March 17, 2016
Citizens’ Declaration: Political Garbage In, Garbage Out, but Najib remains
by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee
Is the Citizens’ Declaration a one day – or at best, one week – news story that is now already stale and forgotten? Or can it really galvanise the Opposition and public? Will it spell the beginning of the end for Prime Minister Najib Razak and the BN? Or has it had the opposite effect of fortifying Najib’s and BN’s hold over power in Malaysia? These are among the questions that concerned Malaysians are asking.
There is another set of questions being asked by activists from civil society, and the answers to which are being viewed apprehensively, by leaders from both sides of the divide. This is whether this latest version of an opposition front, hastily put together, represents a breakthrough in Malaysian politics? Or will the desperation, idealism, opportunism, hypocrisy and the many other motives ascribed to the group that has consummated this unexpected marriage of formerly bitter enemies backfire?
A Kadir Jasin-Mahathir’s Goebells
Defenders of the declaration, including Anwar Ibrahim from his prison cell, and those who have signed it, argue that the strength of the declaration lies in the call for institutional reform to restore democracy, and protect the separation of power of the executive, legislative and judiciary.
But to the casual reader, this call for broad political reform appears as an after thought.
An examination of the declaration which is available in the internet for the public to support shows that only one or two of the 37 paragraphs of the Declaration calls for a repeal of recent laws that violate fundamental rights, and for the restoration of the integrity of institutions such as the Police, MACC and Bank Negara.
The major focus of what has now been renamed as the “Save Malaysia” campaign is the removal of the Prime Minister. This is the sole objective of Dr. Mahathir, the prime mover of the Declaration, and apparently, its author.
Following the signing of the declaration, we have seen Dr Mahathir, Muhyiddin Yassin, Mukhriz Mahathir and others from the UMNO ‘dissident’ side reiterate that the main objective is to rid the country – and UMNO – of Najib’s leadership. Then, presumably, after that, it will be business as usual for UMNO and Barisan in its running of the country’s government?
Or as Dr Mahathir phrased it in his inimitable way of spinning in his latest blog posting response to the wave of cynicism that has greeted his initiative:
“It is this consciousness (about the dire situation) that has prompted enemies to temporarily set aside their hostility towards each other to save their beloved country.
If they emphasise the interest of their respective parties, it would mean supporting and retaining Najib’s regime.When democracy and freedom are restored, then they can continue with their disagreements.”
One week after the declaration, even the most optimistic and least cynical of those who support this latest attempt at political reform or change – even in the limited fashion that Dr Mahathir and his UMNO supporters see it – will concede that no fundamental realignment has taken place in the country’s political landscape which can lead to any dramatic or unexpected development, either now or in the foreseeable future.
PAS leaders have stayed aloof. They have also supported the government’s contention that only a vote of no confidence successfully introduced in parliament or a general election can bring about a change in the prime ministership or government. They are right.
State of the Two Political Camps
Pakatan Harapan –The No Hopers
Meanwhile there has been no break of ranks within UMNO. The party’s leadership appears solidly united behind the Prime Minister. Despite talk that the Deputy Prime Minister, Zahid Hamidi, may be positioning himself for a takeover of the party should Najib’s support be seen to waver or diminish, he and other heavy hitters from the party’s top leadership and grassroots divisional leaders have targeted their anger and outrage at Dr. Mahathir’s big mistake in aligning himself with the opposition DAP.
For now, the party’s faithful is standing firm against those seeking to bring down the Prime Minister. And what of the brave new front opened in the battle to bring about political change in the country? The organizers have announced a nation wide campaign aimed at getting several hundred thousand signatories in support of the campaign, beginning with Trengganu, Sabah, Kedah and Johore.
This is a start but it is clearly inadequate. Any successful strategic plan calls for set priorities, focussed energy, resources and common goals. The campaign lacks all the above and is likely to prove little different from what has emerged from other civil society/political reform efforts in the past; with the input of Dr Mahathir the lone difference.
Another of the original group if signatories, however, could make a bigger difference.
If Tun Daim Zainuddin could only bring back a part of his enormous wealth from overseas – a couple of hundred million ringgit is small change to him? – to beef up the “Save Malaysia” campaign so that it reaches into the rural grassroots, then perhaps the movers of the declaration may have a chance of success. And if a share of Dr. Mahathir’s family’s wealth and that of his ‘kakis’ were deployed for a similar objective, the opposition’s cup will probably runneth over.
Zaid Ibrahim’s proposal that every Malaysian contributes ten ringgit to the Save Malaysia Movement to ensure that the country is not subservient to the country’s oligarchy makes fine reading. However it is not the way to resolve the basic, and ultimately fatal, weakness of the woefully inadequate financial and material firepower of the movement.
Finally, success for those who want to see the movement’s objective of institutional reform become reality will be short lived too if the only concern is with replacing the current Prime Minister.
Winning the next election is the only game changer that can work for the opposition and civil society if they want to regain the democratic rights and freedoms and institutional integrity eroded ever since Dr. Mahathir came to power.
Meanwhile teaming up with Dr Mahathir is one step forward and two backwards.