Malaysia's Message To The World : It Could Happen To You

by Ezam Mohd Nor

Six representatives of Malaysian opposition parties and Non-Governmental Organisations(NGOs) will this week present their case at a UN meeting in Geneva, arguing for greater international attention and help in securing human rights in Malaysia. Not only will they argue that human rights are lacking, but they are constantly eroded by official subjugation and suppression of press and individual freedoms, the right to assemble, judicial independence and property rights of ordinary citizens as well as indigenous minorities.

The catalogue of violation is a full one. Twenty years of misrule by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has created a nation with an image of success, but a reality that is far from laudable. While the world, through Hollywood and government propaganda, sees an image of a Malaysia literally towering above the world with the Twin Towers and winning the global at race through Formula One and International Golf championships, ordinary Malaysians are feeling the brunt of authoritarian rule.

The veneer of democracy exists.But it is merely that - a veneer.Like in the former communist countries, elections are periodically held in Malaysia in order to fool the international community into thinking that democracy is alive and well.However, with a disgracefully partisan election commission and a self-admittedly biased press, the government, choking and suffocating freedom of expression in the name of stability.

An Iron Curtain existed in Europe during the Cold War, a Bamboo Curtain (through tattered) still exists in Northern Asia.Around South East Asia today a Batik Curtain is slowly descending.The new mantra of self-proclaimed "Third World Leader" Mahathir and others of his ilk is that human rights is a national issue and the governments of Asia have the absolute rights of life and death over the people.

This new ideology, based on egocentric and xenophobic nationalism, is a dangerous one for Asia.It is founded on the false argument that there should be an indigenous democratic system were the rights of human beings are less than that of their citizens in other continents.Mahathir is in reality arguing that though a European, a South American or a North American can indeed be free from a European, South American or a North American can indeed be free from a European, a South American or a North American can indeed be free from officially-sanctioned torture, Asians should have no such immunity because their "indigenous democratic system" in fact allows for such cruelties to take place.

Mahathir has a cynical and rather absurd world view on human rights.For political reasons, he argues that ill-treatment of Bosnians, Kosovars and Chechens are cruel, inhumane and good reasons for international intervention. On the other hand, when the East Timorese are shot and broken on the streets, Mahathir argued that this was an internal matter and should not involved international peacekeepers.Where indeed is the line drawn?Is it not wrong to say that Mahathir is arguing that the West is always wrong, Asia is always right?

When leaders like Mahathir talk about Asian values, one should take a carefull second look at what he means.To ordinary Asians, "Asian values" mean consensus and co-operation, the defence of members of society from inhumane treatment and cruelty, a togetherness that can best be defined by "gotong-royong" ( a Malay-Indonesian phrase meaning joint work or effort).However, even the most devoted apologist for Mahathir will argue that his self-centred egoistic style of government in un-Asian.In fact, it has more in common with the leadership fashion of fascist rulers.

Mahathir's new ideology is in fact not new at all. For one of a better term, it should be termed "neo-fascism".By this, one does not only mean the rule of such famous fascists as Hitler and Mussolini, but any country, including Asian ones which say that the freedom of their citizens is subservient to the interests of state.In reality, the people and the state because a separation of rulers and the ruled can only lead to reversion of feudalism and class-consciousness.

Leaders who argue that freedoms for ordinary citizens should be limited often do not apply that rule to themselves.In Malaysia, Mahathir wanted a cowered and frightened population to stand aside while he helped himself to the national coffers.Such a story is not new.Dictators from the dawn of time have used fear and intimidation to enrich themselves.Feudal kings and tinpot dictators subsume self and national interests into one in order to pillage and plunder with official connivance.

What is different is that in Malaysia, although corruption is rife and widespread enough for it to be smelt in the corridors of power, the fear that exists is so great that only ordinary citizens have any courage left to protest these injustices.Branches of government, including the judiciary, the police and the evil service, have become too intertwined in a web of self-interest and corrupt connivance that the only objective of Mahathir's government that remains is the perpetuation of power.

When Malaysia (then Malaya) fought for its independence from British rule, the ruling elite and the common people joined hands in order to overthrow colonial might.Now, only the Third Estate, the ordinary peoples of Malaysia, continue the struggle against oppression by indigenous rulers.Such is the stranglehold of Mahathir that whatever remains of the press, the Fourth Estate, continue their subservient existence only to clap on cue at this so-called achievements.

In Malaysia, if one where a minister, one could use that position to give lucrative contracts to one's sons-in-law and not get charged for corruption even after the Attorney-General's chambers recommended prosecution.One can be a police chief and beat blindfolded prisoners until they are half-dead, and get away with only two months' jail.But if one were an ordinary citizen who hit a policeman while driving, the jail sentence will not be shorter than one and a half-years.

Cynics will say that to gain greater freedoms, children in Malaysia should aspire to be ministers of chiefs of police.Cynical and sad, but true. But ordinary citizens should not have to change their social status in order to gain freedoms.It is already guaranteed in the constitution.What we need is a new leader who respects the law, rather than one who mocks the constitution and makes use of the law for personal gains.

On the 15th of April, ordinary Malaysians will again try to congregate peacefully in the national capital of Kuala Lumpur to protest against the injustices of the Mahathir regime.Again, the people will call on the ruling elite, the police the judiciary and other branches of officialdom to break free from their chains and join the people in their struggle.We hope that this time the world will join in sympathy with our struggle.It is a common story, and as can be seen from the recent protests in Zimbabwe, It could happen anywhere in the world where leaders forget that real power belongs to the people, not the ruling elites.