Sin Chew Jit Poh
22 October 2013
In the last few weeks, I have been asked to comment on the recent flurry of political party elections and meetings. Generally I would politely decline. This is because internal political party affairs do not interest me.
Politics in this country is frustrating enough as politicians, particularly from the ruling parties, prefer to avoid fundamental agendas such as corruption, health, governance, rule of law, economic growth and education. Instead the political agenda would be usually something emotive like religion and race; non-issues which only get prominence because politicians force them into public discourse.
If there is so little intellectual content in the political arena between two competing coalitions, imagine how banal internal party politics are. A cursory examination of the various party elections shows me to be correct. So what if person X becomes vice president of UMNO. He is just the same as his opponent because I do not see any differences between the candidates based on ideology.
However, it will be folly to completely dismiss the UMNO elections. They do show us something interesting. And that is, no matter how much he may believe in it, the Prime Minister’s transformation plan is doomed. The UMNO line up is conservative in the extreme (I am trying to use polite words here). Saifuddin Abdullah, the only UMNO politician who has consistently fought for a more progressive approach to governance has been pushed out of the party leadership and what is left are characters who have shown a dangerously regressive attitude towards governance and democracy.
As it is the government gives with one hand and then takes away with another. They promised that they would get rid of the ISA and they did. But they replaced it with the SOSMA which although slightly better, is still open for abuse. They take away detention without trial under the Emergency Ordinance, but now have replaced it with an amendment to the Penal Code which allows for the same thing.
And don’t believe the argument that this kind of law is only used for “criminals” and not “political opponents”. When have they ever detained dissenters on the grounds that they are “political opponents”? They will make things up, usually linking their enemies to some sort of threat or crime. When Hishamuddin Rais and Tian Chua were detained in the early 2000s, they were accused (wrongly) of planning to use firearms. When there is no substantive review by the courts, what is to stop the police and government from falsely accusing their enemies of crimes and then using the laws they have to lock them up?
And now, during the time of writing, there is debate in Parliament to amend the Penal Code again and make it an offence for civil servants to “leak” information. The maximum punishment is one million ringgit. Is this to protect sensitive information or is it to make hard, if not impossible for whistle blowers to expose wrong doings? And I gather there are proposed amendments to the law to make it a crime to fly flags the government does not like.
Looking at the UMNO line up (and that party is the backbone of the current government), looking at the laws passed and proposed, it is clear that we cannot be looking forward to any sort of progressive developments in this country in the context of human rights, rule of law and democracy. Instead we are regressing; which also means that all of Najib Razak’s talk and plans for transforming this nation is still born.