Dr. Lim Teck Ghee’s attack on me (CPI 4 May 2012) does not come as a surprise. I would not have bothered to respond to him except that he has raised a couple of points about political change in the country and my stand on the electoral process that need to be rebutted.
Are the Political Changes that are taking Place Meaningful?
They are. When a decades old law like the ISA which provides for detention without trial is abolished, it means that the Executive is prepared to surrender a crucial dimension of its power and authority. This does not happen every day even in established democracies let alone emerging ones. This is why the government in Singapore --- a much lauded model nation-state for many in Malaysia--- refuses to yield even a millimetre on the question of ISA.
It is not just the abolition of the ISA which deserves commendation. The annual renewal of the license to publish under the Publications Act --- an albatross around the neck of freedom of expression --- has been abrogated. Executive authority vis-a-vis publications is now subject to judicial review. As I have stated in public, I would like to see the law itself rescinded since it does not really serve any purpose in the cyber age.
There are other important changes that have taken place in recent months which should be recognised for what they are, including the right of students to participate in party politics and the right of citizens to assemble peacefully as provided for in the law. The 32 recommendations adopted by Parliament on electoral reform come within the same category of fundamental changes to political and civil liberties.
Have these changes impacted upon society? Peaceful rallies have taken place in Pahang on the Lynas issue and in Kuala Lumpur on Labour Day. Peaceful Bersih gatherings were held on the 28th of April in a number of both BN and PR ruled states. The rally in Kuala Lumpur may also have been peaceful if Bersih organisers had not been obstinate about Dataran Merdeka. Now we know--- from police intelligence--- that they had an ulterior political motive.
Even the huge Chinese turn-out at the Bersih 3 rally compared to Bersih 2 and Bersih 1 may have something to do with the new political environment in the country. Though there are many reasons that explain the community’s participation, it is quite conceivable that the Minister of Home Affairs’ constant assurance to Bersih that the freedom of peaceful assembly would be upheld and that the government did not view Bersih 3 as a security issue--- in contrast to his rhetoric before Bersih 2--- and the abolition of the ISA, gave some confidence to the Chinese to step out. The Chinese media too, pre-Bersih 3, was very vocal in support of the proposed rally partly because of the changes to media laws.
Based upon these changes and the way they were beginning to impact upon society, I made a policy judgement on them. Of course, these are still early days. We will have to assess the situation again as time goes on but as a citizen, I have every right--- indeed a duty---- to judge the changes that are happening in my country.
The Electoral Process
Dr Lim suggests that my stand today on the electoral process is diametrically different from my position in the past. I had never at any point in the last 40 odd years condemned the Malaysian electoral process as fraudulent. My concern has always been with improving a process which I have always regarded as functional but flawed in certain respects. The failure of the BN government to appreciate its caretaker role during elections and the lack of opposition access to the public media were among the issues I highlighted in the eighties. In the last few years I have continued to bring these and other electoral concerns to the attention of the authorities.
I challenge Teck Ghee to show a single sentence in any of my writings which hints at the total rejection of the outcome of Malaysian elections because I had suspected that there had been gross, massive cheating. There is a reason for issuing this challenge. Teck Ghee had in a public
forum organised by the NGO, PCORE, on the 16th of November 2010, alleged that I had once described Malaysia as a “Police State”. Since I was also on the panel, I refuted his allegation at once and asked him to provide proof. He couldn’t and apologised. Later he sent me an article written by a local academic who had made the same allegation without any evidence. This is why I insist on academically acceptable evidence and attribution on my stand on the electoral process.
Indeed, my stand on the electoral process in Malaysia--- functional but flawed--- is an example of how consistent I have been over the decades on most major issues facing the nation. If I do not adopt public postures on some of them, because my focus since 2002 has been on global challenges, it does not mean that I am any less committed to justice and human dignity in Malaysia today compared to yesterday. I have often conveyed my concerns through various formal and informal channels to the powers-that-be. The truth is I have changed my position on only two inter-related matters--- Anwar Ibrahim and the political opposition. In both cases my two and a half years in Parti KeADILan and the Opposition altered my perspective.
In fact, even when I was in KeADILan, I was not prepared to lend legitimacy to baseless allegations that some opposition politicians were only too happy to propagate. When I lost narrowly in the Bandar Tun Razak Parliamentary constituency in the 1999 General Election many of my KeADILan colleagues and supporters told me that fraud was the reason for my defeat. I asked them to provide me with incontrovertible proof. No one came up with even an iota of evidence.
The 1999 election was an eye-opener for me on how unfounded allegations sometimes shape our perceptions of the electoral process. Before the election, I believed that the BN government would ensure that all postal votes would go to the BN candidate. I was pleasantly surprised therefore when I witnessed with my own eyes during the vote count that I had secured the majority of postal votes.
It is for this and other similar reasons, that I have always felt that the question of the electoral process should not be subjected to the pulls and pressures of party politics. I was pleased when an all -party Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) was established to enhance the electoral process. Who can deny the significance of its 32 recommendations? Isn’t it our responsibility as citizens to ensure that the recommendations which have been adopted by Parliament are implemented? Should this be our main concern?
On both the electoral process and political changes, Teck Ghee and I, it is obvious, have different approaches. Instead of continuing to air our views through the cyber media, I invite him to debate with me in public on what I think is the most fundamental question facing Malaysians today. Are the political changes that are taking place in Malaysia today significant? We can frame this question in the form of a debating topic. The debate should be in the national language. But if Teck Ghee prefers English, I have no objection.
This is my invitation to my friend, Teck Ghee. I expect him to respond within 48 hours.