Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rebutting Dr. Lim Teck Ghee by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar

It is a pity that Dr. Lim Teck Ghee has chosen to ignore some of the arguments and analyses I had presented in my earlier reply, and instead has clung stubbornly to his dogmatic position on the political scenario in the country today.

“Irrefutable Fact”

An example of this is his warped reasoning on the use of the words “irrefutable fact” in my article Bersih and the Quest for Human Rights ( 2nd May 2012  ) which triggered his initial response. My argument in that article was that since the ISA has been abolished, certain fetters upon the freedom of expression removed, and some other democratic changes initiated, “the space and scope for the expression and articulation of human rights has been expanded and enhanced as never before.” Surely, when shackles are eliminated, freedom is enhanced anywhere in the world. Isn’t that an irrefutable fact?
I had gone further in my reply to Teck Ghee of 6th May and provided concrete evidence of what I regard as the manifestation of more pronounced democratic articulation---- peaceful public assemblies, increased Chinese participation in Bersih 3, and the position adopted by the Chinese media on Bersih 3. These are facts on the ground. Teck Ghee has failed to address them in his latest rejoinder.

Political Change

Teck Ghee uses an NGO document “ Spirit of Merdeka Declaration of 2007” as the benchmark for determining  whether the changes that have taken place in the last few months are significant or not. To evaluate the changes introduced in recent times, one should compare them to the situation that had prevailed all these years especially in relation to various restrictive laws. 
Teck Ghee is doubtful if the changes introduced are sustainable. In this regard, he queries if the BN government will allow a peaceful transition of power at the Federal level in the event of a PR victory. He alludes to the Prime Minister’s alleged refusal to answer a question on that issue at a talk in Kuala Lumpur as an indication that there may not be a peaceful transition. Apart from all the possible reasons that Teck Ghee suggests for the PM’s answer --- “ I don’t have to answer that question”--- it is quite conceivable that Dato Sri Najib was, as a close aide of his had opined, simply irritated and annoyed that someone could even raise such a question in the first instance.

While no one can be absolutely certain about how the incumbent would behave if it is defeated in the Federal polls, I am amazed that Teck Ghee gives so much weight to that incident when there are other episodes of much greater significance that suggest the BN may respond positively in such a situation. As a student of politics, I am encouraged by the fact that the Alliance (the BN’s predecessor) gracefully accepted its defeat in two states in the 1959 elections, two years after Merdeka. And between 1959 and 2008, apart from Kelantan and Trengganu, the ruling coalition was ousted in Penang and Sabah at different times. Unfortunately, in Sabah the opposition party that won the election in 1994 was denied its right to rule through the machinations of a then BN leader who is today masquerading as a great champion of democracy! 

In 2008, the BN allowed for a smooth transition of power in five states though in one of them, Perak, the PR was pushed out a year later through manoeuvres engineered by a BN leader who is now the BN chief and PM. I had on two occasions criticised his action as “unethical.”  I was equally critical of the mischievous attempt by the Leader of the Opposition to induce cross-overs to the PR in September 2008 in order to overthrow the legitimate, democratically elected BN government.  Given his infamous role in Sabah in 1994, I became convinced at that point that the man has a penchant for backdoor politics.   
Teck Ghee, the danger of backdoor politics in the aftermath of the coming 13th General Election is as great as the challenge of a smooth transfer of power. As citizens we have to be vigilant against all forms of Machiavellian politics.

Police State

That the article that Teck Ghee emailed me arising from the PCORE forum attributed the term “Police State” to me without any reference to source or context tells us something about the materials that Teck Ghee uses to frame his position or his argument. No scholar worth his salt will resort to such writings to buttress his argument.
I remember that when a Toronto newspaper way back in 1988 also alleged that I had described Malaysia as a Police State in the wake of the Salleh Abas episode, I objected immediately. The term I had used in that newspaper interview was “authoritarian government”. 
Public intellectuals should be a little more careful about how they advance an argument since people tend to take them their words seriously.

This brings me to the question of a public debate with Teck Ghee. It is because both of us have strong views on Malaysian politics that a debate rather than a lengthy discourse via cyber media will be more appropriate. A discourse as we can see from this exchange will only generate more heat than light. Both of us will hold on tenaciously to our respective positions.  That is what one does in a debate.
So why not hold a debate?   We can put across our arguments to the people and let them judge whether real political change is taking place in the country or not. The debate can be disseminated widely through the print, electronic and cyber media.


Right through his reply of 6th May and in his earlier attack on me, Teck Ghee, implicitly and explicitly, casts aspersions on my integrity. He accuses me of “intellectual gymnastics”, of changing my position, of doing a volte face. He is not the only one to do this. Many others have.  Some have used vulgar and vicious language. In fact, every time, an article of mine appears in cyber media, there would an avalanche of crude, coarse, sometimes cruel comments giving the impression that the assault on me is well orchestrated and organised.

From time to time I have responded to some of these attacks. But I have never really defended myself. Since the viciousness of the comments is becoming more brazen, I have decided to explain a few things.

As I had stated in my last reply to Teck Ghee, it is true I have changed my attitude towards to an individual politician--- Anwar Ibrahim--- and towards an institution---- the political Opposition.  Why I regard Anwar as the most unscrupulous  politician --- a cross between a Machiavellian and a chameleon, a Machileon--- that this land has known will be revealed in detail during  Anwar’s legal suit against me on the 10th and 11th of September 2012. Related to the issue of Anwar is my negative view of the Opposition. In the two and half years I was in their midst as Deputy President of Parti KeAdilan and Coordinator of Barisan Alternatif,  I realised that for some of the leaders, power was as great an obsession as it was for the BN. They would transgress any moral code to achieve their goal. I should hasten to add that at the same time, there were --- and there still are--- some really fine men and women in the Opposition.               
 Because I have changed my position on Anwar and the Opposition, it does not follow that my perspective on various national challenges has also changed. On ethnic relations and national unity, on Islam and religion, on democracy and accountability, on economic justice and equitable distribution of wealth, and on corruption and integrity, in Malaysia my approach and analysis remains fundamentally the same. It is true that since 1991 when I stepped down as President of Aliran, I have been writing much less on Malaysia given my current focus upon global politics. But I challenge Teck Ghee or anyone else out there who has been shamelessly smearing me as a “turncoat” to produce evidence to show that I have changed my position on any of the fundamental challenges facing the nation. If Teck Ghee in particular cannot substantiate his scurrilous comments on me, he should shut up. Otherwise, I would be compelled to reveal how he has metamorphosed from Marxist to MCA intellectual to PR apologist.

It is not just my perspective on national concerns that remains the same. I have not deviated from my balanced approach to issues that confront our society. While I showed why it is wrong to label non-Malay citizens as “pendatang” in an article shortly after that controversy broke out, I have never ceased to argue that recognising and accepting the Malay root of the Malaysian polity is crucial for the evolution of a united  Malaysian nation. While applauding the reduction of absolute poverty, I continue to criticise the wide gap between the have-a-lot and the have-a-little. While I commended the DAP state government for the declaration of assets of its Executive Councillors, I expressed my disappointment in the Federal government for its inability to act with more firmness on the weaknesses in financial management highlighted in the Auditor-General’s recent Report. Even when I was Aliran President, my criticisms of the government did not blind me to the shortcomings of the Opposition. I wrote then --- as I continue to write now--- about the inherent flaws in PAS’s notion of an Islamic state. By the same token, I was strongly opposed to the DAP’s  endorsement of  a Chinese medium university, the Merdeka University. 

It was partly because of my balanced approach during my Aliran years that the Malaysian government was willing to support Aliran’s application for roster status with the UN’s Economic and Social Council in the eighties. This was also the reason why when I was arrested under the ISA in 1987, two former Prime Ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn, submitted affidavits on my behalf. So did a former Opposition leader, the late Dr. Tan Chee Khoon. Once again, it underscored the virtue of balance in one’s approach to national challenges.

Even after my formal break with the Opposition, there are Opposition leaders who come to see me. At the same time, I continue to engage with Government leaders. This engagement and interaction has not compromised my integrity in any way.

Nonetheless, because I value my integrity and independence above everything else, I have politely turned down positions of power. Neither have I accepted the lofty titles offered.
My conscience is clear. And that is what counts.  

Concluding Remarks.

To Teck Ghee, once again, my humble request: accept my invitation to a public debate. If you turn down my invitation for a second time, I will not want to continue this exchange. I would rather concentrate upon a number of urgent tasks that await me and other citizens, like persuading both Federal and State governments to assume a caretaker role during the forthcoming General Election.

The ball is at your feet, Teck Ghee.

Dr.Chandra Muzaffar.  

Petaling Jaya.

8 May 2012.

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