The Malaysian Insider
10 March 2016
Last week 45 prominent persons signed “a Citizens’ Declaration”. They signed in their personal capacity. However, when we see many of them, we immediately recall the organisations or histories they represent.
The organisations include Bersih 2.0, the coalition for free and fair elections which has evolved into a movement to restore parliamentary democracy, and C4 (Centre to Combat Cronyism and Corruption).
The histories include victims of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s use of the Internal Security Act (ISA) to silence those who criticised his reign which was characterised by cronyism, corruption and erosion of public institutions. Even, Lim Kit Siang of DAP and Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu (who was formerly of PAS) signed.
They signed the declaration at the invitation of Dr Mahathir. The declaration called for the removal from office of Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Some have denounced those who signed. They’ve given many reasons. I’ll list just six:
1. The primary author of the declaration is Dr Mahathir, the person most responsible for creating the conditions which made Najib so secure in office.
2. Dr Mahathir has never apologised for the unjust actions he took or condoned while he was in office.
3. Dr Mahathir, though he has resigned from Umno – the party built upon “Malay supremacy” – is eager for Umno to retain its dominance.
4. The declaration stridently calls for the removal of Najib, but only meekly calls for reforms such as those proposed during the Bersih 4 protest last year – which was supported by hundreds of thousands of peaceful Malaysians.
5. The declaration doesn’t even mention Bersih 4, the biggest ever protest in the history of Malaysia.
6. The declaration says nothing about who will replace Najib.
The critics say those who signed played into the hands of Dr Mahathir. They say Dr Mahathir and his allies will “use” the declaration to claim they have massive support, and bring into play various forces which will compel Umno to replace Najib. They say the NGO and political party leaders are naïve or opportunists or worse.
Many of my friends have asked what I think.
My first answer is that the leaders who signed did so primarily because Umno is deaf and the Council of Rulers headed by the Yang diPertuan Agong needs a clear signal about the mind of the people concerning Najib.
The declaration sends a clear signal: the evidence of wrongdoing by Najib in relation to the “gift” he received into his personal account, and in relation to the excesses the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign wealth fund engaged in, demands the end of his tenure.
My second answer is something I’ve often heard in corporate boardrooms. You need to send a clear signal that you want a place at the negotiating table. Those who signed said “we will sit with you to discuss what should be done to Najib and his collaborators, and how to make it impossible for the next prime minister to do what Najib has done.”
My third answer is that an urgent public declaration by high profile individuals with very diverse histories signals the urgency which the people feel. People are willing to actively engage in acts to restore a credible government to our nation.
My fourth answer is to remind people of two insights.
The first insight is from Deng Xiaoping, the communist leader who suffered years of humiliation, torture and incarceration at the hands of Mao Zedong in China, then became the architect of the new China.
Deng – despite his role in the Tiananmen massacre – focused the backward Chinese on becoming one of the most forward-looking nations.
Deng resolved the contradiction between socialism and the free market economy by saying “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”
Our paramount need now is to send a strong message that even the appearance of corruption is unacceptable; and, even the appearance of interfering in investigations is unacceptable. The declaration and those who signed it have sent a very strong message that those at the top who fail to set the right example must go.
The second insight is also something I’ve heard in boardrooms and is also from China: Mo zhe shi tou guo he, or “cross the river by groping the stone under foot”.
It is often not possible to see everything that’s ahead. That doesn’t mean you just rant or twiddle your thumbs. It means you take risks and you accept that you may miscalculate and have to take a step backward and try a different approach.
The Citizens’ Declaration could be a tipping point in our nation: the point at which a series of small changes or incidents cause a larger, more important change. – March 10, 2016.