Wong Choon Mei
To Najib’s critics, such an “unreasonable” stance reflected his intention to turn the country into an authoritarian regime or police state in the event that his Umno-BN coalition lost at the 13th general election, which is expected to be called soon.
“Malaysia is like any other Asian country including China and India. Socially and politically, it is in transition. Revolutions can occur on the streets or even peacefully at the ballot boxes, so why this urge to keep warning against revolution,” PKR MP for Batu Tian Chua said.
“If Najib is sincere about a systematic change, if Najib cares about the future of the country, he should immediately promise a peaceful transition of power if the people vote against his government and stop the nasty threats.”
Malaysia’s fate as a democracy on international watch
Ddespite repeated calls from civil society and opposition stalwarts including Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang and Hadi Awang, the Malaysian PM has refused to calm citizens as well as investors that he would not trigger unrest if the Umno-BN lost GE-13.
Instead Najib has stepped up his rhetoric to retain power at all costs even at the expense of “crushed bodies” and “lost lives”. Sad to say, this has earned him a place on the global watch with a Canadian paper being the latest to brand him a “false democrat”, inducting him into the world’s list of new autocrats. The dubious honour of making it into the Globe and Mail’s ‘A 21st-century checklist of the new autocrats’ comes just months after the Washington Post called Najib a ”champion of double talk.”
But with polls looming, it appears Najib has decided to gamble his own political future and that of the Umno-BN’s onMahathirism - a hard line, authoritarian form of governance and political tactics used by the corruption-tainted Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s prime minister from 1981 to 2003.
“We are in a transition, if we do something without careful planning like a revolution, it will be followed by chaos, and things will become worse without a systematic transformation system,” Najib said on Thursday at a youth leadership convention in Kuala Lumpur.
“Malaysia is now in a stable situation, and we must ensure this peace and stability remains,” he added.
No reason for Malaysia to be unstable unless Najib himself “pulled the trigger”
Nonetheless, as critics and opposition leaders have often pointed out, Malaysia would remain stable and peaceful unless Najib himself “pulled the trigger” on the people and ordered a police crackdown – as he has been accused of doing during the April 28 BERSIH 3.0 rally for clean elections.
On that day, a historic crowd of 250,000 thronged the Dataran Merdeka venue for the peaceful sit-in protest and all was orderly until an hour before the rally’s 4pm closing time. Suddenly the police fired tear gas canisters directly into the crowd; LRT stations were shut down preventing escape, while police broke up into small groups to chase and beat up the civilian protesters.
“The brutality suggests that a segment of the police force on duty that day had acted with vengeance against BERSIH 3.0 participants whether due to orders given to them or because they had lost control,” the Bersih organizing committee said in a statement issued on Thursday to criticize the government’s “lip service” and refusal to take responsibility.
“There are too many reports of police officers who were wearing blue police uniforms but without their names and police identity numbers so as to prevent the victims of violence from identifying the perpetrators of police violence. This cannot be taken lightly by those in power.”
But what do youths think
Yet in an almost surreal-like fashion, Najib zoomed in on the youths on Thursday with self-praise and insinuations that the Umno-BN was doing what the people wanted and as such, deserved their support.
Young Malaysians form a key portion of the electorate and both sides of the political divide have been spending much time trying to get into their good books.
“This is the most ideal state we are trying to achieve. We will work hard for your future by the power vested in us. We will not let you down,” Najib said.
It is telling that in a seminar paper prepared by the International Islamic University of Malaysia in March and made public a day ago, the youths surveyed listed as their top concerns the economy, crime, social woes, illegal immigrants and the country’s leadership.
The youths also said that these were the issues that would decide how they voted in the next general election.
More politically interested than before: Rejection of mainstream media
The paper entitled Youth, Media and Politics: A New Identity was prepared by the university’s Electoral Studies head Prof Syed Arabi Idid. In a nationwide study of over 1,370 youths in the 21-35 age group, it was found found that they were sensitive to issues pertaining to their future and their country.
The respondents in the study also confirmed the general perception that a significant portion of youths today depended on the Internet instead of the mainstream media to keep track of developments in the country.
Another notable finding was that political interest among the younger generation is high, with 60 per cent of the respondents deliberating on politics with friends, 52 per cent with family members and 32 per cent with political activists. Despite their concerns, 88 per cent of the respondents who were all voters were optimistic over a good or very good future for the country.
Syed Arabi further revealed that for the Malays and Indians, crime and economic woes were the major concern at present.The Chinese appeared to be more worried over economic and leadership issues followed by crime. Respondents from all the three races also cited influx of illegal immigrants as another of the country’s woes.
The study also revealed that increasingly fewer Malays read mainstream newspapers daily compared with their Chinese and Indian counterparts. Only about 30 per cent of the Malay respondents read newspapers daily while the Chinese recorded 44 per cent in daily readership. The mainstream mdeia including TV is controlled by the Umno-BN.
The dwindling newspaper readership is compensated by the rise in the those seeking information through the Internet daily – Malays (29 per cent), Chinese (27 per cent) and Indians (38 per cent).
Going for the candidate, not the party
Syed Arabi’s study also attempted to determine whether youths preferred to vote for candidates or political parties in the next election.
Although there is a preponderance towards voting for the party, it appeared that 40 per cent of young Chinese and 47 per cent of Indians were gearing towards candidates, with only 33 per cent of young Malays preferring candidates over party.
When respondents were asked which party would be their voting preference if ‘elections were to be held tomorrow’, 52 per cent said Barisan Nasional (BN) is the choice.
Given that the survey was done before the BERSIH 3.0 rally in April and the narrow preference expressed for the BN, it is no wonder that the Pakatan Rakyat led by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim is now rated as having a more than even chance of snatching the federal government from Najib’s Umno-BN.
Hence the panicky mood of many government leaders, as reflected by the increasingly threatening rhetoric from Najib and Mahathir.
‘The more threatening, the more urgent the need to throw out the Umno-BN’
The older leader, in particular, has been appearing in the government newspapers almost daily, exhorting the majority Malays to reject the Opposition on the basis that a Pakatan win would destroy their economic and social advantage.
According to Mahathir, perceived by many to be a dictator, the Umno-BN’s loss of power after 5 decades of political hegemony would spell misery for the “majority” who would then be ruled by the “minority”.
Yet, in the 12th general election held in 2008, the Pakatan Rakyat won more than 50% of the popular vote and swept into control of 5 of the country’s 13 states. The Umno-BN clung to the federal government only thanks to the extensive gerrymandering put in place by Mahathir during his rule.
“Students of history will tell you that more solid governments than the Umno-BN have been overthrown. Gaddaffi and Mubarak were extreme in their retaliation against their own people who challenged them in their last days. Yet the people, and many of these were youths, triumphed. So why should Malaysians, young or old, fear revolution? It is only violent if the rejected government wants it to be so,” said Tian.
“Given the dire state of corruption in the country, Malaysians should welcome a change of regime and the faster the better. If the Umno-BN is sincere, Najib should immediately promise a peaceful transition. Who knows what’s best for Malaysia are Malaysians themselves – definitely not Najib Razak or Umno-BN.”