DAP calls on Mahathir not to draw the wrong conclusions from Suharto's downfall and decide on a crackdown on civil liberties and democratic freedoms of Malaysians

Media  Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): DAP deplores the second high-handed and undemocratic action by the police in three days in stifling freedom of speech by banning public discussion of the Lim Guan Eng case, in particular its  far-reaching implications on the nature of a Malaysian society we are building in terms of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.

A forum was scheduled to be held in the Malay kampong of  Pantai Kundor, Malacca last night to discuss the important issues of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.

The Malay kampong of Pantai Kundor understands why it is important to have justice, freedom, democracy and good governance in Malaysia, for the kampong people were the victims of the most unjust land acquisition laws and it was Lim Guan Eng and other DAP leaders who stood together with the Malay villagers to defend their fundamental rights to successfully protest  against gross injustices and the lack of good governance.

The panellists at the Pantai Kundor forum include Dr. Sanusi Othman, Partai Rakyat secretary-general, PAS Member of Parliament Mohamad Sabu, Socialist Party of Malaysia protem chairman, Dr. Mohamad Nasir, DAP National Chairman, Dr. Chen Man Hin, DAP Vice Chairman Ahmad Nor, DAP Deputy Secretary-General, Abdul Muluk Daud, DAP Deputy Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng and myself.

The Pantai Kundor forum would be another  occasion to demonstrate that the public policy concerns of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance arising from the Lim Guan Eng case transcends personality, party, race or religion - for all Malaysians, whether Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans or Ibans stand united behind these issues of concern.

On May 22, Malacca DAP submitted an application for a police permit for the Pantai Kundor forum to be held on June 2, but on June 1, the police rejected the application without giving reasons.  Appeals to the OCPD Melaka Tengah and the Malacca Chief Police Officer were of no avail.

DAP is a law-abiding political party which is properly and legally registered in the country and had made great and unchallenged contributions to the democratic process in very difficult circumstances. The DAP had no intention to break the law and proceed with the Pantai Kundor forum if the police persists in its undemocratic decision not to reconsider the DAP appeal.

However, before the Pantai Kundor forum, a kenduri had been planned for the panellists, and there is no reason why the kenduri cannot continue.  It is most shocking that the Police again displayed unnecessary and unwarranted force, mobilising not only police personnel but a Federal Reserve unit fully armed with batons and shields, which is not only highly provocative but also highly unfortunate, as it reminded the Pantai Kundor villagers of their struggle for the defence of their traditional land rights four years ago, when riot squads and police dogs were set on unarmed men and women standing up to oppose demolition of their homes and unfair acquisition of their land.  As a result, one Pantai Kundor woman villager was reminded of the traumatic experience when police dog was set on her and she went into a hysteria last night.

Although the police had refused to give a police permit for the Pantai Kundor forum, there is no reason why the police should object to the  some 200 people who had gathered in goodwill and friendship to meet the panellists at the kenduri as if the whole gathering could lead to a violent breach of the peace.

Has Malaysia suddenly descended into a police state in a matter of days, as shown by the police disruption of the "Gathering of Legal Eagles" at the Federal Hotel, Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, a forum for lawyers and concerned Malaysians about justice, freedom, democracy and good governance, especially arising from the Lim Guan Eng case?

 Are we going to see massive police presence, including full riot squad mobilisation all over the country,  just because Malaysians want to exercise their constitutional right of freedom of expression and assembly to peacefully discuss important national issues like justice, freedom, democracy and good governance?

Have the police now come to regard the peaceful assembly of Malaysians and the expression  of their views on justice, freedom, democracy and good governance an even greater threat to the security of the country than say, the influx of illegal Indonesian immigrants, the drug menace and crime in the country?

The police disruption of two DAP functions in three days to stifle opportunities for the airing of public concerns about the Lim Guan Eng case and the larger public policy implications are not isolated instances of high-handed and undemocratic police actions against freedom of speech and assembly.

I am thoroughly astounded by the police ban on the FOMCA forum on the water crisis scheduled for this evening, a day after the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Rahim Noor said that the police would not stop the forum although he volunteered the view that forums are not the answer to the water crisis - and after the police had issued a police permit for the forum, which was revoked by a fax to FOMCA yesterday.

Can Tan Sri Rahim Noor explain to Malaysia and the world what happened in the 24 hours between Monday and Tuesday to transform a water crisis forum from a "nuisance" into a "security threat" to Malaysia?

It is clear that the Inspector-General of Police was again buckling down to the political pressures of the Federal and Selangor State Governments - showing the lack of independence and impartiality of the police leadership in crucial areas of public concern.

The Minister for Works, Datuk Seri Samy Vellu and the Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Abu Hassan may be very uncomfortable about the FOMCA forum on the water crisis, but why should the Police come in to bail them out by using undemocratic laws to stifle the freedom of expression and assembly of Malaysians suffering from months of water shortage crisis?

The Barisan Nasional parties may have reason to be worried that more and more Malaysians, regardless of race or religion, are uniting in their concerns for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance, but this should be no concern or business of the police - for it  does not pose any security problem but at most a challenge to the government of the day to be more responsive to the aspirations of the people for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.

I fear that the high-handed and undemocratic actions against two DAP functions on the Lim Guan Eng case and the FOMCA forum on water crisis mark a new crackdown against civil liberties and democratic freedoms of Malaysia, probably using the economic crisis, in particular the -1.8 negative GDP growth in the first quarter of 1998 and the Indonesian situation as excuses.
I call  on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad not to draw the wrong conclusions from President Suharto's downfall and decide on a crackdown on civil liberties and democratic freedoms of Malaysians.

Mahathir had gone on public record, just before and after Suharto was toppled after 32 years' autocratic rule, that Suharto should not be blamed for Indonesia's crises.

I think Mahathir belongs to a very small minority, not only in Indonesia, but in Malaysia and the world, to subscribe to the view that Suharto is the victim of some international conspiracy of financial speculators or foreign powers to topple Suharto.

Suharto had to go because of the national consensus in Indonesia among important sectors of society that Suharto is part of the problem of the Indonesian crises and not part of the solution, that without political reforms there can be no meaningful economic changes to root out the discredited system of KKN - corruption, collusion and nepotism.

Malaysian government leaders are afraid of the Indonesian contagion but they must draw the right lessons - that the country must initiate political reforms and democratisation to meet the aspirations of the people for accountability, transparency and a greater say in the decision-making process.

It would be a real tragedy if Mahathir should reach the conclusion that the lessons to draw from the Indonesian crisis was that Suharto was not autocratic and undemocratic enough, and the Malaysian government wants to show the world that it could not only overcome the worst economic crisis in the nation's history without political reforms, but even with a crackdown on civil liberties and democratic freedoms of Malaysians.

This will plunge Malaysia into a new dark age.


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