Rally crackdown: Ex-EU envoy ticks off gov't

Nov 14, 07

Malaysia is still under a state of emergency, according to former European Commission envoy to the country Thierry Rommel.

Responding to the police’s action in using tear gas and water cannons to quell a massive rally held over the weekend in Kuala Lumpur to press for electoral reforms, Rommel said: “Today, this country still lives under emergency.”
The EU envoy made this blunt remark during a telephone conversation with international news agency Reuters on Tuesday, the last day of his mission to Malaysia.
Rommel, who spent four and a half years in Malaysia, said many Malaysians felt that their voices were not being heard and agreed that the electoral system should be reformed.
“It’s not a secret that elections are not fair,” he said, noting complaints that election campaigns were too short and that the media was biased toward government campaigning.
“There’s a significant part of the population that feels their voice is not really heard because of the way elections are managed,” he added. “They feel locked out.”
Rommel also said that several emergency-style laws were still in use, such as the Emergency Ordinance and the Internal Security Act (ISA) which allow for detention without trial.
“They (emergency laws) all very clearly establish the legal framework for the executive to take measures in cases of unrest – as the executive defines them,” he added.
NEP fosters corruption
This is not the first time that the EU envoy has dished out hard-hitting remarks. In June, he ruffled feathers when he said that the New Economic Policy (NEP) was a barrier to trade.
That remark brought a swift backlash and formal protest from the government. Following this, Reuters said that his name started to disappear from the government’s invitation lists.
But Rommel, who spoke to Reuters on condition that his comments be published after his departure, said he was unrepentant about his criticisms and denied he was trying to superimpose Western values onto Malaysia.
According to him the ‘Bumiputera’ (NEP) policy of affirmative action distorted trade because it allowed the government to award state contracts to Malay businesses without clear, competitive tender procedures.
Apart from this, he pointed out that it also fostered corruption.
“The extension of the Bumiputera-based discrimination and preference in public procurement – which is massive in the Malaysian economy – has worked to the disadvantage of foreign players in particular and has become a vehicle for officially acknowledged corruption…
“It is public knowledge that local Malay vested interests, with powerful political or administration connections, want to see this mechanism maintained,” he said.