Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

I Still Can't Believe It's Not Democracy

Written by johnleemk on 1:11:27 pm Jul 25, 2007.
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Really. I wouldn't say I'm shocked or amazed — just flabbergasted. Flabbergasted that there are still Malaysians who claim to want democracy and responsible freedom, and yet support this totalitarian government at the same time.

Malaysia has never been a full democracy, but there was a time when we at least tried to aspire to it. We kept our government's authoritarian tendencies in check — or should I say that the government kept itself in check?

Now, of course, our government is no longer authoritarian. What it aspires to is nothing less than virtual dictatorship and totalitarian control of the people.

Some people might think that's all right. Everything's fine, right? We need restrictive laws to keep people from irresponsibly mouthing off, and to control subversive terrorist elements, don't we?

That might be so. Personally, I don't subscribe to anything other than a near-complete free market of ideas, because I believe that good ideas will prevail over the bad ones.

But let's assume that for the sake of collective security, we do need laws like the Sedition Act, the Internal Security Act, the Universities and University Colleges Act, the Official Secrets Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

Now, let me ask you, what would you expect those hauled in under the ISA to be guilty of? It has to be something serious if they cannot appear before a judge, if they can be locked up and almost literally see the key being thrown away.

Other countries have considered laws like the ISA, but they have always sought to apply it only to those who seek to truly subvert the country's established rule of law — to apply such laws only to those really suspected of plotting, for example, acts of terror.

Likewise, the OSA is surely only for secrets crucial to national security. We don't want our top secret plans for dealing with regional threats being compromised.

What about the PPPA? Surely we would expect a licence to be granted to almost any press outlet — only those fringe ones, such as organs of people plotting to overthrow the Constitution and our established order (e.g. the Malayan Communist Party) would have permits refused.

Indeed, these are the ends that those who drafted these laws mainly had in mind. R. H. Hickling, the British lawyer responsible for drafting the ISA, declared that his intention was for the ISA to be used on those suspected of terrorist acts and the like. No less than Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Dr Ismail have said the same.

That is why when Raja Petra Kamarudin was detained back in 2001, he was alleged to have been in possession of illegal firearms. (Of course, I doubt he actually had any such weapons — he has denied the allegations.) The government had to at least make it seem as if it was only using the ISA on suspected terrorists.

But the fact is, such claims lost any validity they had long ago. For decades, our government has been liberally using the ISA on anyone it doesn't like. It threw politicians and educators into jail for years — and why? Were these men and women plotting acts of terror? Were they in the process of planning a revolution?

All they were guilty of was attempting to effect change in a peaceful way. For this, they got thrown in jail. How can we call ourselves a free and democratic country? How can we even claim we aspire to being a free and democratic nation? Hickling himself was aghast at seeing the legislation he helped draft being subverted to suppress the very democracy it was crafted to defend — the ISA was supposed to protect us from being overrun by communists without respect for freedom, but it has been used to quash those very freedoms it was meant to protect.

Similarly, the OSA was supposed to protect our nation's military and national security secrets, so we can maintain our independence and sovereignty — the sovereignty that allows us to maintain our democratic freedoms.

But what has the OSA been used for? To protect, believe it or not, toll agreements. Apparently, even bribery of a minister is now an official secret.

What about the PPPA? Consider this: in the infamous Operation Lalang of 1988, it was used to shut down The Star. Nobody ever alleged that this was a publication conspiring to overthrow the established system of governance in Malaysia by violent or unlawful means, and yet, it was forced to close until it opened under new (and of course more pliant) management.

Of course, the government is too abusive to just rely on existing statutes to suppress what our Constitution labels "fundamental liberties". It wasn't too long ago that they issued a directive of questionable legality to local media, suppressing any opinions on the question of an Islamic state in Malaysia other than those of the Prime Minister and his deputy.

Now, the government has declared that it will use the aforementioned laws to crack down on bloggers. Tell me, do you really think a single blogger in Malaysia constitutes a threat to national security? Do you think bloggers are conspiring to violently overthrow the government? What are bloggers supposedly guilty of?

Raja Petra Kamarudin after leaving the police station


Why did you have to hold Raja Petra Kamarudin for eight hours of questioning about a website that has never caused a single ethnic clash, and never featured a plot to unlawfully overthrow the government or Constitution? Why did you pick up on a comment posted on his website calling for racial unity and an end to interethnic conflict, and label it as a racially divisive and seditious remark?

Nazri Aziz says that bloggers have insulted the King and Islam. In that case, why threaten to use the ISA on us? Why treat us like terrorists? What's wrong with sticking to the Sedition Act? The fact is, Nazri, you and the rest of this administration (which is a virtual continuation of the Mahathir administration anyway) have given up any pretence to democracy and to respect for the fundamental liberties of MAlaysians.

We have a choice. We can either lie and claim that we are a democracy, or we can fess up to the truth and admit that we have let down our founding fathers, who stated in our Proclamation of Independence that we "shall be for ever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice". The fact is, we have let them down.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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