March 25, 2016
MY COMMENT: “We badly needed to think outside the box”, says Ambiga. I agree, but why join hands with Tun Dr. Mahathir? We know that The Tun wants to protect his creation, UMNO Baru and leave behind a kleptocracy led by his son, Dato Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, the unceremoniously deposed Menteri Besar of Kedah, as Prime Minister of Malaysia.
The Dr. Mahathir Mohamad I knew in the 1970’s–Din Merican
At this stage of his life, our 4th Prime Minister is not about to be someone who will think outside the box. He is no longer the Dr. Mahathir Mohamad I knew and admired in the 1970s and 1980s. Then I remember he, Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz and Dr. Edward de Bono wanted to introduce lateral thinking in Malaysian/MARA schools. After 1987, he changed his mind and began to subjugate all institutions of governance and the Judiciary to the Executive Branch. It enabled him to remain in power until 2003 at our expense.
Today, we must thank him for making Prime Minister Dato’Seri Najib Razak, his successor twice removed, the most powerful man in our country. Dato’ Ambiga and her friends in Hakam and Bersih have lost focus and worse, they have forgotten history.–Din Merican
Ambiga talks to Cmdr Thayaparan–Part 2
“I don’t have a ‘side’ – I’m responsible for what I say and nothing else.”– Glenn Greenwald
The following is the second part of an interview with HAKAM President Ambiga Sreenevasan. The first part appeared yesterday.
How do you counter the perception that this declaration and the support of civil society personalities provides a fig leaf for the excesses of former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure and gives public legitimacy to what is essentially a fight within a political party – UMNO?
It is naïve, I think, to say that this is just an UMNO fight and does not concern us. This is about the Prime Minister of the country who is facing a huge financial scandal. It impacts the whole nation. Furthermore, what happens in UMNO matters to all of us. They decide who the Prime Minister is and many members of the cabinet are from UMNO.
I think countering the perception you speak of will have to come from what we achieve with the Citizens’ Declaration. And of course our own conduct and what we project is important. We must give people the confidence that we will never give up on the reform agenda.
One must also look at the contents of the declaration. Is there anything there that is objectionable? Does it not contain some of the demands of Bersih at the rally last year? Maybe there could have been more in the declaration, but what it contains can be supported. There is nothing there to disagree with.
This declaration will be meaningless if it does not get the support of the masses. This, I believe, is one chance for us all to say as citizens that enough is enough.
What was your first reaction to the idea that civil society and Mahathir were going to work together?
In the last few years Malaysians have come up to me in despair and asked what is happening to the country and what can be done about it. The rallies did not seem to be working, the presenting of a motion of no confidence failed, our numerous ideas and calls for transparency have fallen on deaf ears. We badly needed to think outside the box.
Some people like (social activist) Hisham Rais have for some time now argued for the need for a coming together of people from all sides of the political divide. I was therefore not really surprised when the issue of the Citizens’ Declaration came up.
You cannot deny that it caught the people’s attention. In a sense it has started people talking and thinking. Opposing it is good for us too as it allows for a public discourse on issues confronting the nation. We need to also know our limits.
Do you think some of the hostility towards this declaration is the result of the problematic discourse in this country?
I would agree that some of the hostility could be due to the problematic discourse in the country. For example, the manner in which even Dr M is being criticised for teaming up with (DAP leader) Lim Kit Siang.
The unkind things that are being said by some in UMNO just reflect the consistent demonisation of Lim, which is wholly unfair. Lim is a true patriot and willing to put aside all the horrors of the past for the country. Likewise, with (jailed opposition leader) Anwar Ibrahim.
But here is the thing. Politics in this country has been a zero-sum game. You are either with BN or against BN. That meant that civil society who criticise the government will always be repelled by BN supporters no matter the merits of the argument.
Have you been given any assurances by the political players involved that reforms will be seriously carried out once Najib has been removed?
I believe that the fact that the signatories have signed up to the declaration shows their intention. As I said earlier, if it does not happen then we will have to continue our fight for it.
As a long-time proponent for reform, what is your advice to people who suffer from fatigue when it comes to reforming the system, seeing as how the Najib regime seems immune to change?
I have said this before and I will say it again. Now is not the time to give up. Those in power are counting on the people being fatigued and giving up. Change is never easy but it will come if we persevere.
As a former co-chairperson of Bersih, why do you think that the current Bersih steering committee drew the line between Bersih and chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah’s signing of the document in her personal capacity, if indeed this declaration was something that all Malaysians (including Bersih) fighting for reform should endorse?
There may have been a misunderstanding about Bersih’s position. This is a declaration by citizens. Organisations are not meant to endorse it. Individuals do so as citizens. In that way, people can make individual decisions whether to sign up or not. I believe this is one time when people must be allowed to act individually according to their conscience.
Whenever you criticise the establishment, you are supported wholeheartedly, but when you criticise the opposition, you are most often mocked. As someone who believes in principles and ethics, how do you convince people to move beyond their partisan stances?
This is always difficult. It arises from the “You are either with us or against us” thought process that I spoke of earlier. This is one of the things that has made politics so toxic in Malaysia. The other is, of course, the government that has been in power for so long which now feels insecure.
I suppose you can only convince people to move beyond partisan stances by changing the focus as to what truly matters i.e. strong institutions. People need to ensure that whoever they support will further this agenda rather than their own political agenda.
I believe that Malaysians are becoming more and more shrewd about politics. Ask any taxi driver. They will tell you what is wrong with this country, boldly and bluntly, without taking sides.
“Memo to extreme partisans: If you can’t bring yourselves to love your enemies, can you at least learn to hate your friends?”
– Walter Kirn