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.

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Suppressing dissenters stifles democracy

Dissent is one of the central elements of democracy. But when such dissenting voices start to make the leaders feel threatened, they normally opt for an offensive approach – that is, by labelling a person a traitor. But, we have to recognise that constructive criticism against one’s government is not sedition, rather, according to the American founding father, Thomas Jefferson, dissent is the highest form of patriotism. The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) faces continuous calls for political and legislative reforms, particularly since the 2008 general election, where they lost the two-thirds majority in Parliament. These pressures come from not only the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), but also from the civil society that has been expanding ever since. Since then, more warnings have become visible of the leadership’s anxiety about these appeals for greater freedom and democracy in the country.

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Political survival at the cost of its people

Malaysia is in a political turmoil. Critics at home and abroad see Malaysia’s leadership moving downwards. The past year has seen Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s rule increasingly described as authoritarian. The vulnerability of the economy and the undermining of rule of law affect both the political and economic spheres in the country. Last week, lawyer Matthias Chang was detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) 2012. This followed his client Datuk Seri Khairuddin Abu Hassan’s detention under Sosma after he made several reports overseas against the troubled 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). In unprecedented and rare comments, Malaysia’s royalty have also called for a transparent investigation into 1MDB. The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) announced there would be no prosecution despite Bank Negara Malaysia requesting a review of the prosecutor’s decision that no further action was required on 1MDB regarding false disclosures.

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