(Subang Jaya, Tuesday): A dark shadow has been cast over Malaysia.
What Malaysians have worried most in the past week is that the Malaysian Government would draw the wrong lessons from Suharto's downfall and the Indonesian crisis by imposing a crackdown on civil liberties and democratic freedoms instead of initiating political reforms to build a vibrant civil society.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, was the last leader outside Indonesia to defend Suharto and his policies, just a few days before his downfall, declaring that Suharto was not the cause of Indonesia's problems and that there was an interrnational conspiracy to topple Suharto just as there was an international conspiracy to topple him in Malaysia. After Suharto's downfall, Mahathir had not changed his views, completely ignoring the important fact that all sections of Indonesian society, whether the Indonesian Army, Parliament, mass media, political parties and students had come to the consensus that Suharto was part of the problem and no more part of the solution which requires political reforms and an end to the system of KKN - corruption, cronyism and nepotism.
Mahathir is worried about the Indonesian contagion in Malaysia arising from Suharto's downfall and the new painful Indonesian process of political and economic reforms.
It is right for Mahathir to look at what happened in Indonesia to find out what Malaysia can learn from its recent upheavals, but we should not draw the wrong lessons.
Firstly, Mahathir should not react as if tens of thousands of people would be marching in the streets demanding for his downfall, in the same way that tens of thousands of youths and students marched in various parts of Indonesia demanding that Suharto should step down. Malaysians still act with considerable restraint and decorum.
Secondly, Mahathir should take full cognisance of the aspirations of Malaysians for wide-ranging political reforms and greater democratisation and realise that suppressing and bottling up these aspirations of Malaysians is not only unconducive to creating an united, cohesive and resilient society to face the nation's worst economic crisis, but would undermine restoration of confidence essential for economic recovery.
Malaysians do not want street protests and marches as happened in Indonesia, but their demand for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance are no less urgent and insistent.
Malaysians have very limited democratic space, whether in freedom of speech, expression, assembly, information, and what we should do is to expand these democratic spaces to give Malaysians a greater say in the decision-making process as how to unite and emerge from the economic crisis, effecting an economic recovery in the shortest possible time with the minimum of avoidable hardships, pain and injustice to Malaysians.
It is very sad that the worries that there will be a clampdown on civil liberties and human rights because of Mahathir drawing the wrong conclusions from Suharto downfall and the misconceived fears about the Indonesian contagion has been confirmed.
So far, two Sympathy, Support and Solidarity (SSS) with Lim Guan Eng public forums had been disrupted by the police and even the FOMCA forum on the "'water crisis" was regarded as a security risk to be banned.
I have now received disturbing confirmation that there is now a clampdown on public meetings, where even traditional DAP dinners are being denied police permits. The DAP has been formally informed that the application of two SSS dinners have been rejected. Eventually, we can eat but we cannot talk. It is sad that we have reached a stage where the government is afraid to hear the voices of the people.
There are four SSS Lim Guan Eng DAP dinners in the next four days, and I am given to understand that police permits would not be issued.
All DAP dinners as organised will go on as scheduled as we hope that we can work out the problem of getting the police permit for public speaking at the dinners, so that Malaysia will not get a new international name where the people's fundamental rights have been reduced merely to a right to dine but lost the right to talk!
In Indonesia, there is the beginning of an opening up, whether the press or the people. But in Malaysia, the mass media remain gagged, while the people are now muzzled.
Yesterday, there was a black-out of a media conference held in Parliament House where I announced the formation of a Council for Justice, Freedom, Democracy and Good Governance to raise greater national consciousness and commitment to the cause of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance, following the nation-wide outrage at the injustice of the Lim Guan Eng case.
The Council for Justice, Freedom, Democracy and Good Governance was formed by the signatories to the Pantai Kundor Declaration in Malacca of June 2 after the Sympathy, Support and Solidarity with Lim Guan Eng forum was high-handedly and undemocratically disallowed by the police.
The signatories to the Pantai Kundor Declaration who have constituted themselves into the Council for Justice, Freedom, Democracy and Good Governance are Dr. Sanusi Othman, Secretary-General of Parti Rakyat, Mohamad Sabu, PAS MP for Kubian Kerian, Dr. Mohamad Nasir, Protem Chairman of Socialist Party Malaysia, Dr. Chen Man Hin (DAP National Chairman), Ahmad Nor (DAP National Vice Chairman), Lim Guan Eng and Abdul Muluk Daud (DAP Deputy Secretaries-General) and myself.
Unfortunately, there are major newspapers which did not publish a single word about the Council for Justice, Freedom, Democracy and Good Governance and our call on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to convene a Round-Table Conference of all political parties and NGOs to draw up a programme for political reforms and democratisation, but gave very prominent space to the DAP troubles, giving the readers a very one-sided and tendentious version of the events.
This is further proof of the Barisan Nasional agenda in using the mass media to exploit the DAP's problems to distract public attention from the national economic crisis and the Barisan Nasional's internal problems, and this was why I said yesterday that I would not be saying a single word about the case of the three DAP CEC leaders, as this would be falling into the Barisan Nasional trap of furthering its mass media agenda
It is a real shame that while the people of Indonesia are beginning to feel a new air of greater freedom and democracy, the government in Malaysia is imposing an even tighter muzzle on the people.
All Malaysians should express their protest against this latest crackdown against fundamental liberties and democratic freedoms in Malaysia.