A year of dissent and repression

It is that time of the year again. Ask any Malaysian on their reflections in 2015, you would probably get some similar answers. They would possibly tell you that life is getting tougher with everything becoming unaffordable. Some would probably tell you about the mess that our country is getting into, politically.

I was in a shop yesterday, and overheard the worker telling a customer that the price of goods could cost more next year. The customer sarcastically replied, “We must thank Najib for that.” Price hikes undoubtedly affect everything we use in daily life. With trust deficit in our leadership, Malaysians are frustrated by an unaccountable government, demands were dismissed, while dissenters were slammed under various laws. Look at the various draconian laws that the government has introduced and amended, for instance, Prevention of Terrorism Act, Sedition Act and the latest, National Security Council Bill. These laws share one common characteristic: repression on our fundamental liberties.

I was in Jakarta last week for a conference. Most of the international participants that I met asked me the same question: what is going on in Malaysia? It is like the hardest logic puzzles ever created and from time to time, the puzzle seems to get more challenging with some missing pieces. Now, it seems to reach a stage where it is just difficult to comprehend. The controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement left us in limbo, as there are still many vague areas to be explained.

This year has also witnessed decreasing tolerance when it comes to race and religion. Various findings to measure our civil liberties and human rights also did not put us in a favorable position. Likewise, the recent European Union resolution on Malaysia’s human rights practices paints Malaysia with a bad closing for 2015. It expresses concerns on the crackdown on dissent and it also underlines the importance of transparent investigations into Malaysia’s graft allegation. With that, it sends the signal that the country is getting “stronger” in a wrong way, that only portrays us moving towards an authoritarian government, not a democratic one.

We do have a real culture of fear to deal with. But if we put the level of repression and dissent into logic, it could tell different sides of the story. In many cases, governments and dissidents act in expectation of each other’s behaviour. Many might not agree that with the kind of repression in Malaysia, on one positive note, the voice of dissent, although strictly curbed, has increased. For instance, while the two-day Bersih 4 protest on August 29-30 did not produce tangible outcomes, how the protest generated debate signifies the demands of Malaysians in wanting for a clean government.

It has been a year of dissent and repression in Malaysia. Dissent is growing, but so is repression. With the economy in disarray, surveys have put Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s popularity at a low rate. Perhaps most important, criticism against the current leadership has blown up across the society. The Barisan Nasional government is struggling to come to terms with a society that is now better informed and more critical because information is just a click away. What is gravely worrying is that if the system is not fixed in time, it will collapse on its own. To this end, let’s hope Malaysia regains its serendipity in 2016.

This article appeared in The Malaysian Insider on December 28, 2015.

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