Everyone knows that the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression are vital in a functioning and legitimate democracy. Everyone except Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, that is.
Speaking to members of the Youth Parliament, Najib urged Malaysians to convey their dissatisfaction directly to the government, stressing demonstration is not our cup of tea.
I don’t know whom he is referring to as “our”, but I do know that societies move forward when citizens are empowered to mobilise and take joint action to express their political opinions, elect leaders and hold them accountable.
The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are therefore enshrined in international law as fundamental freedoms – but Najib and many ruling politicians coin street protest as if it’s a bad word.
It’s not like Malaysians haven’t spoken. Calls for Najib’s resignation following the unearthing of 1Malaysia Development Bhd’s huge financial scandal have come not just from the rakyat but also from within his own party, Umno.
And yet, the prime minister has been mouthing rhetoric of staying put to “develop the country” and has repeatedly said he is innocent.
In debt within four years of inception
The sovereign fund, set up to develop the country, is in debt amounting to billions of dollars – and this within just four years of its inception.
The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking to recover more than US$1 billion worth of assets – bought by Riza Aziz, financier Jho Low, who helped set up 1MDB, and Khadem Al Qubaisi, the former managing director of Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Co – using money stolen from the state development fund.
While the US action is focused on charging the people who abused their financial system for money laundering, our Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 states that any officer of a public body who uses his office or position for any gratification, whether for himself, his relative or associate, commits an offence.
And gratification, according to the Act, extends to donation as well. Najib has asserted that the millions of ringgit that was deposited into his personal bank account came from donations.
The DOJ report says US$681 million, stolen from 1MDB, were transferred into the bank account of a certain Malaysian Official 1.
Furthermore, Riza is Najib’s step-son and 1MDB was helmed by the prime minister from the beginning.
So it’s justified that the people want Najib to step down. And since their calls for resignation have been nonchalantly dismissed by the PM, Malaysians have now chosen to take to the streets in a peaceful way.
They have chosen to air their views and opinions in public. This is well within their democratic rights.
So Najib doesn’t get to decide the avenues in which he thinks the people should air their grievances. He just needs to resign.