Following reformasi in 1998, many groups are not only talking about a new government but accountability, justice and the environment while Umno responds with the four Rs. Susan Loone reports from a recent forum.
In his speech at a public forum titled ‘Pota (Prevention of Terrorism of Act) and Sedition Act: Where are we heading?’, Aliran president Francis Loh warned of more turbulent times ahead for Malaysians.
Loh (photo) said the current BN-Umno government led by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is unable to adapt to the emergence of “new politics” in the country.
“They rejected the ‘reformasi mode’ which former premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was trying to follow during his tenure (2004 to 2008)and restored the old politics, using authoritarian laws to deal with the rakyat who demanded a new politics,” he said at the event in George Town on 31 May 2015.
“But sorry, the Malaysian society cannot go back to where it was in the past as our economy has transformed forever, from an agricultural society to manufacturing and services,” Loh reflected.
“What is happening now is a real tension between people desiring a new politics and people who feel that new politics will shunt them aside and make them irrelevant,” he added.
Loh said the emergence of new politics saw the middle class community – who were more focussed on personal economic development – willing to participate in political discussions and street protests to express themselves.
Following the reformasi movement in 1998, many groups, registered or not, are not only talking about a new government but good governance, accountability, fight against corruption, transparency, justice and environment, he noted.
“Which is why we see that post-GE13, the country is moving into more exclusivity, ethno-religious tensions and the continuance of the ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) agenda,” he said.
“We can see how Umno is trying to out-Islam Pas with the ‘Allah’ controversy, while Umno was the one who announced it will not oppose to Kelantan implementing the hudud law,” he added.
“This is the era of the 4Rs where race, religion, royalty and repressive laws have replaced 1Malaysia,” he stressed, referring to Najib’s promotion of a united nation when he first assumed power in April 2009.
Loh was sharing his political analysis on why the current regime is bent on using more repressive laws to govern the nation.
He was referring to laws like Pota and the fortifying of the Sedition Act, which was bulldozed through Parliament in April, and passed at midnight without much discussion. These laws were also passed by the Senate on 29 April.
Following GE13, more than 100 individuals, including opposition politicians, social activists, academics, students and journalists have been probed, detained or charged under the Sedition Act.
Loh said Aliran is keeping tabs on the headcount, and the numbers and incidents are featured on its website.
Loh based his political analysis on voting trends from the 1990s, 1999 and 2004, comparing it to the 2008 and 2013 national polls, where it was evident that voters are no longer traditionally voting according to racial lines.
‘Good managers’ of the economy
But BN had remained thus far in the country, since its formation in 1974, despite playing the 3Rs (race, religion and royalty), because they were also “good managers” of the economy.
He said Malaysia proved to be doing better than its neighbours like Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines,except Singapore, including addressing absolute poverty.
“But the emergence and participation of the middle class, this group that is IT savvy, feels that the bread and butter issue is not enough, or to play the race issue, and they desire more,” he said.
“That is why the 4Rs will continue to be used to remain in power; I foresee more turbulence in the coming days, where more repressive laws will be used to control the situation,” he warned.
Also speaking at the forum, co-organised by Aliran, Bersih Northern Region and Suaram, was Syahredzan Johan, co-chairperson of the Bar Council National Young Lawyers committee.
Syahredzan explained in detail the implications of Pota and the amendments to the Sedition Act, which lawyers have often argued, strictly restricts freedom of expression and curtailed human rights, while open to abuse by the authorities.
However, Syahredzan noted that all is not lost when the judiciary do have powers to scrutinise laws to determine whether they are constitutional or not.
“This is because the highest court of the land is the Federal Court, and it can determine whether the law is against the constitution, it can decide that such laws should not be followed.
“Who decides? That job is with the judges, the courts, that is why it is said that when they are laws that go against one’s fundamental liberties, your last bastion are the courts,” he quipped.
Although the courts here are not as pro-active (in scrutinising bad laws), than compared to courts in India, for example, Syahredzan said there were some good examples in recent times.
He cited several cases including a landmark Negri Sembilan case, where the Court of Appeal declared in November last year that Section 66 of the state’s Syariah Criminal Enactment, which bars males from cross-dressing in public, is unconstitutional, null and void.
“These are welcome developments but are few and far between; however, you will see more of such cases in courts as people are now more aware of their rights and will be asserting it in court,” he added.