I do “shiver in fear” not about the DAP’s prospects in next general election but the far-reaching repercussions for Malaysians and even a tectonic shift in nation-building after a landslide Barisan Nasional victory in the next general election

Media Conference  Comment 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Monday)The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said at the UMNO 56th anniversary celebrations in Shah Alam that the Opposition parties should “shiver in fear” of a humiliating defeat in the next general election.  

I do “shiver in fear” not about the DAP’s prospects in the next general election but the far-reaching repercussions for Malaysians and even a tectonic shift in nation-building after a landslide Barisan Nasional victory in the next general election expected within 12 months.  

There has been a stunning political turnaround for Mahathir in the past eight months, with him riding the crest of a political wave, not because he has learnt the lessons of the worst UMNO electoral defeat in the 1999 general election and the government has become  more democratic, shown more respect for human rights and the rule of law, more committed to fight corruption, abuses of power, misuse of public funds, or become more accountable and transparent,  but all  because of one external event – the September 11 (911) terrorist attacks in the United States.

Thinking Malaysians have good  reason  to be very worried about the effects of the turnaround of Mahathir’s political fortunes  on the  country’s future as they are not caused by political and economic reforms or the government embracing   the principles of good governance, an open society and  socio-economic justice –  but because of the political fall-outs of 911, which had accrued to the advantage of all incumbent governments in the world, giving authoritarian governments the excuse to exploits the fears and concerns of the citizenry for law, order and security  to be even more high-handed, arrogant,  arbitrary and undemocratic.  

Mahathir, for instance, will be meeting  United States  President Bush in the White House as  “soul mates ” as both have no qualms in expanding  the war on  terrorism into a war against democracy.  Eight months ago,  Mahathir and his government was in the “dock” and  censured by the US Administration for human rights violations and the rule of law, particularly the detention-without-trial Internal Security Act and denial of press freedoms.   But now Mahathir thinks he has a few tricks up his sleeve which he could share with Bush how to more effectively stifle civil liberties and fundamental freedoms  under the guise of the war against terrorism.  

Such a  post-911  political sea change can also be seen from  the the claim by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim in  Washington on Saturday  that the US Government now endorses the use of Internal Security Act in Malaysia.  

After meeting US Attorney-General  John Ashcroft  on Saturday, Rais said that Ashcroft  has “positively endorsed” the significance of the Internal Security Act and has “understood the relevance, the utilization and background of Malaysia having such a law”. 

Many Malaysians feel that Rais was demeaning the dignity of the nation in making such a statement, as if Malaysian Ministers are supplicants for the favours and praises of the US leaders.  

Furthermore, it is for Ashrcroft to make the statement that he “positively endorses” the draconian ISA and not for Rais to make such a claim.  If the US Administration after 911 has abandoned  its human rights position to giving its blessings to the ISA in Malaysia after censuring it as undemocratic,  draconian and a serious violation of human rights, then let President Bush announce it himself after his meeting with Mahathir so that Malaysians, Americans and the people of the world can know the fundamental change of character of the American government. 

Coming back to the cocky and arrogant statement by Mahathir over the weekend that he would give the Opposition a “crushing defeat”, Malaysians must realize the far-reaching repercussions for the country and the tectonic shift in nation-building should Mahathir’s boast come true – thanks to 911.  

For instance, if the Opposition and the DAP are “crushed” in the next election , Mahathir will regard his landslide victory as a national endorsement for more ISA arrests, more pressures on an independent judiciary, a blank cheque for continuation for mega-projects and new cronyism.  Furthermore, it will also be regarded as a national endorsement by a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious electorate for his “911 declaration” that Malaysia is an Islamic state and justification to embark Malaysia on the road of the UMNIO  vision of an Islamic State.  

The Opposition parties must make a more realistic appraisal of the post-911 political scenario and realize that the political tide has turned in favour of Mahathir, thanks to an external event.  

There is no  question of toppling Mahathir and the Barisan Nasional government in the next general election although I believe that the goal of denying Barisan Nasional two-thirds parliamentary majority and crushing its political hegemony is still achievable. 

In fact, it is even more important that the Opposition parties should co-operate to deny the Barisan Nasional its two-thirds parliamentary majority – to protect the the limited  democratic space and constrained civil society from being snuffed out completely by a landslide Barisan Nasional victory as well as to stop Mahathir’s “929 declaration” from  taking the first steps of implementation.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman