Political outcry in Malaysia

Lim Kit Siang, Secretary General of the Democratic Action Party, DAP, of Malaysia, reflects on the political crisis affecting his country

Issue 3, Volume 47, 1998

There is a great political effervescence among Malaysians who hunger for change, for social equity, greater openness, freedom, justice, accountability, transparency and integrity in public life.

This political effervescence did not begin just on 2 September, the day Anwar Ibrahim, the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister was sacked in a most unprecedented manner by Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, and then tried and convicted by the media for supposedly heinous crimes. There followed his detention under the infamous Internal Security Act, with a black-eye which caused wide public uproar, he was produced and charged in court ten days later.

The deep-seated stirrings for change among Malaysians, who want their aspirations for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance to be taken seriously by the Government, were evident long before 2 September in the political developments in the country in the years after the 1995 general elections.

A week before the completely unexpected sacking of Anwar, the 12th DAP National Congress noted that the next general elections may be a watershed in Malaysian politics with the National Front government losing its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time in Malaysian electoral history. This could happen regardless of whether general elections are held this year or next year or whether Anwar was still in the government as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

The protracted and worst economic crisis in Malaysian history, together with a multitude of other crises including political, judiciary, environmental, information, and the crisis over corruption, cronyism and nepotism, have produced a new political scenario in Malaysia.

It was because of such deep-seated stirrings for political change in the Malaysian public consciousness that the DAP scored the by-election victory in the semi-urban constituency of Teluk Intan in May last year and Parti Islam, PAS, scored its by-election victory in the predominantly rural constituency of Arau in July this year.

If there were such a wind as recently blew through Teluk Intan in the next general elections, 27 ruling coalition urban parliamentary seats would not be safe; and if there were such a wind as blew through Arau, 23 of its rural parliamentary seats could be at risk. This would making the prospect very real and near of the National Front coalition losing its traditional parliamentary two-thirds majority, a politically earth-shattering event for Malaysia.

Such a new political scenario could not have been changed by Anwar even if he had continued as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, for it was more powerful than individual personalities. There is no doubt however that the unprecedented sacking of Anwar in circumstances which shocked Malaysians - who are quite apathetic and indifferent to the political stirrings within the Malaysian consciousness - has lent greater power to the political wind of change in the country.

As part of this national political efferverscence in the past few years, there has been a coming together of like-minded forces in political parties and NGOs in collaboration with ordinary Malaysians on issues of common interest.

Three such coalitions have so far been formed. The first such coalition known as the Council for Justice, Freedom, Democracy and Good Governance was formed in June and was the direct expression of nation-wide shock and outrage at the selective prosecution and victimisation of opposition parliamentarian Lim Guan Eng.

He is now serving two concurrent 18-month jail sentences in Kajang Prison for diligently, conscientiously and courageously discharging his duties as Member of Parliament in defending the honour, women's rights and human rights of a 15-year-old girl from victimisation from the powerful and mighty. His action placed in jeopardy not only his Parliamentary status but also his professional status as a certified accountant.

The Lim Guan Eng case brought to the fore many serious public policy issues such as freedom of expression, human rights and fundamental liberties; politically-motivated and selective prosecutions; the crisis of confidence in the judiciary; the role and responsibilities of Members of Parliament; the nature of civil society and the future of democracy in Malaysia.

The Council for Justice, Freedom, Democracy and Good Governance launched a mass nationwide signature campaign to appeal to the Malaysian King to pardon Guan Eng so that he would not be disqualified as a Member of Parliament and could continue to serve the nation and people - and in the first ten days of the campaign over 203,000 signatures were collected.

Inside Kajang Prison, Guan Eng has become a nameless person - known only by his number of 6561/98, but his unbowed commitment to justice is manifest from the following poem he penned in his first week in prison:


I Am Still Free!!!

My eyes cry but there are no tears,
My heart bleeds but there is no blood,
My lungs breathe but there is no air,
And where have all the doctors gone?

The sun shines but there is no light,
The moon burns but there is no heat,
The wind blows but there is no breeze,
And where have all the stars gone?

You are in prison, you fool!
Soulless, heartless and compassionless,
Why speak of freedom when four walls surround you,
And where have all the people gone?

But I am free, still free,
If not in body, still free in spirit and soul,
Even barbed wires cannot contain nor restrain,
And where all my conscience is still here
Free with me!
Free with me!

Two other coalitions of people's power have since been formed. The Gagasan Demokrasi Rakyat or Coalition for People's Democracy, comprising four political parties and 12 NGOs which issued a Joint Declaration upholding freedom, justice, democracy and human rights. The Majlis Gerakan Keadilan Rakyat Malaysia (GERAK), or the Malaysian People's Movement for Justice, focuses on the repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the immediate release of Anwar Ibrahim and other detainees held under that Act.

Malaysians want change but they will use the Malaysian and not the Indonesian way. Malaysians will use the ballot box to demand political change and not the Indonesian style of street violence. However, the time has come for the expansion of democratic space in Malaysia for the people to peacefully gather and demonstrate their aspirations for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.

If the National Front Government continues to resort to high-handed repression and draconian laws, refusing to respond positively to the people's demand for political change, but ensures that there is more democratic space to exercise their democratic right to peaceful assembly to express their legitimate demands, the next general elections are likely to witness a sea-change in the way the people cast their ballots.



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