Blind and unthinking support for Mahathir as Prime Minister is both a disservice to Mahathir and Malaysia and will not help in restoring confidence in the face of the national economic crisis

- '98 Budget Committee Stage, Prime Minister's Department
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday): I am very concerned about recent political trends and developments in Malaysia, especially the attempts by certain quarters, which is reflected by certain speeches by Barisan Nasional MPs in the budget debate, demanding that at a time when there is an alleged international plot to topple Datuk Seri Dr. Mahthir Mohamad as Prime Minsiter of Malaysia, there should be solid and total support for Mahathir as Prime Minister allowing no room for criticism and dissent.

Let me declare that there is no greater disservice to Mahathir as Prime Minister or to Malaysia in the face of the grave national economic crisis confronting the country or to nation building to create a Bangsa Malaysia in accordance with Vision 2020 than to suggest that Malaysia now cannot even afford the limited democracy we have and the repressive laws, like the Internal Security Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Police Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Sedition Act should be applied in their full draconian severity.

Last week, Internal Security Act detainees marked the 10th anniversary of Operation Lalang where over 100 Malaysians, including 16 DAP leaders and Members of Parliament, were detained because of a UMNO power-play, and the greatest concern is when is the next Operation Lalang.

The Government has arrested eight persons under the Internal Security Act and it has treated MPs with utter contempt in not informing Parliament about the ISA detentions, who and why. I have names for three of them, namely Ustaz Abdullah Hassan, believed to be a PAS activist from Pendang, Kedah, Paharuddin Mustapha, former PRM activist from Bukit Mertajam, and Kamarulzaman Ismail from Muar, Johore.

Are the eight ISA arrests a prelude to another major crackdown against those whom the Barisan Nasional regard as having opposing and dissenting views?

I must warn the Government that when at the end of August it threatened to use the Internal Security Act against writers, financial analysts and researchers who wrote what was described as "unfavourable" reports about the Malaysian economy, both the Malaysian ringgit and the stock market plunged to a new low - marking a new low in investor confidence in the country.

Is the recent Cabinet decision to bar academicians from public institutions of higher learning from making "negative statements about the environment", allegedly on the ground that some of their comments on the haze were manipulated by the foreign media to mar the country’s image, another indication of the coming crackdown on human rights and another "Dark Ages" for democracy in Malaysia?

It is most shocking that the haze and issues of environmental degradation has become sensitive issues where academicians, and later may be MPs, the Opposition and the Malaysian press, would be barred from freely airing their views - for fear of being "manipulated by the foreign media to mar the country’s image"!

The Government is not only failing to learn the lesson from the 1997 national haze disaster - which is a global environmental catastrophe - but does not want Malaysians to be more aware and concerned about environmental issues, wanting to keep environment as a peripheral issue instead of being moved to be a mainstream national concern by all political parties as well as all Malaysians.

Even by-elections are not spared in this mindless attitude that there should be no murmur of dissent and opposition.

I want to ask whether Mahathir has given his consent that the Sungai Bakap by-election be turned into a test of confidence in him as Prime Minister for international consumption?

The Sungai Bakap by-election is only a State Assembly by-election in Penang, but once it is turned into a national test of confidence for Mahathir to continue or resign as Prime Minister, it would immediately transform the Sungai Bakap by-election into a focus not only of national but also international attention!

It is political folly of the first magnitude to make the Sungai Bakap by-election a vote of confidence in Mahathir as Prime Minister, unless Gerakan and the Barisan Nasional have full confidence not only of winning the Sungai Bakap by-election, but also to improve on the 5,327-vote majority of the Barisan Nasional in the 1995 general elections.

This is because even a one-vote reduction of the 5,327-vote majority in the Sungai Bakap by-election would be regarded as a setback for Mahathir, allowing international media to write reports about Mahathir losing the national vote of confidence and losing the support and confidence of the people!

I concede Gerakan is going to win Sungai Bakap by-election, as I do not expect a Richter 7 political earthquake in the by-election, which would be the scale of political tremors which would be set off if the DAP can win in such a traditional safe seat as Sungai Bakap. However, even the most optimistic Barisan Nasional leaders must concede that Gerakan majority of 5,327 votes in the 1995 is going to be slashed in the by-election, whether below 3,000, 2,000, 1,000 or 500, which would be itself a Richter 6 political earthquake!

In these circumstances, why turn the Sungai Bakap by-election into a national and international test of confidence for Mahathir to continue or resign as Prime Minister, where a single-vote reduction in the Gerakan majority of 5,327 votes could be regarded as a defeat and failure by Mahathir to pass the confidence test? This is a no-win situation for Mahathir, which can only cause enormous embarrassment to Mahathir and Malaysia.

We are hearing a lot about calls to Malaysians to show their love for country and Prime Minister. Let me state bluntly that Keng Yaik and the Gerakan are not showing their love for country and the Prime Minister when, for the sake of a State Assembly by-election, they are prepared to put Mahathir in a no-win situation and expose him and Malaysia to enormous embarrassment as he is bound to fail the test of confidence in Sungai Bakap. Unless Keng Yaik and Gerakan leaders can claim that they have full confidence not only of maintaining the 5,327-vote majority, but even to increase it in the by-election. Then, I say, Shabas, and I have nothing more to say.

What is worse, Gerakan is now escalating its politics of fear in the Sungai Bakap by-election, graduating from warning the voters that their decision would decide whether Mahathir would continue or resign as Prime Minister to the warning that it would decide whether the Malaysian economy would collapses together.

Already, to ensure that the Gerakan can win in Sungai Bakap by-election, the Cabinet had to take the unprecedented step of revising the Finance Minister’s budgetary proposals, which had never been done in the past 40 years.

Of course, I welcome the reductions of the motor vehicle, goods and public service vehicle driving licences to an increase of RM10 instead of the previous RM30 or RM40 increase - which would not have taken place if not for the Sungai Bakap by-election. This is the victory of the people of Sungai Bakap.

However, it is most disappointing the the Finance Minister has only acted on the DAP proposals with regard to motor vehicle, goods and public service vehicle driving licences, but not to proposal on the international passports, when only two years ago, immediately after the 1995 general elections, there had been a sharp increase in passport fees.

With the 1998 Budget increases, there would be a 500 per cent increase for a 32-page passport from RM60 to RM300 and a 600 per cent increase for a 64-page passport from RM100 to RM600 in a matter of the last 30 months - and who is to blame if the people say Barisan Nasional’s "BN" really stands for "Barang Naik"?

I find it very sad and most unfortunate that there are people who are prepared to threaten the voters of Sungai Bakap that a vote for DAP is a vote of no confidence against Mahathir, when all they want is to vote against "Barang Naik"!

If in a democratic country, the voters have no right to vote against "Barang Naik", why have elections or by-elections at all?

Whether Mahathir has the confidence of the people to continue as Prime Minister is not an issue in the Sungai Bakap by-election at all, and it should be be allowed to be an issue.

In fact, I had suggested that in order not to put Mahathir in the embarrassing and invidious position of a no-win situation where an one-vote reduction in the Gerakan majority in the by-election could be exploited by the international media as his having lost support and confidence of the people, all the four candidates make a public declaration that the Sungai Bakap by-election has nothing is not a test of confidence in Mahathir as Prime Minister.

It is most strange that it is the Gerakan which oppose such a public declaration by its candidate, which shows which party is being opportunistic, irresponsible, prepared to mortgatge the international credibility and standing of the Prime Minister just to get votes for the Gerakan candidate.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong