Citizens’ Declaration – first step or false start?


March 14, 2016

Citizens’ Declaration – first step or false start?

Malaysians might agree with some reluctance to forgive and forget and unite around a meaningful platform for change but not around such an insipid, uninspiring and incomplete declaration.

 COMMENT:
Like it or not, Mahathir carries with him too much baggage from the past to be accepted at face value. It is up to him to convince the nation that he is now acting in its best interest, that he is willing to embrace the kind of genuine democratic principles that alone can guarantee our future.–Dennis Ignatius

majlis-deklarasiTun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad wants to save UMNO Baru and then become a party member again

By Dennis Ignatius

The remarkable gathering of political and civil society leaders and the “Citizens’ Declaration” they signed continues to reverberate across the political landscape.

That opposition and civil society leaders who participated in the gathering now feel obliged to justify if not defend their decision to join Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his quest to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak says something about how controversial it has all become.

The day after tomorrow

There is, of course, no argument that Najib has been disastrous for the nation. All but a few self-serving cronies and an assorted coterie of hangers-on are united in the view that Najib should be pressured through whatever democratic means available to step down as quickly as possible.

It is what comes next that is the fly in the ointment.

Those who joined Mahathir last week insist that the immediate priority is to get rid of Najib because the country can no longer endure his maladministration. While few would dispute that, many are equally suspicious of Mahathir’s motives.

What is Dr Mahathir fighting for?

Has the éminence grise of Malaysian politics undergone a Damascus road experience and come out convinced that only drastic change can save the nation or is he being as Mahathirian as ever, seeking to exploit public discontent purely to further his own political agenda? Is his goal democratic transformation or merely the continuation of UMNO’s hegemonic rule under a more competent and pliable leader?

When questioned about Mahathir’s motives, many of the participants sought to sidestep the issue in the interest of creating a united front against Najib. One signatory even dismissed such concerns as “irrelevancies of the moment” while others urged the public to focus on the big picture.

Alluding to these concerns, Mahathir himself would only say that it was something that politicians could fight about later.

The general public, however, appear unconvinced. They have harboured hopes for change for too long to now acquiesce in political games and they baulk at following even trusted leaders like Lim Kit Siang without a more convincing road map for change.They have good reason to be wary.

No regrets

“All we are being asked to do at the moment is to support what looks like a campaign to replace one UMNO leader with another cut from the same cloth.”

Throughout his long and bitter campaign to dislodge Najib, Mahathir has consistently argued that he is fighting to save UMNO and ensure its long-term survivability, something that both UMNO Deputy President Muhyiddin Yassin and former Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir reaffirmed just days after the signing ceremony.

Even Mahathir’s resignation from UMNO was not a rejection of the party per se but a dramatic manoeuvre to pile pressure on Najib to leave.

Mahathir also does not appear to be a man with second thoughts about his past policies and actions. In fact, he has never admitted to his own culpability for the sorry state our nation is in today. Judging by his many statements since he resigned as Prime Minister, he appears to see his years in office as a sort of golden era to which we must return.

The only mistake he admits to is his poor choice of successors but that is little consolation.Furthermore, he has given no indication whatsoever that he is ready to embrace the kind of democratic values that so many want so much to see established in our nation. Indeed, he has always believed that democracy is vastly overrated and that a developing country like Malaysia needs a strong, almost absolute leader at the helm; just not the present one.

He is no democrat and he has never pretended to be one.And then to have some of the other unrepentant engineers of our present plight seated smugly at the table passing themselves off as would-be reformists and saviours, as if yesterday didn’t exist, was simply, I suspect, too much to swallow for many people.

Scraps from the table

Mahathir’s only concession to democracy at the meeting was a passing reference, towards the very end of the declaration, to constitutional rights and freedoms, all stuffed into a mere two of the thirty-six paragraphs of the declaration.

Cynics would undoubtedly see it not as a change of heart but a clever tactical concession to win over his detractors.

But such is Mahathir’s charisma, force of personality and political standing that when he summons the nation to battle, even his most implacable foes feel obliged to respond notwithstanding their reservations about him.

Anwar Ibrahim, for example, who has been so horribly and shamefully treated by Mahathir, graciously reached out from his prison cell to endorse the doctor’s initiative in the interest of the nation.

And such is the depth of despair and angst in our nation today that people with unquestionable integrity who have struggled long and hard and have made enormous personal sacrifices to build a better nation are now willing to accept the scraps from Mahathir’s table – a few half-hearted and weak assurances of democratic reform at some future date – in the hope that it will lead to real change.

If Mahathir, however, is unwilling to concede the need for genuine democracy, justice and inclusiveness when he is at his weakest, it is surely too much to expect him to do so when he is once again in firm control of UMNO-BN.

Like it or not, Mahathir carries with him too much baggage from the past to be accepted at face value. It is up to him to convince the nation that he is now acting in its best interest, that he is willing to embrace the kind of genuine democratic principles that alone can guarantee our future.

In spite of all the misgivings Malaysians might have about him, there’s a good chance that the nation will follow him once again if he would but lay before us all a clear path to national redemption.

Insipid and uninspiring

Ambiga, Maria Chin, and Hishamuddin Rais sold out Bersih

In the meantime, the call to all Malaysians to unite around Mahathir for the good of the nation is unlikely to arouse a national awakening.

Malaysians might agree, with some reluctance perhaps, to forgive and forget and unite around a meaningful platform for change but not around such an insipid, uninspiring and incomplete declaration.

Nelson Mandela asked his nation to let bygones be bygones on the promise of building a new and democratic South Africa where all are treated with equality and respect. All we are being asked to do at the moment is to support what looks like a campaign to replace one UMNO leader with another cut from the same cloth.

Clearly, if Mahathir and the co-signatories of the Declaration want to generate the kind of unstoppable power for change, they will have to come up with a more comprehensive plan of action.

A road map to the future

What is needed is a clear and uncompromising road map for the restoration of democracy and the renewal of our national institutions. Releasing Anwar Ibrahim from prison and allowing him to resume his political role in the nation is also a must. Unlike so many others at last week’s gathering, Anwar has earned the right to sit at the table.

To be sure, it will be a challenging task and will almost certainly take longer to construct but it will force all parties to agree upon the kind of nation we want to see going forward. And the consensus that emerges from such a meeting of minds will, in all likelihood, be far more enduring.

If the signatories to the Citizens’ Declaration will now take it upon themselves to deepen the discussion on these issues with a view to drawing up a workable road map for change, the meeting will come to be seen as a good first step instead of a false start.

And if such a meeting of minds is unattainable, Mahathir’s initiative should be summarily abandoned; we would be better off focusing our efforts on building a more viable coalition to take on Umno-BN at the next elections.

Our nation is ripe for change. There’s a sliver of hope. Let’s not squander it on the expediencies of the moment.

Dennis Ignatius has served as former Malaysian Ambassador to Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay. From 2001 to June 2008 he was the High Commissioner to Canada.

23 thoughts on “Citizens’ Declaration – first step or false start?

  1. This is simply another article that will bring joy and encouragement to PM Najib. With the opposition in confusion over the Citizen’s Declaration. And civil society groups and prominent individuals uncertain and doubtful on the success of such campaigns it appears to be defeated even before it gets off the ground. Well people, be prepared for Najib and Rosmah to remain for many more years to come.
    I was watching a clip on the demonstrations planned in Brazil for the impeachment of the President. One of the demonstrators brought his hand to his mouth to suggest that the corruption practises of the President was about to drown the people. Here in Malaysia corruption is over our heads and people are hopelessly despondent and lost but we still find faults with any reasonable plans to deal with the problem. Only toothless critics. I don’t like Mahathir’s plans at all but hey, why not work to get that ball rolling at least. It cannot be worse then what we have at the moment.

  2. Will this ever happen?

    1. A care-taker PM (acceptable to both BN and to Pakatan Harapan) takes over

    2. Free and fair General Election to be held within __ months.
    International observers invited to witness the GE.
    Anwar Ibrahim to be released from prison and eligible
    to take part in the GE.

    3. Results of GE to be respected by all (even with our flawed and gerrymandered
    electoral system)

    4. Prosecution of big sharks from previous regime. Amnesty for small fish after testifying before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (and after returning the loot taken by the small fish)

    5. A new Constitution to be drawn up, acceptable to all parties who take part in the drawing up of the new Constitution.

  3. Such eloquence and the best article I have ever read on this issue or any other issue. If we wait for all the pieces of the puzzle to fall in place it may take thirty years. Remember that just recently the Philippines observed the 30th anniversary of the departure of His Excellency President Marcos. In the meantime the population of Philipines has grown by 30 million and citizens who did not know Prestdent Marcos are also enjoying his legacy.

  4. “The general public, however, appear unconvinced. They have harboured hopes for change for too long to now acquiesce in political games and they baulk at following even trusted leaders like Lim Kit Siang without a more convincing road map for change.They have good reason to be wary.”

    The “general public” includes folks in Pitas, Batu Rakit, and Bukit Ibam. Most people can’t point these out on a map. But thanks to BN’s best friend, Mr. Jerry Mandering (sic), their views count more, proportionally, than those of urbanites.

    So what do these folks make of the statement that they – yes, they, the folks in Pitas, Batu Rakit, and Bukit Ibam – have “have harboured hopes for change for too long to now acquiesce in political games and they baulk at following even trusted leaders like Lim Kit Siang without a more convincing road map for change.”

    I don’t think they can make any sense of it.

    “But we must hang Mr. Jerry Mandering from the nearest tree, dammit!” Yes, I fully agree – but you need to win political power first. You are expecting BN to give up their own weapon voluntarily? Chicken, egg. Just like the release of Anwar can only come after, not before.

    “And for heaven’s sake will someone tell these village idiots to wake up? After decades of…(insert cliched 10-minute rant here)…their future generations!”

    Again I agree, but are you going to Pitas personally to wake them up? It’s far more strenuous than preaching change via the internet to the already converted.

  5. “And if such a meeting of minds is unattainable, Mahathir’s initiative should be summarily abandoned; we would be better off focusing our efforts on building a more viable coalition to take on Umno-BN at the next elections.

    Our nation is ripe for change. There’s a sliver of hope. Let’s not squander it on the expediencies of the moment.”

    Whence comes this hope?

    The 51% of the popular vote, with a united Oppo under Anwar’s charismatic leadership, may have been the zenith. Right now it’s far less rosy.

    You have Kak Wan as “leader” and you’re down well over a million votes that PAS heartland voters may not transfer to Amanah. That’s a huge chunk. Najib’s wooing of Hadi Awang was not without selfish motivations, every bit as selfish as Dr M working with the Oppo, or Anwar refusing to choose a capable successor and plumping instead for Ol’ Mrs. Doorstop. (“Choose your slimeball”.)

    And urban PH needs to have a mindshift:

    http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2013/05/14/ge13-and-the-politics-of-urban-chauvinism/

    There is no “new coalition” that can be formed from the dead PR. And there is very little hope. There have to be 2-way fights only, there has to be a real appeal to UMNO grassroots to jump ship, and you have to assume that GE14 will even happen.

  6. Of course, Najib could just feel threatened enough to charge Dr M and throw him in jail. That will really be quite a cheap thrill for many, and we will have a warm glow as we pen predictable articles with “karma” in the headlines.

    But cheap thrills don’t last, and then you realise Najib is still there, and going nowhere for a long, long time.

  7. “If DAP leaders are in the Cabinet, then its because they are not syncophants. They are in the Cabinet because they are interested in nation building, and not in business deals. They must reject corruption and are not interested in perpetrating or participating in cover-ups. They will hold their respective portfolios on merit and have good policies to offer. If Kit Siang is in the Cabinet to replace the MCA component, it will be good for the country.”

    http://www.zaid.my/current/malays-dap-alliance/

  8. Ferdi, you keep building these elaborate straw men (and don’t get me wrong, for Protun rhetoric its pretty …well….exhausting) but it doesn’t change the fact, that this CD is business as usual for that segment – a majority I’ll grant you – who in the end will do nothing for the progressive forces in this country.

    And maybe that’s the point.

  9. This attempt at regime change reminds me of the US-led Coalition to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Look at the similarities..

    IRAQ MALAYSIA
    Saddam Hussein Najib Razak
    President Bush Dr Mahathir
    Tony Blair Anwar Ibrahim
    WMD 1MDB
    Exit Plan Entry Plan

    The Entry Plan is totally inadequate, just like the Exit Plan was for Iraq.

  10. aitze,

    Nah! More like Azmin Ali : Richard Nixon………hahahahaha
    _________________
    Yes, he’s Tricky Ali. Din Merican.

  11. Look why is all this belaboring of Octo’s motives or none thereof? Do you detractors really think all the C.D signatories are naive or brain dead?

    The fact remains Octo always act for the survival of his beloved version of UMNOb. He will use whatever means at his disposal. It is no use talking about systemic change, when the main barrier hasn’t been breached. Milestone 1.

    The Scoundrel and Pirate has hijacked everything Octo stood for and plagiarized unashamedly his methods – including Sodomy II. Therefore, Octo feels entitled to his Intellectual Property Rights, which they aren’t admitting to. The present batch of Entitled Goons are feeling the Heat, but refuse to get outta kitchen – until the stove explodes. Which will be soon.

    What we don’t see is the backroom haggling that has been going on. Rant all you want, but deals have been made, some of which will surely become ‘shock and awe’ when revealed when certain milestones have been achieved. DAP-PKR in Fed government under MY, for instance? This is.. yeah, the Coalition of The Willing, as aitze so cleverly pointed out.

    Nothing is impossible. Octo intuitively sees the Boltzmann distribution way ahead of those idiots who can only see the curve of each other’s skulls – which the need for nit-picking.

    That’s how things work. It is a wonder relatively low ranking ex-diplomats have so much to say – which is nothing at all.

  12. “Do you detractors really think all the C.D signatories are naive or brain dead?”

    I won’t have words with you CLF.

    Even though I disagree with what you say here, I have learnt much form what you have posted on other threads and other topics. And that has some value to me.

    And since I’m probably the lone detractor here, neither naïve nor brain dead, I’ll just leave it at that.

  13. Why did these leaders sign the declaration even though it is, in the author’s own words, “……an insipid, uninspiring and incomplete declaration”? The most likely answer perhaps is because they want to show their agreement with all the points raised in the 36 paragraphs of the declaration; otherwise why would they put down their signature on it? Should the ‘rakyat’ jump on the bandwagon, throw their weight behind the document, and sign the declaration too? What if the ‘rakyat’, having read and understood the points raised in the 36 paragraphs of the declaration, agree with them & decide to sign the declaration in support of the initiative? Does it make them imbeciles for doing so, for rallying around an “……an insipid, uninspiring and incomplete declaration”? Is it ever a wise thing to assume and believe that the citizen’s court is made up of imbeciles and dumb-wits who can’t separate right from wrong, and sense truth from a pack of lies? Let the matter be put in the citizen’s court then, and why not?

  14. Conrad,

    Don’t let CLF bully you with his intellectual outpourings. Half of them are incomprehensible by us mortals, anyway.

    Besides, you are not alone in your unease. To many Malaysians, the mention of Dr Mahathir automatically raises the blood pressure in us. Just like the comments in this blog always increase when certain people like RPK, Tunku Aziz, Altantuya are mentioned.

    Dr Mahathir to Malaysians is like durian to Westerners, Europe to English conservatives, stinky cheese to us. He polarises opinions – simple as that.

    It does not mean that one side is stupid and wrong and the other isn’t.
    __________________
    I know Conrad well. He cannot be intimidated by anyone. He is a well read and enlightened man.–Din Merican,

  15. aitze, you certainly fit the description of Ferdi’s ‘Bangsarite’! Imagine that..

    We all lived through the Octo years, with some of us were ‘luckier’ than others. I went thru the ‘system’ without crutches or pandering to the powers that be, because i was ‘blessed’ and worked my ass off. Nobody did me any ‘favors’. My significant other did the same and we’re still doing our best under the circumstances. We are not ‘rich’ by any measure, but comfortable.

    If you bothered to ask the old ‘Non’ uncles and aunties in pasar malam and the stinky wet-markets about ‘loh mah’ (aka Octo), you’d surprised that they are inordinately fond of him, because he appeared strong and uncompromising during his rule. Do they care about the retroactive aspects of his misrule? No. Because everyone had enough to get by – even though the system was corrupt and biased. Economic stability was paramount and there was hardly any of the religio-racist apartheid that has afflicted this country for the past one and a half decade.

    It is easy now to curse Octo now, for his usurpation of the ‘doctrine’ of separation of powers, poor commercial judgement and what have you. In a way, he now reaps what he sowed. Yet he remains unrepentant.

    But that does not mean we acquiesce to the embezzlement, pillaging and rapine on the industrial scale, that is happening right before our eyes. By all means, be sceptical about Octo’s motives – for we shouldn’t have delusions of what he’s capable off. The point is that we are in extremis and falling off into the abyss. Any hope is better than sheer hopelessness – while intellectuals like you reminisce about ‘wasted’ opportunities and demand accountability, when there is no way forward.

    I understand Conrad’s and Din’s frustrations, but i’d rather be Faustian now than to rue the day, where i have to pack up and migrate to climes where i’ve no roots. 2 of my kids have PR’s in Oz and are doing well, but i don’t intend to be a burden to them. Because that’s what you do, when you are old and decrepit.

    Live one day at a time, and let tomorrow take care of itself. Wonder who said that?

  16. aitze ,

    Its not a question of me being intimidated more like most often my exchanges tend to end with hostility and I have no wish to be hostile towards someone like CLF, whose posts I enjoy reading.

    You are right that Octo invites strong emotions and rightly so. For some folks its like a cycle. Embrace Octo, reject him and embrace him again. I don’t have a problem with this. Well I do have a problem with this but it’s really more of an annoyance.

    I do have a problem with the fact that dissenters to this Declaration are (1) attacked with strawmen and when you think about it, attacked for remaining true to their principles (this too is explained as naivety) (2)Nobody has really been able to demonstrate how this is a political game changer or how this destabilizes UMNO in some way.

    Anyway what this declaration is, its a done deal, so no point picking at it.

    Cheers.

  17. CLF, at the end of the day, whatever I do, I need to be able to sleep at night. And, there is no way I can do that if I were to make a pact with the devil.

    Besides, I really don’t think we need to either. If the infighting within UMNO is left to fester until the next election, then there is a BIG chance that BN will rot. For BN to rot, we need the epitome of rottenness to head it until then. Thus, my reason to not interfere.

    If the rot sets in, the loss of PAS to UMNO can be negated by the followers of Mahathir. If Pakatan can get the Indians to reject MIC (as the Chinese have done to MCA), then the game is truly on.

    Lastly, Pakatan really need to spend time and energy in E Malaysia, for whoever wins Sabah and Sarawak will rule Malaysia – and thus decide the future of our grandchildren.

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