21st November 2015
Dear Barack Hussein Obama
The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH 2.0) welcomes The President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama to our beloved country Malaysia.
Since President Obama’s last visit in April 2014, the political climate in the country has not significantly improved. In fact, suppression of civil and political rights has been the order of the day.
The right to dissent has been suppressed by targeting opposition leaders and members of the civil society, including BERSIH 2.0 committees and supporters who merely demand an accountable government, with selective persecution and prosecution under draconian laws such as the Sedition Act 1948, contravening fundamental rights entrenched in not only the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but Malaysia’s Federal Constitution.
If slapped with a fine of RM 2000 or a jail term of 1 year and above, lawmakers would not automatically only lose their seats but also be barred from contesting any election for five years after completion of sentence. The persecution of at least 7 federal and state lawmakers for charges on speech or assembly is therefore a sinister move to disqualify outspoken oppositionists from the current Parliament and to prevent them from entering the next one.
Democracy in Malaysia is further in dire straits, as election outcomes are swung by unchecked use of slush funds from dubious sources including foreigners and state-owned enterprises. In a recent parliamentary reply, Prime Minister admitted that government-linked companies (GLCs) entertain political parties’ funding requests as “corporate social responsibility”. This shed light into the scandal of 1MDB, a federal government’s investment arm, which involves transfer of USD 700 million into the Prime Minister’s personal account — claimed to be “donation” by him — and implicates vast misappropriation of public fund.
While such wrongdoings and violations of laws have triggered investigations by foreign authorities from US to Switzerland to Hong Kong, investigation in Malaysia has been paralysed by the Prime Minister with changing of Attorney General, co-opting parliamentarians in the Public Account Committee with ministerial appointments, and harassment or even transfer of investigating officers in the anti-corruption body and the central bank. And ruling coalition parliamentarians have been accused of “sabotaging democracy” and threatened with crackdown for reportedly contemplating to support a vote of no-confidence against the Prime Minister. “Criminalising” backbench revolt to prevent the Executive from being sacked by the Parliament is the most cynical attack on parliamentary democracy and the idea of accountable government, as the Executive is free to rule arbitrarily until the next election is called.
Electoral reforms are at a standstill. Thanks to excessive malapportionment and gerrymandering of constituencies, the last election in 2013 saw the ruling coalition staying in power with only 47% of votes while the opposition won only 40% of parliamentary seats despite a 51% popular mandate. The next redelineation exercise has been completed for the state of Sarawak and will soon begin in other states. Effectively under the control of the Prime Minister’s Department, the Election Commission (EC) is blatantly violating the constitutional requirements on redelineation and has just won a Federal Court’s verdict to undermine the public’s ability to scrutinise and intervene in the redelineation process. Reform is also absent in other aspects of concern like cleaning up electoral rolls, expansion of absentee voting, level playing fields in campaign.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s deliberate efforts to undermine the electoral and parliamentary mechanisms to sustain his corrupt rule is complemented by his cynical playing up of ethno-religious sentiments. While projecting a liberal and moderate image outside Malaysia, he has allowed his ministers and party leaders to demonise the ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. The Christians and other non-Muslims are not even allowed to pray to Allah in the government’s scheme to make the national language — in religious realm — exclusive for Muslims. The Bersih 4 rally demanding an accountable government and attended by cumulatively half a million Malaysians is demonised as a Chinese attempt to challenge the Malays’ political dominance. The police have been pursuing and charging leaders and participants of Bersih 4 including myself but no one in an anti-Bersih rally two weeks after Bersih 4 for threatening to massacre the Chinese and attempting to storm the China town commercial district.
The US Government cannot and must not be so cynical that it preaches democracy and human rights on one hand and supports authoritarian leaders like Najib on the other hand just because it serves her economic and geopolitical interests. Such hypocrisy will not only undermine the US’s moral authority in world affairs, but it will also undermine democracy and human rights and contribute to political stability to those countries run by despots and the world at large.
We must not forget the words of wisdom from President Kennedy, a Democrat worth his salt: “”Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Maria Chin Abdullah
On behalf of the
BERSIH 2.0 Steering Committee
Deputy Chair: Sarajun Hoda Abdul Hassan; Treasurer: Masjaliza Hamzah; National Committee Members: Prof Madya Dr Abdul Halim bin Yusof, Farhana binti Abdul Halim, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri and New Sin Yew; Cive Chairpersons: Jannie Lasimbang (Sabah), Ahmad b. Awang Ali (Sarawak), Abd Halim b. Wan Ismail (East Peninsular), Thomas Fann (South Peninsular), Simon Lee Ying Wai (Central Peninsular) dan Dato’ Dr Toh Kin Woon (North Peninsular