Malaysia: For Citizens’ Declaration and Why

May 28, 2016

Malaysia: For Citizens’ Declaration and Why

by P Gunasegaram

“All of us who are concerned for peace and triumph of reason and justice must be keenly aware how small an influence reason and honest good will exert upon events in the political field”–Albert Einstein.

QUESTION TIME | The Citizens’ Declaration is a document that was drawn up by citizens concerned over Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s role as leader of the country. It originates more from Bersih and other civil groups than former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The key question is whether Najib should continue to be Prime minister given the current situation, especially with respect to rogue strategic development company 1Malaysia Development Bhd or 1MDB and RM4.2 billion in donations that went into Najib’s bank accounts.

When I first read the Citizens’ Declaration, which basically urges the removal of the current Prime Minister through legal means, I found that I did not agree with everything it said, especially with respect to the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax or GST. But how could a document, which was drafted by a few, can acquire universal acceptance?

There were two things that mattered to be me more. Was I in basic agreement with the tone, tenor and key points of the declarations? I was.

Second, as a journalist and writer, does signing it compromise my independence? Perhaps but not much if I take extra care about being fair and balanced nevertheless. We are citizens too and we should exercise our rights, like voting and signing the declaration if we substantially agree with it.

The declaration neither legitimises Mahathir nor does it mean that he becomes the leader of the movement. But if Mahathir wants to support that document and if former finance minister and close Mahathir associate Daim Zainuddin wants to, let them. They have their rights as citizens.

Jailed former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s characterisation of the document as Mahathir’s and his warnings to fellow opposition leaders to be careful about working with Mahathir and Daim in a letter over this is terribly unfortunate. It undermines the efforts of concerned citizens to try and remove what they consider to be an unsuitable Prime Minister from his position. Many will now not sign because of Anwar’s position.

Says Anwar: “Essentially it remains Tun M’s document, defective and incoherent when viewed in the context of reform. Its only focus is the removal of Najib as PM due to the 1MDB fiasco. This is obviously a departure from the raison d’etre of our struggle: for freedom and justice, rule of law, combating abuse of power and corruption, and distributive justice!”

Institutional reforms

The irony is that the declaration covers some similar ground. What is it that the Citizens’ Declaration says? One may or may not agree with all parts of the preamble, have issues with how accurate and correct they are and whether there is room for disagreement over some of the issues such as GST.

But the key part and what it urges are contained in clauses 36 and 37. Clause 36 reads:

For all these reasons, we, the undersigned citizens of Malaysia agree and support:

a) The removal of Najib as PM of Malaysia through non-violent and legally permissible means.

b) The removal of all those who have acted in concert with him.

c) A repeal of all recent laws and agreements that violate the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Federal Constitution and undermine policy choices.

d) A restoration of the integrity of the institutions that have been undermined, such as the Police, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), Bank Negara and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Clause 37 reads: We call upon all Malaysians, irrespective of race, religion, political affiliation, creed or parties, young and old to join us in saving Malaysia from the government headed by Najib, to pave the way for much-needed democratic and institutional reforms, and to restore the important principle of the separation of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary which will ensure the independence, credibility, professionalism and integrity of our national institutions.

It is because of these two clauses and that I agree with them that I signed the declaration. I honestly believe that they are legitimate demands. Although I don’t believe that they of themselves will directly result in the Prime Minister stepping down, over one million people stepping up to put their names for the document is a telling message that cannot be totally ignored.

To not support, withdraw support or become less associated with it because Mahathir is involved or appears to be taking credit for it or is closely associated with it is wrong. If you believe what the declaration calls for, sign it. Nothing else is of real consequence.

This is not the first time that citizen’s efforts are being politicised. It happened during the Bersih-driven demonstrations for electoral reforms when opposition figures pushed themselves to the forefront ahead of the key organisers. In this latest case, those with their own political axes to grind – Mahathir, Anwar, the ruling party and the opposition – have their own take on things. They are entitled to them.

But what does PKR and Pakatan Harapan hope to gain by distancing themselves from a citizen’s initiative that is calling for the legal removal of the prime minister, the same thing that PKR and Harapan partners have been calling for? Is it not rather short-sighted and strategically inconsistent to not sign the declaration or support it or distance yourself from it just because Mahathir and Daim Zainuddin support it?

Removing a Corrupt Prime Minister

While Mahathir may have his own political motives for supporting the declaration, he does not allude to them in public or make his strategic thoughts publicly known. All he wants – or seems to want – is to remove a corrupt Prime Minister.

Yes, if he had not removed the checks and balances on the executive and introduced draconian measures to consolidate his own power and showed how it can be done, all this would not have happened now. Indeed he was responsible too for the current state we are in.

When UMNO was declared illegal in 1987, Mahathir formed a new party, UMNO Baru, and kept all his opponents out. He emasculated the judiciary and made it impotent as a check and balance against executive abuse. He repeatedly used the two-thirds majority in the legislature to make many constitutional changes, removing safeguards for abuses. The legislature did not balance the executive but instead served as a rubber stamp for Mahathir’s measures.

He cultivated patronage and corruption and privatised large chunks of profitable government businesses, in some cases under iron-clad guarantees and purchase agreements, to cronies. He allowed corruption to grow and flourish and did little about it because it suited his own purposes. He was an example to Najib, of what Najib could get away with if he had the levers of power and exercised them accordingly.

Yes, Mahathir has ulterior motives in wanting Najib out. With Najib in power, the opposition has better chances of victory. And if the opposition comes to power, there are lots that will come into the open, and Mahathir has a lot to hide. It is in Mahathir’s interest to knock Najib off the Umno president’s post – before the next general elections.

But all that is beside the point – it’s not as if Malaysians don’t know. They do but they recognise that Mahathir’s voice, for better or worse, is a strong one which still resonates with many Malaysians.

Mahathir was a bad prime minister because of all this and much more but Najib is worse. Getting as much as RM4.2 billion into his bank accounts must be a “no!” for any leader anywhere. It has not even been established that it is a donation as Najib claims. And there are links between that donation and 1MDB, the most mismanaged Malaysian government company of all time.

Why would any opposition party want to distance itself from a primarily citizen’s initiative calling for the legal ouster of the prime minister under whose watch all these happened just because Mahathir supports it? What kind of a strategy is that?

This must rank, together with Anwar’s infamous announcement post the 2008 elections that the opposition will gain power through crossovers from BN, as one of the low points in Anwar’s announced strategies. It’s also why the public has trouble trusting politicians because power is the ultimate aim no matter the lip service towards justice, goodness and truth.

Perhaps it is just as well – such a move by the opposition to distance itself from the Citizens’ Declaration may paradoxically give it more credibility, Mahathir notwithstanding given that he is a political opportunist par excellence who has taken his chances far better than Anwar has.


14 thoughts on “Malaysia: For Citizens’ Declaration and Why

  1. Reminds me of the slogan “When the people lead, the leaders will have to follow”.

    If Opposition parties and some of their leaders continue to bicker, the fed-up vast majority of the people will have to take the lead, through mass movements.

  2. To me, the biggest flaw of the CD, it’s real potential downside, it does not take on Hadi’s PAS who is the biggest obstacle to change now. Without Hadi’s PAS, Najib is gone, with Hadi’s PAS, he can keep breaking the structure of the nation and society to stay in power. Any change would be hostage to Hadi’s PAS agenda and makes Mahathir still very dangerous.

  3. Like Amb Nor Farida reminded me-this is not a matter viz race, But as a Non-Malay, its difficult to fathom how a country grounded with great religions, like Islam, Buddhism , Christianity inter alia…. can accept this blatant refusal to account to Ahmad, Chee Kong and Mohan- why you took money from Saudi Arabia who supports Wahhabi -intolerance of religion, and supports ISIL…I would like him to explain why the money from a FOREIGN COUNTRY???????? It is very troubling, and I feel that this wont work well internationally……………….it wont work!

  4. “…Teh was investigated for corruption by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau for accepting two bribes of $500,000 each in 1981 and 1982. Then Minister for National Development, he had allegedly accepted bribes totaling $1 million from 2 private companies for helping them retain and buy over a piece of state land for private development.[2]

    In November 1986, the then Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, approved an open investigation on his alleged corruption, however, the papers were issued to the Attorney-General on December 11. Though Teh maintained his innocence, he committed suicide before being charged for the offences, on December 14.[3][4]

    In his suicide note, Teh wrote:

    “ I have been feeling very sad and depressed for the last two weeks.

    I feel responsible for the occurrence of this unfortunate incident and I feel I should accept full responsibility. As an honourable oriental gentleman I feel it is only right that I should pay the highest penalty for my mistake.[5]..”

    As a result of the suicide, the Attorney-General could not proceed with the charges, although Lee Kuan Yew responded with a condolence letter after ascertaining the cause of his death with Ministry of Health.[6] However, there was a subsequent investigation into the matter as a result of allegation of Chiam See Tong, the opposition MP, that there were unanswered questions into the whole episode. On 20 January 1987, the State Coroner returned a verdict of suicide due to an overdose of amytal barbiturate.[7] In December 1987, the findings of the Commission of Inquiry were presented to the President of Singapore, however, they were not released to the public till the end the year.[8] The entire probe lasted 31 months.[9] –


    This first quote from Nietzsche…

    Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

    We are 1Malaysia, we are 1MDB, we are anwarista, we are DAPsies …
    I am not Brave New World. Time for the Brave New Worlds come around to put back some simpler modest model.

  6. Our parliamentary democracy has provisions to deal with the removal of a PM.

    If parliament has not the will to do so by a vote of No Confidence, then the public have a choice NOT to elect the same MPs next time. That’s the way our democracy works.

    To remove the PM by any other means is undemocratic.

  7. Dr Phua, if you are interested, just wonder if we could hook up to help make PSM a reality? I think a lot of work is still needed for us to get it going. I need to be more educated, and I am sure others are the same also. Email me at katakan. sayang@gmail. com, so that I can pass more info about myself to you? Mere communication via dato Din’s blog maybe too slow. Hopefully, with some work, we could partially convince @CLF, LaMoy, or Conrad on why and how it might work and explore how it would not work also, all in a good legal framework. It is too depressing talking about bad things about existing framework without providing ourselves an alternative.

    It is still strange for me to imagine DatoDin having worked in Bank Negara would suggest joining PSM.

    Parti Sosialis? Really? 😋

  8. Dear katasayang

    OK. But please be aware that I am not a Marxist — although I do agree with some of its propositions.


  9. The irony is that if Malaysia had embraced Socialism instead of the NEP, she might already have achieved the aims of the NEP.

    And, doing it without the side effect of a crutch mentality.

  10. “…. or Conrad on why and how it might work and explore how it would not work also, all in a good legal framework.”

    Eh ? I don’t have a problem with socialism. I just think that all embracing ideologies can’t work in functional societies. Pick and choose wisely from a diverse range and see what works while abandoning that which doesn’t, I say.

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