open up investigations into the denial of human rights of Members of
Parliament from effectively discharging their responsibilities as elected
representatives, bearing in mind the string of victimized MPs like Lim
Guan Eng, Fong Po Kuan and Karpal Singh
- in the dialogue between DAP and Keadilan MPs and Suhakam Commissioners led by Suhakam Chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman
by Lim Kit Siang
(Kuala Lumpur, Friday): The 2003 Suhakam Report attempted an assessment of “The State of Human Rights” in Chapter 2, which has proved in a matter of months to bea too rosy and euphoric account of the human rights situation in Malaysia.
“Malaysia’s human rights had, as in the previous year, a mixed record. Positive highlights from the human rights perspective for 2003 included the announcement by the Election Commission in September to allow political parties to conduct open-air rallies during campaigning in the upcoming general election, provided they obtain police permits to do so; the release of the Mid-Term Review of the Eighth Malaysia Plan 2001-2005 in October which showed that general hardcore poverty among Malaysians has decreased; the announcement by the Government in December that controversial laws such as the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) that are ‘lacking in human rights aspects’ will be improved from time to time to make the laws more humane; and the announcement on the establishment of a Royal Commission to Enhance the Operations and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police.
“These positive developments were however marred by certain events, including complaints of police inaction, inadequate attention to the rights of vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities and the initial refusal of the Police to grant a women’s NGO permit to organize a rally in Kuala Lumpur against rape and violence against women.”
Suhakam was clearly bending doubly backwards to try to sound fair in its assessment by talking about a “mixed record”, although in a few short months, what it described as examples of “positive developments” have mostly proved to be illusory or ephemeral.
I will just refer to two of these four “positive developments”. Firstly, the general election held on 21st March 2004 was the most chaotic, disgraceful and unfair general election in the nation’s 46-year history, riddled with electoral abuses without a level playing field, such as the traditional 3M abuses of money politics, abuses of government machinery and media monopoly and manipulation, like the Barisan Nasional “phantom election advertisements” in the Chinese press promising that Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would be the “modern-day Justice Bao” to cleanse a Barisan Nasional government “corrupt and rotten to the very core” (which was denied in Parliament as BN advertisements) – resulting in a record number of election petitions of all 11 general elections.
The credibility and legitimacy of the recent general election is compounded by the outrageous situation where there could be the fullest ventilation in the public domain about the injustices and iniquities of the recent general election except in the august chamber of Parliament, purportedly the highest deliberative and legislative chamber in the land!
Which is all a great pity, for Abdullah’s landslide victory in the March 21 general election was never in doubt, with the “feel good” euphoria he had evoked, the nation-wide relief of a possibility of change and fulfillment of the new Prime Minister’s pledge of a clean, incorruptible, efficient, transparent, trustworthy and people-oriented government after over two decades of high-handed and arbitrary Mahathir rule.
If the March 21 general election had been the exemplar of a clean, free and fair general election, with a level playing field for all contesting parties, the Barisan Nasional would still have been returned with a thumping two-thirds parliamentary majority, easily in the region between 75% to 85% of the parliamentary seats. Abdullah won the unprecedented 90.4% of the parliamentary seats on March 21, but with grave doubts about the credibility, integrity and legitimacy of the electoral process and result because of the most unfair, chaotic and disgraceful misconduct of the general election – which was why I had wanted to move an impeachment motion of no confidence against the Election Commission Chairman and the other Commissioners but which was voided by the Speaker.
Is it worth it, for BN to win an extra five to 10 per cent of the parliamentary seats, but with the legitimacy of the whole election as well as the professionalism and integrity of the Election Commission forever under a cloud?
As for the second “positive development”, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim, the Minister who made the announcement that the government would review the ISA and other “controversial” laws had been shunted off to the “less controversial” ministry of arts, culture and heritage – undoubtedly because of his many “controversial” pronouncements like this one and the famous one about the “18 high-profile corruption cases” which has forced the government into a “mission impossible” of trying to cover-up the identities of the “high-profile 18”.
Yesterday in Parliament, notice was given of a motion to refer the DAP MP for Bukit Glugor, Karpal Singh, to the Committee of Privileges because of his tiff with the Speaker, Tun Zahir Ismail, on whether MPs should take their oaths by raising their right hands – which is a totally arcane subject to ordinary t Malaysians.
Without anticipating the debate on the merits or demerits of the motion, or even the question whether a First World Reform Parliament should be wasting its precious time on what is a most trivial and inconsequential matter, this development should be a reminder to Suhakam to open up investigations into the denial of human rights of Members of Parliament from effectively discharging their responsibilities as elected representatives, bearing in mind the string of victimized MPs like Lim Guan Eng, Fong Po Kuan and Karpal Singh (who had previously been suspended from Parliament).
I wish here to draw attention of Suhakam to a new threat to human rights. I refer to the Utusan Malaysia front-page headline yesterday: “Kit Siang persoal negara Islam”.
There may be those who regard this as the advent of a new press freedom, with Utusan Malaysia showing the way of fair reporting even to the Opposition and DAP, as it is well known Utusan Malaysia editorial policy for the past two decades to treat me as a “non-person”, which was why Utusan Malaysia refused to report even a single paragraph of my speech of over five hours in the debate on the Royal Address on May 20, although I had specifically spoken about the plight of Felda settlers and Orang Asli.
There may be others who might think that the Utusan Malaysia front-page report portend a greater openness, confidence and maturity in our plural society where a leading Malay daily is prepared to open up its columns to a serious discussion of important national issues – like the basis and character of the Merdeka “social contract” on which Malaysia was founded, especially as the Prime Minister had called on Malaysians to uphold the “social contract” only in the last weekend.
Those who are more knowledgeable about Malaysian politics, however, are r fearful about my political future and even safety. Only on Monday, when SUARAM presented its Human Rights Report to the government and opposition in Parliament, I had remarked that I had a double-major under the ISA, and I do not know whether I would be doing a Tripos. With the Utusan Malaysia front-page headline yesterday, many are worried that I might be heading for a Tripos under the ISA.
Gong by its past record, the Utusan Malaysia front-page headline report yesterday was the first step of a set-up to prepare for a political onslaught, reminiscent of the political onslaughts over the Suqiu controversy in 2000 or as far back as 1987 before the clampdown with the mass ISA arrests under Operation Lalang.
These fears have been proved right by the Utusan Malaysia today, which carried another front-page headline with the incendiary warning to me: “’Jangan bermain api’
The next three months are very dangerous months for democracy, human rights and nation-building in Malaysia – for they are the run-up months to the UMNO, UMNO Youth and Wanita UMNO party elections in September, where ambitious aspirants for high office have no scruples to sacrifice principles, sense of responsibility and national interest if all this are necessary to win votes in the September UMNO party elections.
Utusan Malaysia today carried reports critical of me based on its front-page report yesterday. I am waiting for the Hansard of Wedneday’s proceeding on my speech in Parliament on the Prime Minister’s Department where I debated the issue whether Malaysia is an Islamic State and whether this is in accordance with the “social contract”, to decide whether to refer Utusan Malaysia to the Committee of Privileges for its secondary front-page headline: “Ketua Pembangkang juga pertikaikan mengapa ketua kerajaan harus orang Islam”, which distorted what I had said.
I had not questioned why the head of government in Malaysia is a Muslim, which reflects the political realities in Malaysia. But I had questioned why the government is staking a position that the Prime Minister must be a Muslim in accordance with its definition of an Islamic State, when the Malaysian Constitution is very clear that the post is open to all Malaysians, regardless of race or religion. I had contrasted this with the latest development in India, where a member of the Sikh religious minority, Manmohan Singh, has become Prime Minister of India.
I thank the UMNO Youth exco member in charge of religious secretariat, Shamsul Najmi Shamsuddin, who reminded me to be careful when making statements about Islam which could tarnish the image of Islam and cause disunity among the community and destabilize the country’s security.
I am very careful about what I said about Islam and Islamic State in Parliament, and this is why I will not allow anyone, including Utusan Malaysia and Bernama, to distort what I had said.
For the record, I made the salient point in Parliament on Wednesday that my statement that the ‘social contract” reached by the major communities on Merdeka in 1957 that Malaysia is a secular democracy with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic State is the position which had been publicly articulated by the first three Prime Ministers of Malaysia, namely Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak and Tun Hussein Onn.
I also explained in Parliament that the secular Malaysia intended by the founding fathers and the first three Prime Ministers never meant an anti-Islam or anti-religion Malaysia, but one where the best values of all the great religions to be found in Malaysia guide the nation-building process – which is restated by the 1970 Rukunegara.
Presiden Persatuan Wartawan Melayu Malaysia (PWMM) Datuk Yazid Othman was quoted in Berita Harian as saying that “tindakan Kit Siang mempertikaikan kenapa ketua kerajaan negara ini harus terdiri daripada kalangan orang Islam, bukan saja melampau tetapi mempunyai unsur hasutan”.
I congratulate Yazid for his recent conferment of award by the Yang di Pertuan Agong but I hope that is for his contribution to journalism to establish a free and responsible press and not for his propagandistic subservience and servility.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader,
Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor & DAP National Chairman