March 14, 2016
Citizens’Declaration: Save Malaysia OR Save UMNO?
by Boo Su-Lyn
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and other prominent politicians and civil society leaders announced their “Citizens’ Declaration” with much fanfare, but their Save Malaysia movement has created deep divisions as some grassroots activists feel that the former Prime Minister cannot be both Malaysia’s destroyer and saviour.
Bersih 2.0, the organisation that mobilised thousands to the streets last year in one of Malaysia’s biggest rallies, issued a statement yesterday distancing themselves from the Citizens’ Declaration that called for Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak’s removal, saying that their chairman Maria Chin Abdullah had signed the document in her personal capacity.
According to Bersih 2.0 steering committee member Thomas Fann, a few of the electoral reform movement’s endorsing NGOs said in a meeting with Bersih 2.0 that they did not support the Citizens’ Declaration, although the “vast majority” were “cautiously supportive”.
“One reason is Tun himself. If it’s not him, there’s nothing wrong with the declaration,” Fann told Malay Mail Online.
He said the civil society groups opposed to the Citizens’ Declaration believed that Dr Mahathir — the country’s longest serving Prime Minister behind the infamous Ops Lalang that saw over 100 opposition politicians and activists detained without trial in 1987 — was “responsible for this whole situation”.
“He laid the foundation for Najib to become what he is. So they find it very difficult to accept that he’s now leading this reform; they struggle with that,” Fann said.
Fann added that most in the Bersih 2.0 steering committee supported Chin in various degrees in signing the Citizens’ Declaration, with “some “very supportive, some cautiously supportive, some with a lot of reservation”.
Political writer and former journalist Kee Thuan Chye said he disagreed with Dr Mahathir leading the Save Malaysia movement as he believed that the elder statesman’s agenda was to save UMNO, the country’s long ruling party.
“I don’t believe he is sincere about instituting reform when he was the architect of the system in the first place and had allowed his party to thrive on it,” Kee told Malay Mail Online.
“What happens after Najib is toppled? Will the person who takes over continue to take advantage of the rotten system?” he questioned.
Even before the controversial announcement of the Citizens’ Declaration on March 4, Dr Mahathir was seen earlier in anti-establishment company at the Cooler Lumpur Festival last June, where he denied his role in the 1988 judicial crisis and defended his decision to award citizenship to immigrants in Sabah. “Projek IC” was an initiative that allegedly granted citizenship to illegal immigrants in Sabah in exchange for their votes in elections.
Best Picture of the Year
An activist told Malay Mail Online on condition of anonymity that the Save Malaysia movement, which comprises big names such as former MCA President Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik, former Malaysian Bar President Dato’Ambiga Sreenevasan, DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang and PKR Deputy President Dato’Seri Azmin Ali among others, was a “consolidation of egos, not people’s power”.
“It is a systemic change we want [that] requires us to be honest about power structures and how we relate to them. Most of those clamouring for it perpetuate it in their own little kingdoms,” said the activist.
Big Influence on Maria Chin and Dato’Ambiga
Aside from the dissent in civil society circles against the Save Malaysia movement, a few opposition politicians have also come out and reportedly accused federal opposition pact Pakatan Harapan of betrayal.
Despite all the star power in the Save Malaysia movement, it remains to be seen if the movement will be able to convince the grassroots to go along with a man who had shaped the country in his two decades of authoritarian rule, for better or for worse.