Abdullah commended for his fair  and visionary speech  on “people power” but  the question is whether he will  inaugurate a “people power-friendly” administration when he takes over as Prime Minister in 12 weeks’ time and re-orient  government policies and laws to accommodate and encourage the  emergence of “people power”

Media Statement
y Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling JayaFriday): Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is to be commended for his fair and visionary speech on “people power” at the 17th Asia Pacific Roundtable in Kuala Lumpur yesterday which, unfortunately, had been totally ignored by  all the mass media, including “mainstream” printed and electronic media.    

Although the New Straits Times reprinted the full text of Abdullah’s speech, the reference to “people power” was omitted in its news reporting, as is the case with the reporting of all other press while  The Star ignored Abdullah’s entire speech altogether.  As a result, nobody knew that Abdullah had made an important speech on “people power”. 

Abdullah’s speech yesterday was the first time the Malaysian government has acknowledged the important role of “people power”, whether nationally or internationally, in the new era – although he placed it in a context which is highly debatable and controversial.

However, the most important question is whether Abdullah will  inaugurate a “people power-friendly” administration when he takes over as Prime Minister in 12 weeks’ time and re-orient  government policies and laws to accommodate and encourage the  emergence of “people power” 

Abdullah’s tribute to “people power” came at the close of his speech, where he said: 

“Let me end on a positive note. One welcome outcome of globalisation, driven by modern communications technology, has been the rise of people power, both within their countries and in the international sphere. The power of the people, when mobilised and focused on a moral cause, can be powerful and profound. People's movements like the international humanitarian aid agency MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) and the "International Campaign to Ban Landmines" have contributed much to the cause of humanity.

”Movements for peace, when organised and deployed responsibly, can be a substantial force for pacific behaviour. They have one unique strength. Unlike states, they are not constrained by the dictates of realpolitik. They need not fear retaliation by powerful countries in areas like investment, trade and assistance. They are normally moved by sentiments of justice, of right and wrong, and when they feel strongly enough they mobilise, launch signature campaigns and take to the streets. They also produce the curious spectacle of the majority of the population protesting war when their governments support war. The lessons this has for democratic governance is interesting.

 ”The months preceding the attack on Iraq saw some of the biggest demonstrations by people in history. The largest were in mainly Christian Europe, not in the Arab or Muslim world. Here in my own country, a movement called Malaysians for Peace came into being. It was unprecedented. More than a million people of all ages, races and creeds, and from all walks of life, came together and called for peace.

”These movements did not succeed in preventing war. When war began, many lost heart and ceased their campaigning. But they made a powerful statement, and the statement was not lost on governments. Though it was not sufficient to deter them.

”We must nourish such responsible movement for peace. We could even help them reach out to each other across the globe. For when governments stray, they are our conscience.”

Three observations are in order here. Firstly, whether Abdullah’s speech represents a new government realization of the importance  and role of “people power” and acknowledgement of the phenomenon of a new geography of power because of the interactions of globalization, the new technologies and the world of NGOs contributing to the shrinking of state authority and the explosion of a whole series of new actors engaged in governance activities. 

Secondly, whether the government realizes that the phenomenon of “people power” whether for peace, justice, human rights, sustainable development, quality environment, crime-free or corruption-free society, should be allowed to develop freely and cannot be incubated,  sanctioned or hijacked by the government, creating a division between approved “People’s Power” or NGOs from disapproved “People’s Power” or NGOs, which  was the great weakness of the Malaysians for Peace movement.  

Thirdly, whether Abdullah is prepared to introduce “people power-and-NGOs- friendly” policies when he becomes Prime Minister, starting with the dismantling of repressive and draconian laws and regulations which inhibit the full, free and responsible expression of “people power”.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman