Call on all political parties, both ruling and opposition, to learn the lesson of the landmark Federal Court judgment setting   Anwar Ibrahim free after six years of incarceration that justice, democracy and good governance  should not be seen  as a zero sum game but “win-win” pursuits for the best interests of the nation and people

by Lim Kit Siang

(Ipoh, Saturday): One of the questions journalists asked me  after the landmark Federal Court decision on Thursday acquitting former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy charges and  conviction and setting him free after six years of imprisonment was  whether Anwar’s release would be a threat to UMNO.

I answered that I did not see why it should be seen as  a zero sum game, that someone’s  gain must be seen as at another’s loss. 

Anwar’s acquittal and regaining of his lost liberty and rights  is good for him allowing him to walk out as a free man and to go to Munich for his long-delayed medical treatment of his choice; good for  his family particularly his wife Datin Seri Dr. Azizah Wan Ismail and his six children who had suffered even more for six years; good for his political party after a major electoral setback in the March general election and good for the Malaysian Opposition belabouring under the greatest parliamentary defeat in the 47-year history of the nation, with the Barisan Nasional winning an unprecedented nine-tenth parliamentary majority. 

But it is also good for  the system of justice after being the object of international opprobrium for more than one-and-a-half decade since the arbitrary and unconstitutional dismissal of the Lord President, Tun Salleh Abas and two Supreme Court judges in 1988, climaxing with the  report "Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000",  a terrible indictment of the judiciary and  the rule of law in Malaysia by the international community  of lawyers and judges.  The majority Federal Court judgment acquitting Anwar was the first major turning point in 16 years giving hope that Malaysia can restore national and international confidence with  a truly independent judiciary and a just rule of law. 

It is good for  human rights, democracy, good governance and the fundamental principle of the separation of powers of the three branches of government.  It is good for UMNO and  Barisan Nasional.  It is so good for the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that one foreign newspaper had described Abdullah as the biggest winner – that he is “being seen as the man whose calming manner made it possible for Malaysia to begin to put one of its darkest political moments behind it at last”.

It may not be good for Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and his cronies and diehards – but the interests of a few must not stand in the way of the welfare of the overwhelming majority of the people and the nation.

All political parties, both ruling and opposition, should  learn the lesson of the landmark Federal Court judgment setting   Anwar Ibrahim free after six years of incarceration -  that justice, democracy and good governance  should not be seen  as a zero sum game but “win-win” pursuits for  the best interests of the nation and people 

Nobody believes that with Tun Dr. Mahathir as the Prime Minister, the Federal Court would have come out with such a judgment to acquit Anwar on Thursday, and Abdullah deserves credit for creating the environment where such a landmark judgment could be made with his public commitment  that the government would not interfere with the judiciary and would respect its decisions. 

The Federal Court decision acquitting Anwar is the single most significant event in the ten month premiership of Abdullah, giving concrete form and shape to his pledge in his maiden official speech delivered in Parliament on November 3, 2003 that he would respect the separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary as it is important to maintain the checks and balances needed to prevent abuses of power. 

Malaysians are  mindful however that one swallow does not a summer make, and that although a good start has been made, the country is still a very long way just to return to the finest hour of the Malaysian judiciary under the first three Prime Ministers when Malaysia enjoyed an unblemished reputation, both nationally and internationally, for having  an independent, impartial and incorruptible judiciary. 

Ten months after becoming Prime Minister, Abdullah’s pledge for a clean, incorruptible, accountable, efficient, people-oriented administration which is prepared to hear the truth from the rakyat, is still mostly at the level of rhetorics and he has still to “walk the talk”. 

The first significant step has been taken to restore national and international confidence in a truly independent judiciary and a just rule of law in Malaysia.  When will be the other follow-up steps, together with structural and institutional reforms in the system of justice to give meaning to the principles of judicial accountability and transparency? 

When will the first substantive turning points be taken to deliver the Prime Minister’s various pledges to have a clean, incorruptible, accountable, trustworthy, efficient, people-oriented government when, for instance,  not a single one of the “18 high-profile cases” promised in February this year in the war of corruption had yet been brought to book?

Learning  the lesson of the landmark Federal Court judgment setting   Anwar Ibrahim free that justice, democracy and good governance  is not a zero sum game but  are “win-win” pursuits for  the best interests of the nation and people, all political parties should work towards achieving a national consensus on the political  reforms necessary to ensure accountability, transparency and good governance, starting with a minimum programme which should include the  following: 

  • Parliamentary reforms and modernization to create a First-World Parliament;
  • Restoration of local government elections;
  • Elevation of  the status of the Anti-Corruption Agency into a fully independent and credible  body, answerable only to Parliament;
  • Create a free, independent and responsible press starting with the repeal of the annual press licensing laws and dismantling of political ownership of the media;
  • Repeal of the Official Secrets Act and enactment of a Freedom of Information Act;
  • Repeal of Internal Security Act with all ISA detainees charged in an open court of law or their immediate release

The DAP National Congress,  gathered in Ipoh today and tomorrow, is the occasion to  reaffirm  the party’s  commitment to the cause of   democracy, human rights, justice  and good governance for all Malaysians.

We have however  an added responsibility – which was the raison d’etre for the DAP’s Kinta Valley mission in the 2004 general election, to be in the forefront in the second great nation-building test for the nation, to defend and uphold the 47-year Merdeka “social contract” that Malaysia is a secular democracy with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic State, whether ala-PAS or ala-UMNO.

The  DAP decision to make Perak the second front-line state after Penang was prompted by the failure of the DAP’s earlier “No to 929 Campaign”  (to reject the declaration by the then Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir at the Gerakan National Delegates Conference on Sept. 29, 2001 that Malaysia was an Islamic State) to make Malaysian voters aware by the time Parliament was dissolved that the 2004 general election was a great and critical nation-building test to decide whether the Merdeka “social contract” was to live on as a national charter or be abandoned and thrown into the dustbin of history, paving the way for Malaysia to embark on the road of an Islamic State. 

The  endorsement by the people of Kinta Valley with  DAP victory in Ipoh Timor, Ipoh Barat and Batu Gajah parliamentary constituencies and seven state assembly seats in Perak State of the DAP Kinta Valley mission in the 2004 general election was  a loud and clear message against any attempt to abandon the social contract that Malaysia is a secular democracy with Islam as the official religion.

We had always  believed  that it is not only non-Malays who will oppose the abandonment of the Merdeka “social contract” if they are aware of the facts of the political situation, the majority of Malays and Muslims  also do not want Malaysia to become an Islamic State. 

However, political conditions have altered considerably in the past two decades inhibiting moderate Malay and Muslim leaders from emulating the examples of Bapa Malaysia and first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, second Prime Minister, Tun Razak and third Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn from  speaking out publicly  to defend the Merdeka “social contract’ and to remind Malaysians that Malaysia was never conceived to be an Islamic State. 

The DAP’s Kinta Valley mission was therefore to preserve a window of opportunity for the defence and upholding of the Merdeka “social contract”, for all Malaysians, whether Muslims or non-Muslims.

The battle for defend the 47-year-old  social contract, the 1957 Merdeka Constitution, the 1963 Malaysia Agreement and the 1970 Rukunegara that Malaysia is a secular democracy with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic State, whether ala-PAS or ala-UMNO, is not over with the 2004 general election. 

This battle continues between UMNO and PAS, as evident not only in the recent Kuala Berang by-election, but in the Islam Hadhari of UMNO in response to PAS’ Islamic State Document.  Islam Hadhari has been explained as progressive Islam but it clearly also incorporates the “929 Declaration” that Malaysia is an Islamic State.  Such  competition has begun to affect the rights of Malaysians under the Merdeka social contract. 

If Malaysia is a democracy, then all Malaysians, regardless of religious faith, must decide on the future of the Merdeka social contract that Malaysia is a secular democracy with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic State. 

DAP and all Malaysians must engage with Political Islam without compromising the Merdeka social contract on Malaysia as a secular nation  with Islam as the official religion  and in a manner which is compatible with democracy, human rights, women’s rights,  justice, social tolerance, pluralism, and modernity.  

The  preservation of the Merdeka social contract is not only important for nation-building and national unity, it is a prerequisite if Malaysia is to be a world-class global player, a vibrant, competitive and creative  nation which could retain the best talents and attract the world’s  brains to meet the challenges of information and communications technology and  globalization. 

Close to half-century of independent nationhood, and midway in the 30-year Vision 2020 to create a Bangsa Malaysia, the time has come  for full recognition that in the era of globalization and  ICT, Malaysia’s place in the international economy will be decided not by the competition between bumiputeras and non-bumiputeras or between  Malays and non-Malays, but by Malaysia’s ability to compete with the rest of the world. 

For Malaysia to successful meet the challenges of globalization and ICT, Malaysia must become a brand name for integrity, transparency, excellence, meritocracy, creativity, justice, democracy and  sustainable development, with the “Malaysia Boleh” spirit  channelled to meaningful, substantive and purposeful directions and measures, such as producing world-class competitiveness, world-class universities, world-class police force, world-class civil service, world-class sportsmen and women and be among the world’s least corrupt nations  instead of having the tallest, longest or biggest infrastructure or object  in the world. 

It will be wrong to ignore or disregard the ills and destabilising effects of globalization which has aggravated  greater disparity in the increasing concentration of income, resources and wealth among people, corporations and countries.  It is urgent and imperative that  Malaysia  join international forces to ensure that globalization has a human face,  that it works for people and not just for profits, and that there is an  equitable distribution of the opportunities and rewards of globalisation and not concentrate power and wealth in a select group of people, nations and corporations while marginalizing the others.

Let all Malaysians unite  as a Bangsa Malaysia to safeguard secular democracy and take on the global challenges. 


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor & DAP National Chairman