Najib's Orwellian 1Malaysia
Datuk Seri Najib Razak was supposed to be a better Prime Minister than Tun Abdullah Badawi. But his charm offensive belies his failure to protect our democracy and our institutions. Najib replaced Pak Lah because of the Umno warlords protecting their own interests, rather than those of the country's; he is a Prime Minister beholden to Umno politicos, not the Malaysian voters.
The biggest problem people had with Pak Lah was that he was weak. He said nice things, but he didn't have the willpower to see them through. He was a career civil servant, not a politician. So we got Najib—a consummate politician.
But Pak Lah's weakness was a double-edged sword. He let a lot of people get away with saying nasty things—our nation's dirty laundry of corruption and racism was aired like never before during his time. But the Sarawak Tribune aside, the Abdullah administration also let people get away with a lot of productive debate. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad regime.
The Najib regime is a return to the era of Mahathir. One of the most pervasive and repulsive examples of this is the insidious 1Malaysia campaign. It's simply a tiruan ciplak of Bangsa Malaysia or Wawasan 2020—a pretence of vision for the country. Nowadays when I go to official events, the emcees greet us: "Assalamualaikum dan salam 1Malaysia." This is nothing more than Orwellian propaganda.
Now, I could tolerate propaganda if this amorphous 1Malaysia idea were actually productive. It seems that Datuk Idris Jala has been working his butt off to make it so. But as The Malaysian Insider has reported, Idris's attempts to redress racial injustices have been rejected by the Cabinet and replaced with vague, token promises of sweet nothings.
Other reform efforts, such as the amendment or abolition of the ISA and our other anti-democratic laws seem to have fallen by the wayside. Despite the fanciful KPIs flying around, the government still cannot convince the public that our law enforcement agencies truly work to uphold justice. In the public's eyes, the MACC is as tainted and politically biased as ever. The constant foot-dragging in the prosecutions for the death of A. Kugan and the multi-billion ringgit Port Klang Free Zone disaster only suggest that Najib has no intention of meaningfully upholding the rule of law.
Under the Constitution, the same laws apply to all Malaysians: if one Malaysian has the right to peacefully protest, then all Malaysians must have that same right. Only a few days ago, the police stopped a major Pakatan rally in Kuala Lumpur because it was supposedly disturbing the peace.
When a bunch of rabble-rousers held rallies outside mosques across the country in January then—rallies where some people had the gall to call for further torching of churches—that wasn't disturbing the peace? Apparently not: Najib's regime protects your democratic rights only when it is convenient.
Now, Najib's government is going further: it is confiscating books simply because it doesn't like them. Cartoonist Zunar's 1FunnyMalaysia is gone—I suppose because the title makes fun of 1Malaysia. Amir Muhammad's Politicians Say the Darndest Things, which was perfectly acceptable for public consumption a year ago, is now gone from the shelves. Nat Tan and I edited a book on police brutality and custodial deaths, such as Teoh Beng Hock's; this book, Where is Justice, is now gone too.
Again, forget the rule of law; these books are not officially banned. (Indeed, in some stores, the sales clerk will sell them to you from behind the counter.) What Najib has simply done is intimidate booksellers into taking these books off the shelves, so you do not even realise they exist. Again, the Orwellian parallels are frightening.
What I liked about Pak Lah is that as bumbling as he was, he was an accidental democrat. Under his still-authoritarian regime, we at least saw the beginnings of some productive and open debate. Heck, he even tried to reform the Anti-Corruption Agency and overhaul some of our draconian laws like the ISA before he stepped down. If Mahathir was Bapa Pemodenan, then I daresay Pak Lah could be Bapa Demokrasi.
Najib is set only on protecting himself and the cronies of his regime, democracy and the rule of law be damned. 1Malaysia does not do away with any of the serious injustices in our country; this is not a government for all Malaysians. This is a government for Umno. There is a chance, of course, for Najib to change course, and make 1Malaysia for all; he could, if he wanted to, be remembered as Bapa Reformasi. But unless he takes action, I fear we may well remember him as Bapa Kezaliman.