Sliding towards an authoritarian state

Ooi Kok Hin
The Malaysian Insider
27 February 2016

A government that uses state agencies to silent its critics. A government that demands loyalty from mainstream media.

A government that abuses state resources for its political advantage and distributes propaganda books in the universities. A government that bans a newspaper and threatens its critics with sedition.

Is this Malaysia, Egypt, Thailand or North Korea?

On its eighth birthday, The Malaysian Insider is banned by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in the name of “national security”.

The country is becoming more and more unrecognisable. When I read the news these days, I feel a tinge of shame and anger because these are the kind of news that are reported from and about despotic regimes around the world. Is this really Malaysia and not North Korea, Egypt or Thailand?

Not so long ago, our economic growth was seen as exciting as South Korea’s. Then the Asian tiger economies (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong) boomed. We stayed behind.

Our second chance arrived when we were dubbed the “Tiger Cubs”, comprising of Malaysia, Indonesia, Phillippines and Thailand, the newly-industrialised, export-driven economies after the original and prosperous four tigers. Then the Asian financial crisis happened, and now we weren’t even sure of our place among the Tiger Cubs.

Vietnam is coming off very strong and rapidly in the past decade. If we remain stagnant and complacent as we are, let us not act surprised when we are overtaken by Vietnam.

It seems that our political decline echoes our economic decline. Are we still a democratic society, or an authoritarian state? Are we governed by a government elected by popular will and through free and fair elections, or a despotic regime who will do whatever it takes to cling to power and protect its own interests?

While Indonesia is forging ahead with its democratisation in the post-Suharto era, it is scary to think that Malaysia is going the opposition direction. We are scaling back promises of democratic progress and seem to be pressing further ahead on authoritarian state.

Nowhere is this shift from democratic to authoritarian aspirations more exemplified than the prime minister’s promise on live television in 2012, to abolish the arbitrary and abusive Sedition Act, a relic from the colonial era, only to backtrack later. The Sedition Act has now been reinforced and many more are rounded up for charges since.

Recently, a Mexican journalist was killed for doing his job. In Egypt, dozens of journalists are arrested by the military regime. In Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan jailed journalists for supposedly threatening to overthrow the Turkish state.

Look at where we are heading at this moment. Think of any country’s government which bans a newspaper. Think of all the names that came up and decide whether you can be proud to associate the country with any of those names. Do we want our country to be like them?

The MCMC cited Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 – which deals with content that is “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person”.

Look at the language. Pay attention to how vague and arbitrary it is. It is so loosely defined that you can imagine how it can easily be twisted and abused. It fits perfectly into the world of George Orwell.

On another occasion, the minister even said that The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has an anti-Malaysia agenda. I am not sure if the minister has come across WSJ in his tertiary education, but it is an international news organisation who couldn’t be interested enough to conjure a complex conspiracy to bring down the Malaysian government. His childish reaction is appalling beyond reason.

What will the state or MCMC do next? Ban international news networks that publish disagreeable reports on the debt-ridden state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB)? If WSJ persists in pursuing the story, will MCMC ban the sale of WSJ’s print edition nationwide and block access to its online portal?

When Malaysians go to study overseas, we are often reminded not to tarnish the reputation of the country. With the fiasco caused by those at the very top, such calls ring hollow.

Nothing we do, not even failing and getting kicked out of school, can cause an iota of the damage done by those at the very top. Not only they do not try to reverse the perception, now the establishment does not care about media coverage and public perception anymore. It hinges on survival instinct and has shown its willingness to go the distance in order to protect its interest.

Finally, do they think that we are so stupid as to be so easily confused? Can our “leaders”, if they deserved to be called such, not look down on the intelligence of the Malaysian people?

Is it possible to challenge them to a quiz trivia, chess game, or debate to prove that we are not as easily confused as they are? The tendency to be easily confused is not a contagious disease.

Such is the sad state of the country presently. Have you ever wonder why and how a beautiful woman ends up with an obnoxious, selfish, and utterly undeserving partner? I feel the same way about our country and its “leaders” these days. – February 27, 2016.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Sunday, 28 February 2016 - 11:17 am

    The real dynamic is that Najib and his sycophants believes all he is doing what Mahathir had done just pushing the boundary further. They cannot be more wrong.

    Firstly, its not an argument even sound to push the boundaries. Mahathir had sensed that his way was running out of steam and contributed to his decision to retire. Even now he speaks of his ways they do as wrong.

    Second, when Mahathir split the party, he turned to the non- Malays for votes. Najib do not have that option which means he has to turn to Hadi’s PAS. It’s a one way track that is no turning back. In fact, if opposition force him to do it quickly, whatever short term gain could even reverse by GE time.

    Najib is getting it all wrong and it will be disaster for us and we will have to hold him accountable. Someone better work on extradition now to prepare when he eventually run.

  2. #2 by good coolie on Sunday, 28 February 2016 - 12:55 pm

    When the slide brings us to rock bottom, someone will say, “I did it for UMNO”, the way a prominent politician accused of bribe/graft defended himself.

    We have seen every dirty trick in the book: lies, shuffling A.Gs, cari makan, main cuti, banning whistle-blowers, and returning donations when the seat gets too hot for sitting, … . What worries me is that there is more, especially with the use of the religious card!

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