Nov 16, 07 (malaysiakini)
Minister in the Prime Minsiter’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz has insisted that government institutions are absolutely fine and only need some fine-tuning.
Nazri said this during a 25-minute programme 101 East on the Al Jazeera English network last night. The discussion was on issues surrounding the Nov 10 mass rally in Kuala Lumpur.
“To improve the system, yes. But to say that the system is unfair, I think that’s not a correct description. To improve, yes,” the de facto law minister stressed.
Programme moderator Tayeel Nabili had initially asked Nazri if there was a need for institutional reform as suggested by programme participant and lawyer Malik Imtiaz Shawar.
“Are the calls by the opposition and civil society groups of no significance at all and that they carry no weight?” asked Tayeel.
To this, Nazri replied: “They carry no weight”.
Only losers complain
Nazri contended that there was no need for institutional reform because the system practiced by the government had worked well for the past 50 years.
“You only hear grouses from people who participated in the system and lost,” he said.
Initially, the programme was focused on the events surrounding the Nov 10 rally but had diverted to whether dissenting views and opposition towards the government ought to be taken seriously.
Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin made up the third participant in the programme.
The following is a partial transcript of the conversations, in sequence, from the programme:
Teymoor: The information minister has accused Al Jazeera of wrongly saying that force was used and yet in the very next breath, he said only water cannons and tear gas were used. Now, where is the line between force and non-force?
Nazri: There was no other legitimate way to disperse the crowd other than to use tear gas. I know that the police have not used any force for obvious reasons.
The world knows there would be a big rally on Nov 10. We were under public scrutiny – from overseas as well, such as Al Jazeera. Within minutes, information can be distributed to the whole world.
It was pretty obvious that the police were not going to use any force, because we were under close scrutiny by the whole world.
If Umno were to hold a rally in support of the government, would it be banned by the police?
Khairy: Well, Umno and the opposition have held rallies in the past before. In particular context and settings, they are allowed. I just want to get back to what Malik said just now, on how the police viewed this particular demonstration.
The only other precedence we had with Bersih (Nov 10 rally organisers) was the rally they had in September in Terengganu and that descended into violence. So you can’t blame the police for thinking that this would happen the same way.
My point here is: It seems the tendency to put a ban on opposition voices is much greater than anything else – Khairy’s point notwithstanding – let’s look at the local newspapers the following morning. The coverage of what happened on Saturday was minimal. The response of the local media was to take the government line.
Nazri: I don’t think the papers was taking the government line. I got all my information from the newspapers…
Well let’s look at the papers here – (New) Sunday Times – instead of responding to what has been the biggest demonstration in nearly a decade, in which the police felt they had to use water cannons and tear gas, and you’ve expressed an enormous fear of trouble, the newspaper puts here on page 4, ‘Illegal gathering causes traffic chaos in city’.
Nazri: Well, if you think what Al Jazeera reported was the only true story, I think the newspapers are free to report anything.
The essence of democracy is that the government listens to the people. Prime Minister (Abdullah Ahmad) Badawi promised exactly that.
Khairy: You cannot use Saturday as a barometer for what the general public feel. It was a protest, there were many people there. It is wrong to say that it is the sum collective of the Malaysian political consciousness. I think it’s a stretch. It’s a voice, but it’s a stretch.
How loud that voice is, I’m not quite sure. If you talk about changes, there is a lot of changes afoot. As I said, the Election Commission is very responsive. They met opposition parties and accepted some of their suggestions – (transparent) ballot boxes, postal voters. A lot of changes are happening.
On the media, the prime minister said during the Umno general assembly that in the near future, the media would be able to regulate themselves. This is a mark departure from previous policies. This is something for the future.
Is there a need for institutional reforms?
Nazri: No. Not at all. What do you mean by people? We are elected by the people. Democracy means listening to the majority. You can’t say that we’re not listening to the people. We represent the people.
Is the view that people are politically motivated, therefore their views are irrelevant?
Nazri: At the end of the day, we’re a democracy. Democracy means the majority will decide. So that’s it.
Malik: But the majority does not mean majoritarianism […] The majority that we are talking about are in the heartlands, who do not necessarily understand the issues that are happening here.
Nazri: So you are saying that they are stupid.
Malik: I’m not saying that […] The fact is people are scared and aren’t getting information. I have my doubts whether a voter is in a position to make a fair and informed choice when he goes to the ballot box and this is the heart of the Bersih initiative.
I also do not agree that Bersih is an opposition initiative. We have about 60 plus NGOs endorsing… (interrupted)…
Khairy: Anwar (Ibrahim) and Hadi Awang were at the gates of the palace. It was clearly led by the opposition!
The opposition is there to voice an opposition view. Is that irrelevant?
Nazri: How can they be neutral when they were active participants in the last general election? They cannot be neutral to me.
Khairy: Exactly! If you say that (the protesters) were middle-of-the-road Malaysians with a genuine concern, then I would have expected 80 percent of those people to be without any political affiliations.
Malik: […] It is unfair to say that this is not a civil society initiative just because opposition members handed over the memorandum.
Is it your view that there is no need at all for institutional reform? Are there no questions to be asked about the ‘cleanliness’ of the electoral process? There are no corruption issues that need to be addressed? Are the calls by opposition and civil society groups of no significance at all and that they carry no weight?
Nazri: They carry no weight. I don’t think there is any need for institutional reform because the system has worked well for the last 50 years. You only hear grouses from people who participated in the system and lost.
But I cannot argue further if Malik thinks that people are stupid for putting us in government.
As a representative of the younger generation of Umno, do you agree with what the minister said or do you think there is room for change within the institutional structure.
Khairy: I agree with what the minister says. There is nothing wrong with the system. There need to be some changes to the process to strengthen it. The institutions are fine. The system works.
Nazri, Khairy on Al Jazeera: 'Semua okay'
Nov 16, 07 (malaysiakini)