threatening to destroy their forests and very survival. These arrests, which must have numbers about 100 people by now, are still continuing.

Yesterday, because of the flight hitches, I went around Kuching and saw the new private palatial residence of the Sarawak Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud, and the sight left me speechless. It has been estimated to cost $5 million and was even more palatial than the private residence of his predecessor, Tun Rahman Yacub.

These two impressions sum up in a nutshell what the NEP is all about – on the one hand, the object, defenseless and powerless poor, fighting, for their survival in dignity and decency while on the other hand, the indecent amassing of colossal wealth by political elite or through political connection, as considerable NEP wealth is not entrepreneurial but political in origin. In the 1987 Sarawak State general elections, during the expose and counter – exposes, it was revealed that a group of Taib associated companies had timber concessions of 1.6 million hectares while a group of Rahman associated companies had 1.25 million hectares of timber concessions – together accounting for about 30 percent of Sarawak’s forest land.

Clearly, with such a harvest, something is very wrong with the off-proclaimed two-prong objectives of the NEP on elimination of poverty regardless of race and restructuring society to eliminate the identification of race with vocation.

It is no wonder that the overriding objective of the NEP to attain national unity has proved even more elusive. I believe there is a strong national consensus on the NEP’s performance on the national unity front, namely, racial polarization in Malaysia had never been so serious as today in the country’s history. Two farmer Prime Minister, Datuk musa Hitam, are on public record in their concern at the grave problem of racial polarization.

Recently, during the 15th SEA Games, Malaysians had an unique experience in the national one-ness, when Malaysia’s sportsmen and women did the country proud. They won 67 gold medals and placed Malaysia second on the roster of the competing nations for the first time in the history of SEA Games.

The entire nation rejoiced in Malaysia’s SEA Games feats and achievements, and every gold, silver and bronze medalist was cheered by all Malaysians, and nobody gave a thought to racial origins in the outpouring of Malaysian consciousness, identity and pride. The SEA Games sportsmen and women on the one hand, and the Malaysian people on the other, whether at the sport fields or before the television sets, were united in body, soul and spirits as one people during the SEA Games.

How unfortunate that after the SEA Games, the sportsmen and women and the Malaysian people as a whole, had to return to ‘real life’ whether at schools, institutions of higher learning, offices or working place, where their distinctions and separateness from each other as bumiputras and non-bumiputras was more real and important than their common tie as Malaysians!

In viewing the result of the NEP, the centerpiece of the assessment must be whether the NEP has furthered the attainment of national unity, or done the opposite. The NEP must be judged to have succeeded or failed on this acid test of national unity, as the NEP is subordinate and secondary to the overriding and sovereign purpose of nation building and national unity.

The fatal weakness of the NEP is that from the formulation of the NEP, and through the two decades of its implementation, it was perceived, seen and understood in ethnic terms rather than Malaysian terms not by just one racial group. This perception applies not only to the poverty eradication prong with its racial quotas and percentages, but also to the property eradication prong. When social affirmative programmers or positive discriminatory policies are seen to advance vested interest of particular ethnic groups and not to redress social-economic in justices, then they lose credibility and legitimacy.

For instance, a 1983 study showed that it was the rich and not the poor who were the main beneficiaries of government scholarships in local universities. The scholarship share of the poor households was only 12.3% against their population share of 49.4 per cent. On the other hand, the richest 10 per cent of the population accounted for 25.5 per cent of scholarship awards. As 80 per cent of these scholarships were awarded to Malay students, this means that it is the students of rich Malay families who are benefiting at the expense of these from the poor households.

The list of the bitter fruits of the NEP will be a long one, but I will confine myself to the following:-

* Operation Lolling in October 1987 when 106 leaders and activists from a whole spectrum of national life were detained under the Internal Security Act. This is the most serious violation of human rights in Malaysia necessitated by NEP deviations, abuses and injustices.

* The sacking of Lord President, Tun Salleh Abbas, and two Supreme Court Judges. At one time, six out of nine Supreme Court Judges were suspended pending judicial disciplinary proceedings. The principle of the Independence of the Judiciary and the Rule of Law suffered a grievous blow from this unprecedented attack on the Judiciary by the Prime Minister.

* The concentration of the power in the hands of the Executive, and in particular, the office of the Prime Minister, the usurpation of powers of Parliament and the Judiciary, as in the various amendments to make repressive and draconian legislation even more repressive and draconian, as the Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act, Police Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act, etc.

* Suppression of press freedom in Malaysia.

* Rise of Corruption and ‘money polities’ and weakening of the principle of public accountability, as manifested by the numerous scandals, the Maminco scandal, the UMBC scandal, the Co-operative Finance Scandal, the arms purchase, scandals, the North-South Highway scandal, etc.

* Disturbing signs of religious intolerance and polarization, as in the recent passage of the Selangor Islamic Administration Enactment;

* The failure to harness to the full the country’s great natural, human and capital resource and potential. When Malaysia achieved independence, she led the other Asian nations, apart from Japan, in per capita GNP. In the past two decades, she has slipped far behind the four NIC’s Taiwan and South Korean, Hong Kong and Singapore, who are comparatively resource-poor. In the past two decades, per capita income in Taiwan and South Korean increased about 24 times, in Hong Kong and Singapore about 16 times, while Malaysia grew just six-fold.

* Brain drain of hundreds of thousands of Malaysians with intellectual talents ad entrepreneurial skills, skills, and the capital, flight, estimated at $ 3 billion a year;

* Mediocrity in the universities and public services in place of meritocracy

* Progressive strangulation of democracy.

In the 1990s, the central challenge of Malaysians is how to restore meaningful democratic processes and institutions in Malaysia, for this is the prerequisite for ensuring that Malaysians can enjoy political, economic, social and cultural democracy.

A government which is democratic would not for instance, have allowed the above mentioned ills of NEP to occur or persist, It would adopt policies which would give true priority and prominence to

* Building national unity by eliminating emphasis and differentiation of Malaysians into their different ethnic or religious groups, focusing on their common national identity and citizenship;

* Full acceptance of the philosophy that the real wealth and strength of Malaysia lies her racial, linguistic, cultural and religious diversity.

* Fulfillment of basic needs of every Malaysians for good, clothing, shelter, employment, income, education, healthy, and basic amenities like piped water and electricity.

* War against corruption and money politics;

* Principle of Merit coupled with the affirmative programmers to redress socio-economic imbalances and inequalities based on social needs.

These major policy changes in the 1990s are only possible if they are preceded by political changes leading to restoration of democracy and human rights in Malaysia.

This is why the next general elections whether held in November or March / April next year, is critically important for the future development of the country in the 21st century.

The single greatest threat to political, economic, social and cultural democracy in Malaysia is the over-concentration of the power in the hands of the Prime Minister and the government of the day. Since Merdeka, the government had two-thirds parliamentary majority which allowed it to changes the constitution at this whims and fancies, and setting the country on ever-authoritarian path.

As Lord Acton said, power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. In the next year general elections, the people of Malaysia have a historic opportunity to save democracy by denying to Dr. Mahathir Mohamed and the Barisan Nasional this overwhelming preponderance of parliamentary seats which is not reflective of real electoral support.

Dr. Mahathir had told an UMNO Divisional meeting two weeks ago that according to Semangat 46 estimates, in the next general elections, Semangat 46 can win 40 Parliamentary seats, DAP win 30 Parliamentary seats and PAS 20 Parliamentary seats – making a total of 90 Parliamentary seats. As there are only 132 Parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia out of total of 180 parliamentary seats, if the opposition can collectively win 90 parliamentary seats in West Malaysia, then this would be the end of the Mahathir Government, even without into account the Sabah and Sarawak parliamentary results.

However, these are figure used by Dr. Mahathir, quoting Semangat 46 sources- and not my figures or predictions. I think what the people in Malaysia should work for in the next year general elections is something less ambitions then the figures of Dr. Mahathir. I believe that with the new configuration of opposition forces, it is now possible to aim for two objectives in the next general elections at the Federal level:-

* Firstly, to deny the Barisan Nasiaoal its traditional two-third majority in Parliament this must mean not allowing the BN to win more than 120 seats (out of a total of 180 parliamentary seats in next general elections) ;

* Secondly, to slash the majority of the Barisan nasional to ensure that it would have only 100-110 parliamentary seats, as with such a slim majority, the government would have to be more responsive to the needs, aspirations and democracy whishes of the people.

If the above two objectives could be achieved in the next general elections, then democracy will have a chance in Malaysia, as well as policies in the 1990, to give all Malaysians a common vision and equal place under the Malaysian sun.