(Klang, Thursday): Two days ago, 29 organisations issued a Joint Statement to express their outrage and condemnation on the recent interventions by the police in cancelling and disrupting three very important public meetings, namely the "Gathering of Legal Eagles" in sympathy, support and solidarity with Lim Guan Eng at the Federal Hotel, Kuala Lumpur on 31st May; the Sympathy, Support and Solidarity with Lim Guan Eng forum at Pantai Kundor, Malacca on 2nd June 1998 and the FOMCA forum on water crisis in Kuala Lumpur on June 3, 1998.
The Joint Statement said:
"The assertion by the police that these gatherings were a threat to 'national security' is totally baseless and unjustified. These gatherings have been at all times peaceful, in no way have threatened the security of the nation. Many Malaysians found the gatherings to be a platform to express the real concerns in a democratic and peaceful manner.
"In fact it is the Barisan Nasional government which failed to plan, provide and conserve adequate water supply to and for millions of residents. The same government has allowed a Barisan Nasional state chief, who has alleged committed statutory rape on a 15 year old girl, to walk free without even pressing charges on him. But it has chosen to imprison a politician who spoke up against this injustice. It is these actions which are creating situations where people are angry, frustrated and disgusted.
"People must be free to express, discuss, engage in dialogue and release their frustrations and tensions. Through this process ordinary citizens can seek solutions to their problems collectively. This will ensure accountability and responsibility at all levels and reduce people's frustration and guarantee their security.
"We call on the government and the police to stop interfering in orderly and peaceful public gatherings immediately. The current economic situation has already caused much anxiety and hardship for a large portion of society. The government should not make it worse by violating the rights of people who wish to meet the discuss issues affecting them. Under the current situation where the government has called upon the people for assistance to rebuild the crumbling economy, the government should welcome public meetings to discuss issues of public importance, be it about the economic crisis, water or justice as an importance source of input."
Unfortunately, the government seems to be set on a crackdown on civil liberties and democratic freedoms. I have been informed that the police had rejected the application for the holding of several DAP dinners in sympathy, support and solidarity with Lim Guan Eng.
Malaysia has become a country where the people have the right to eat but not to talk. This is very sad.
Last night, the Police disrupted the DAP Sympathy, Support and Solidarity with Lim Guan Eng dinner in Petaling Jaya, turning a peaceful and congenial gathering of Malaysian citizens concerned about the great issues of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance into pandemonium - a classic example of the police going out of the way to show they are not friends of the people or sympathetic to the popular aspirations for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
DAP had applied for police permit for the PJ dinner and despite repeated reminders, had not received any formal letter rejecting the application, which should be made with at least 48 hoursí notice to allow for the aggrieved party to appeal to the Chief Police Officer as provided by law.
Those who attended the PJ Dinner last night can vouch that it was very peaceful, orderly and congenial and something is very wrong with Malaysia when such dinner parties are regarded as the greatest threats to the security of the nation.
I do not know whether this is the decision of the Police leadership or the government leadership, making Malaysia the laughing stock of the world.
This is why I have faxed a request for a meeting with the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who is also the Home Minister, on the government crackdown against freedom of speech and assembly and to discuss with him the dangers of the country becoming a police state.
Malaysia seems to be drawing the wrong lessons from the Indonesian crisis and Suhartoís downfall. In Indonesia, the people who have been muzzled for over three decades, are beginning to be able to find their voice again. But in Malaysia, the decision seems to have been taken to impose a crackdown on civil liberties and democratic freedoms, to impose restrictions which were never thought necessary even during the worst days of emergency rule, whether because of communist insurrection or Indonesian confrontation.
It would appear that the government wants the country and the world to believe that the country is faced with the worst security threat in the nationís history as to justify an unprecedented crackdown on civil liberties. This can pose a new obstacle to the economic recovery for Malaysia.
Although Malaysia is not as badly affected by the Asian economic turmoils as other countries, like Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia, there is a danger that Malaysia may lag behind than other countries in economic recovery because of the "denial syndrome" of the the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and the refusal of the Malaysian government to implement wide-ranging political, economic and financial reforms.
Mahathir is on the latest Time Cover and I do not think the Time Cover article and interview with Mahathir is going to help in restoration of national and international confidence.
For instance, Mahathir started the Time interview declaring "I have never subscribed to the theory that this was going to be a short crisis", contradicing his statement in January this year of an economic recovery in six months to a year, although not as bad as the MCA President and Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik, who said at the same time that there would be economic recovery in three months.
The Time cover article started with the following heading: "As Malaysia slips into recession, Prime Minister Mahathir is blaming everyone--except himself. Can 'Dr. M' survive the region's turmoil?"
"There are no students on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital. If anything, young, middle-class Malaysians seem to have inherited a dose of Mahathir's supreme confidence, dismissing the possibility that their country could suffer the fate of Thailand or Indonesia. Economists have a term for it--'hazardous complacency'--and say time may be running out for Malaysia to prevent a crash. Last week, the government formally announced that recession had arrived: growth was negative 1.8% for the first quarter of the year. Investment firm Goldman Sachs (Asia) warns that property prices in Malaysia could plunge 50% by the middle of next year. Already, bank credit has dried up for most local businesses, and 25% of the country's roughly $120 billion in domestic debt is at risk. Millions of square meters of office and shopping-center space are empty in Kuala Lumpur, creating a glut that is starting to look dangerously similar to Bangkok's. Economists fear that a single bank run could set off a chain reaction of panic, a collapse of the ringgit and widespread bankruptcies.
"Which puts at serious risk Malaysia's ambition to become a world-class economy by the year 2020. If the country's leaders don't get the national act together, Malaysia might end up with several years of recession, followed by lackluster growth and a landscape scattered with dashed national dreams. Even more poignant is the threat to Mahathir's place in history, which could be poised for a Suharto-esque tumble. Instead of being remembered as the man who pushed his country toward prosperity, the 73-year-old former physician could go down as Malaysia's own Godzilla, who forewent patience and rationality to angrily swing his tail, in the process reducing his amazing vision to economic rubble. 'Mahathir is the problem,' says Sin-ming Shaw, head of Shaw Investment Management in Hong Kong. 'It is tragic. He could destroy everything he has done.'"