Democracy ala South as advocated by Mahathir must allow public rallies and fair and free television, radio and newspaper coverage to all contesting parties and candidates during elections

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang, when opening the Malacca DAP State Convention at the City Bayview Hotel, Malacca on Sunday, 18th September, 1994 at 10 am.

Democracy ala South as advocated by Mahathir must allow public rallies and fair and free television, radio and newspaper coverage to all contesting parties and candidates during elections.

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, said in Jakarta on Friday that the countries of the South should be allowed to develop, democracy according to their own definition.

He said that for the North, democracy meant the rights of individuals while for the South, the rights of the majority were more important.

He said: “If the majority objects to someone walking naked in the streets of Jakarta, that is the will of the majority, and if someone does that, action will be taken against him”.

“But maybe in the more liberal-minded West, that is his right. If he wants to walk naked that is his business”.

Mahathir should not simplify issues by using ridiculous examples, for I do not think there is any democracy in the North which upholds the right of its citizens to walk naked in the streets.

I challenge Mahathir to name one country in the North or the West where the citizens have the right to walk naked in the streets!

I am prepared to agree with Mahathir that there are differences in certain conceptions about democracy and human rights between the countries of the South and the North, but these differences do not deal with the fundamental issues of democracy and human rights.

Mahathir’s advocacy of democracy ala South cannot justify, for instance, the continued, ban on public rallies in Malaysia, which is a fundamental breach of a democratic society.

If the neighbouring ASEAN countries of Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Singapore could allow public rallies to be held during their general elections, what reasons could there be for the Barisan Nasional Government to continue to impose the ban on public rallies in Malaysia?

Public rallies are allowed in Pakistan and India, and even in South Africa, a country which Malaysian leaders have boasted is trying to emulate the Malaysian example of success.

Mahathir should know that public rallies during general elections is one important criteria whether a country is democratic and its continued ban will be the continued indictment of the failure of the general elections in Malaysia to live up to the standards of ‘free, fair and clean’.

If Mahathir wants to globe-trot the world to talk about democracy ala South, then let him make it very clear that this is not an excuse to justify undemocratic government and violation of human rights of the peoples in the South.

For a start, let Mahathir declare that democracy ala South as practised in Malaysia allow public rallies to be held during general elections, as well as permit free and fair television, radio and newspaper coverage to all contesting parties and candidates.

Recently, the Election Commission Secretary, Datuk Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, proposed that the Government should empower the Election Commission to ensure that all political parties have access to state-owned media and fair coverage by the print media which are mostly privately-owned during the general elections.

The DAP fully agrees with this proposal and calls on the Government to accept and implement it.

It is a good idea for instance that the Election Com-mission should have the right to suggest to RTM and TV3 guide¬lines to implement general policies for the balanced news coverage of each party’s campaign, whethers for commercial slots, special programmes or publicly-financed air-time.

The DAP wants the Commission to provide to all parties with a schedule of available commercial and official time-slots, for radio and television, in order to guarantee that they are all able to purchase commercial air-time on an equal basis.

I will seek a meeting with Mohamed Rahmat to find out why he is so undemocratic as to refuse to agree that the printed and electronic media should give fair and balanced coverage for the Opposition in the next general elections.

One of the biggest issues before the country is whether the next general elections will be ‘free, fair and clean’.

This is why my first question in next month’s Parliamentary meeting starting on October 17 will be on the subject of a ‘free, fair and clean general elections’.

According to newspaper reports, the Information Mini¬ter , Datuk Rahmat Mohamed is strongly opposed to allowing opposi¬tion parties free and fair access to the mass media coverage, whether printed or electronic media.

I will try to meet Datuk Mohamed Rahmat to find out why he is so undemocratic as to refuse to agree that the mass media, whether printed or electronic, should give fair and balanced treatment to all political parties contesting in the next general elections.

DAP writes to Election Commission proposing the convening of an All-Party Conference on ‘free, fair and clean’ general elections.

I have written to the Election Commission Chairman, Datuk Harun Din, proposing that the Election Commission convene an All-Party Conference on a ‘free, fair and clean’ general elections.

All political parties committed to democracy and justice should agree to electoral reforms at this All-Party Conference and reach an accord on legislative and administrative steps that should be taken to make the next general elections the most ‘free, fair and clean’ in Malaysian history and a model for the world.

Among the matters which should be considered by the Ail-Party Conference on Free, Fair and Clean General Elections include:

* 1. An Independent and impartial Election Commission whose job is not just the mechanical task of conducting general elections, but ensuring a meaningful electoral process which is ‘fair, free and clean’;

* 2. Reliability of the electoral register where there are no mass registration of phantom voters;

* 3. Foster conditions for equal access to the media. All parties should be guaranteed equal
conditions of access, to the media, both printed and electronic, during commercial slots, special programmes and publicly-financed air-time;

* 4. Avoidance of the illegal use of state funds and resources in support of a political party.

* 5. Root out money politics in general elections to ensure that the general elections do not degen-erate into a contest of money instead of a compe¬tition of ideas; Mechanisms must be established to limit and trace election expenses of all political parties and candidates to keep them within the statutory limits.

* 6. Review existing measures and laws which restricts fundamental liberties of Malaysians and conscribe their political freedoms, like the ban on public rallies, Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act, Sedition Act, etc;

* 7. Creation of a Special Office for the Prosecution of Electoral Crimes and Offences, dealing with electoral offences including:

(i) violating the principle of secret ballot, as in the case of postal ballots in the country;

(ii) altering the electoral register with phantom voters;

(iii) government officials who coerce their subordinates to vote in favour of a political party or candidate; and

(iv) illegally using government resources in support of a candidate or a party.

* (8) The recognition of the role of NGOs to be observe and scrutinise the electoral process; and

* (9) The passage of ail necessary electoral reform laws to incorporate the above proposals as well as others to ensure a ‘fair, free and clean’ general elections in the next Parliamentary meeting beginning on October 17.