The truth about Malaysia

The truth about Malaysia
The efforts of civil society and alternative media have strived to show Malaysia in its true, anti-democratic light

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar,
Wednesday 22 April 2009

Architects of autocracies would benefit tremendously from studying the Malaysian model. It stands as a shining example of how, given the right combination of greed, ambition, maladministration and contempt for the rule of law, any democracy can be recast into an autocracy while preserving the veneer of democratic process.

At the time of its independence in 1957, Malaysia’s written constitution embedded the separation of powers and the freedoms so crucial to its checks and balances. But the vested interests of a hegemonic political elite has, over time, caused the system to mutate into one of rule by law that threatens the continued sustainability of the nation.

This is easy enough for anyone to see. The statute books contain a plethora of anti-democratic laws that are designed for, and applied to, one end: the regulation of information and opinion. This has allowed the suborning of a voter base much weakened by a divisive system of race politics; voters already made to feel that they should be voting one way rather than the other are not given the means to make an informed choice.

This has allowed a semblance of democracy, even though the democratic process has been subverted.

There is no other way of explaining the continued existence of laws that vest power in the government to detain without trial for extended periods of time, or to subjectively regulate the print media or to brings charges for sedition and criminal defamation. These laws not only impede free access to vital information, they allow the suppression of legitimate dissent, a process aided by a seeming willingness on the part of key institutions of the state, such as the judiciary and the police force, to serve the interests of the government in such ways as they can. The police routinely clamp down on opposition rallies and NGO demonstrations while the judiciary cannot be relied upon to defend civil liberties.

When confronted about any of this, the government points to the electoral process and its consistent return to power. It sidesteps the extent to which it attempts to keep the voter ignorant or scared. It meets complaints about the system with defensiveness, even hostility, due to its inability to meaningfully justify its position and its unwillingness to respond to popular sentiment.

Fighting back has centred on efforts to increase access to information.

In the general election of March 2008, the incumbent political coalition took a beating. It lost its two-thirds majority in parliament and lost control over four of the 13 states in which it had previously formed government. This was largely due to the unflagging and courageous efforts of civil society and the alternative media. A ragtag group of activists, bloggers and independent news sites strived to offer a different and more truthful view of Malaysia, while making Malaysians aware it was time for them to take ownership of the issues at hand.

Many of those involved were people I had come to know over the last decade or so in my work as an activist as well as a public interest lawyer. Of these, Raja Petra Kamarudin, a new media exponent of almost iconic status, was among the most influential. Unflinching and unrelenting, he galvanised reactions on a scale that many were unprepared for. He helped shape history last March.

That may be why he was charged for sedition and criminal defamation as well as was detained under the Internal Security Act soon after.

Amid concerns that a wider crackdown was underway and that I might also be on the detention list, I was instructed to seek an order of habeas corpus. Painfully aware of how exposed I was to executive scrutiny, I assembled a team of lawyers and made the applications. We were not hopeful, there had not been a successful challenge on merits since 1998 when the law had been amended to preclude judicial review. The high court however thought there were merits and ordered his release. He had been detained for some 55 days by then.

The situation is precarious. Malaysians want change and the elites that form the government are in no position to deliver it. Continued suppression and repression is the only way in which power can be preserved. That does not bode well for the nation.

(Congratulations Malik Imtiaz, on being awarded the Bindmans Law and Campaigning Award in London organised by British-based human rights magazine Index on Censorship. This particular award is given to outstanding human rights activists who have set legal precedents in the fight against injustice.- Kit)

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 23 April 2009 - 9:17 am

    Certaintly a shining legal intellectual. Its minds like these we need on the bench and in the CJ chair for this country to realise its great potential. So long as minds like these are the rarity in govt, so long as the judicial system will fail to gain trust of the people and foreigners alike.

    Its small comfort that minds like these are still around in this country although not ruling the system. Its small comfort because their small existence provide an excuse against the ills of the system and prolonged its diseased state which can only be death in the end.

  2. #2 by k1980 on Thursday, 23 April 2009 - 9:49 am

    Is this true?

    More than a year after GE 12, schools and various agencies under the Federal Government have been ordered not to recognise the Penang Chief Minister by putting up his photograph.

  3. #3 by yhsiew on Thursday, 23 April 2009 - 9:56 am

    Enough is enough, Malaysians must no longer be trapped in a SHAM democratic system.

  4. #4 by chengho on Thursday, 23 April 2009 - 6:41 pm


    Why u turn down the chance to participate in Public Forum in Ipoh tomorrow organise by NPC and Blogger United?

  5. #5 by yhsiew on Thursday, 23 April 2009 - 6:59 pm

    Autocracy camouflaged in the name of democracy – a wake up call for all Malaysians!

  6. #6 by Ramesh Laxman on Thursday, 23 April 2009 - 10:19 pm

    Some of the best examples of autocracies are out of Africa and Latin America. They have been there well before our time and were well supported by the developed world for their own interest. I put my trusrt in the new PM to to set new directions for the future of this country. Vision 20/20 will have no substance and meaning if this country is not governed in accordance with the constitution and the Rukun Negara which are the central domain at the heart of the Malaysian Civilization..

  7. #7 by Taxidriver on Friday, 24 April 2009 - 7:18 am

    If you are in power, have the money, are aligned with the right right group and know whose balls you should carry, you can break all laws with impunity. That is the truth about Malaysia.

  8. #8 by yokielaw on Friday, 24 April 2009 - 11:16 am

    This Tun M still babbles and babbles but no one trusted what he said NOW.His credibility is ground-zero. He points out everyone’s (including US & Britain) faults, except himself, like he is flawless and God-like! He is like a pot calling a kettle black! Stop him from ruining the image of our country by criticizing others esp other countries and preaching others how to run their countries and calling others bankrupt when his own country is the one going “bankrupt”, at the expense of the country and people. After his “mission” achieved by “bulldozing Badawie & sil out & putting Najip in as PM & his darling son as Minister, he still wants to stir up (he cannot sit quietly, must open his big mouth) by condemning other Ministers accusing them corrupt when he is the “Father of Corrupt” and those were his own breeds of corrupts. Is he forgetful or dia cepat lupa, not semua Melayu cepat lupa.He was a villain (same mentality as Lingam the Broker), who now wanted to be a SAINT. Too Late-lah!!!What is done cannot be undone, just as a clock cannot go backwards in time.So, pls for the sake of the country, stop all the chaos(too free, nothing to do,go to SouthPole with your family, go horse riding or migrate to Neverland.Do the country a big favour.If Tun cannot improve on the situation, its better for him to keep quiet and say nothing.Don’t be an attention seeker or a “celebrity retiree”,pls.YAB LKS, ask the “big mouth” self-appointed PM to shut his mouth if he got nothing better to talk.He wanted chaos not peace, his hidden agenda.Why he is so “sibuk” in politics now?Why???

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