Putrajaya’s sledgehammer strategy might blow up in its face

1 September 2014

Somewhere in there, lurks a strategy to the Najib government’s decision to use the Sedition Act as a dragnet against citizens of this country.

Critics argue that it is to cower Malaysians into silence, to discourage dissent of any kind, to send a chilling message that thinking is not allowed.

Others say Putrajaya is borrowing out of the playbook of the PAP government in Singapore, a government famous for its sledgehammer approach. In fact, just recently, Umno’s main mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia even suggested that Malaysia look south.

Now here is a real danger of following Singapore’s approach in tackling dissent for a number of reasons.

One, Malaysia is not Singapore and never will be. We have always had a culture of speaking out and challenging the establishment.

This was true during the days of Tunku Abdul Rahman and during the decades of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Mahathir did not lock up individuals who called him Mahafiraun and other unsavoury names.

He may not have liked the labels but he did not reach for the sledgehammer every time he was insulted.

Second, Singapore leaders prefer to seek the protection of defamation laws. The parameters of defamation law is crystal clear as are the defences available. Fair comment. Justification. Absolute Privilege.

Third, the Singapore example is also useful to study because clearly it can have the reverse effect. Instead of creating fear and silence, it can harden hearts.

The tough action may have been useful in creating fear in the old days but not anymore.

And this change is down to a more educated population with a greater awareness of what they truly desire and with access to far more information, coupled with less unconditional admiration for those in public office.

Singaporeans turned out in great numbers in the last general election and gave their opposition parties a major lift.

A Singaporean blogger was also surprised by the response to his appeal for funds for his legal defence against a defamation suit filed by the prime minister this year.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the ground is going to be as challenging for the PAP in the coming polls with continued angst over the large number of foreigners and the high cost of living.

Perhaps, that is why the PAP has also been trying to address the underlying unhappiness among the islanders, rather than tough talk and tough action.

Maybe it also knows that relying on tough action is akin to diminishing returns. It looks good initially but the end result is far from the required outcome.

Over in Malaysia, a number of politicians have been charged with sedition and tomorrow, it is understood a university lecturer is to be charged with the same offence.

Perhaps more will face the law courts for the offence until Putrajaya puts in new harmony laws. But what effect will these cases have on Malaysians? Will it cow them or embolden them to keep pressing at the arbitrary and vague limits set by the government of the day?

What makes a comment seditious? What’s the benchmark before anyone takes offence to anything in Malaysia? And how come the bar is high for some and low for others? Who decides?

And who will take the brunt for instituting such charges in court? Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the Home Minister, has pointed fingers at the Attorney-General.

But some Umno leaders believe he is too soft.

The nett effect is simple. The ruling Barisan Nasional government and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak will be blamed for this.

As it is, the largesse of promises and law repeals offered for Election 2013 won the coalition even fewer seats.

Malaysians have expressed themselves in the past two general elections and do so daily on social media and even on the streets.

It will take more than thin-skinned authorities waving sedition charges or taking a leaf from Singapore’s playbook to stop Malaysians from taking a firm stand on issues of the day.

Putrajaya might want to rethink its strategy or risk losing even more in the next general elections. – September 1, 2014.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Tuesday, 2 September 2014 - 12:21 pm

    There is a very big flaw with this “Sledgehammer” theory – ITS NOT NAJIB – Najib slimes/squirm, cheat, bluff/lies, buy/waste money – he has no stomach for the personal truly hard hand – he hands such things to others including his own wife.

    This is Najib caving in to the forces that want this – already ready to deny responsibility for it. Najib knows it will boomerang and even those doing the dirty work knows it will. Its NO COINCIDENCE the “sledgehammer” comes with increased racist rantings (to be followed by religo-ranting eventually). These perpetrators are UMNO’s Cosa Nostra and they believe they can unite with PAS if they take this path- PAS is so weakened that they can convince them to join “their thing” because in Islam there is no direct mention against Cosa Nostra.

    The key to their failure is to make sure their thing work against PAS too..Hamidi and Khalid must be challenged by PAS..

  2. #2 by Noble House on Wednesday, 3 September 2014 - 4:26 am

    Where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, the conclusion is such that neither persons nor property will be safe.

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