by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz. First published in The Malay Mail 31 July 2015
Things are moving so rapidly that by the time this is published some of the issues raised here might have evolved, escalated, been resolved, diverted or taken over by other developments. What is certain is that the widespread emotions of frustration, shock, confusion, despair and disappointment will continue to reverberate in political Malaysia throughout the next few days.
As chatter focuses intensely on immediate developments it’s easy to forget the ratcheting up that began even as tubes of lemang were still being cracked open in kampungs across the country, beginning with the unusual travel ban on specific parliamentarians which still has not been sufficiently justified.
Then it was the suspension of the Edge and the attempted suppression of the Sarawak Report. Both these acts are an affront to democracy, an attack on press freedom, an insult to the constitution and a contradiction of the Prime Minister’s own stated sentiments (once upon a time). Comparisons have rightly been made to Ops Lalang in October 1987: a period when UMNO was split into two opposing teams led by Dato’ Seri Dr Mahathir and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah respectively, and the removal of political opponents and control of institutions of state were obviously benefitting Team A. At the time, Tunku Abdul Rahman said “We are on the road to dictatorship. This is no democracy.”
Since 1987 there have been other cases of clampdowns on the media, and since I started writing in 2008 my columns too have been subject to warnings from the Home Ministry, pleas from newspaper editors, threats of court action and the unsanctioned removal or modification of key words that altered the meaning of the article (occasionally gaining me criticism from elsewhere instead) – though I’m glad that this newspaper has not indulged in the latter practice. All these point to a pernicious cloud persistently hovering over our democratic space, and in the highly charged atmosphere, there will be a plentiful supply of lightning and thunder.
Unlike 1987, however, today we have the Internet – access to which has been helped by a combination of previous commitments to no censorship such as in the Multimedia Super Corridor Bill of Guarantees, technical difficulties in restricting access and the availability of tools to circumvent blocks. Recently we have learnt that the government has been investing in spyware designed to snoop on citizens, though.
While countless memes, modified videos and Facebook messages on 1MDB had been circulating for months, on Monday a video that preceded the next major incident surfaced: a speech by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin specifically on the issue. That evening I greeted him at the CIMB Group Hari Raya Open House, and the next day he attended his last function as Deputy Prime Minister in Negeri Sembilan.
The cabinet reshuffle (with its ramifications on the Public Accounts Committee), the replacement of the Attorney General (whether constitutional or not) and the Special Branch chief have further fuelled perceptions of deliberate subversion, manipulation and centralisation of control over check and balance institutions, the obliteration of the rule of law and predictions of further authoritarian measures to come, with one website naming specific imminent victims.
Foreign news outlets (not just the WSJ and NYT this time) have similarly commented on the sequence of events, and civil society groups have been meeting to organise public responses – IDEAS’ first act was to drop Datuk Nur Jazlan from the Council, and unlike Cabinet reshuffles, we told him by phone before making the announcement.
The reaction of those axed from office (not just the politicians but their staff as well) and other stakeholders has been equally frenetic, albeit behind closed doors where battles between people are just as important as individuals’ internal battles where consciences and principles are pitted against the basic desire for survival and advancement. Many will want to test the waters, but as the days pass, the fence on which they sit may be swept away by hydraulic action.
A great song by Malaysian songstress Najwa coincidentally came on as I wrote this. It’s called Got to Go and has the lyrics: “Why you always makin’ me cry / No I can’t stand it / No you can’t be my man / It don’t matter who you are / Even if you are a star / You’ve got to go”. In the last chorus loop over modified chords (Fmaj7 Gm7 Am7 Gm7 becomes Dm7 Cm7-F Bb9 Dm/F-F/A) she emphasises “I don’t want you here / You’ve got to go, go go go, go go go.”
However, despite these denunciatory lyrics, in the music video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d46P4D-1jhQ) it is not he who goes at the end; rather she leaves in a vintage vehicle with a catchy licence plate. How odd.
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Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz is Founding President of IDEAS