Najib Says Malaysia's Democracy Has Been Strengthened Under His Government

"We have faith in Malaysia's democracy, and in the right of the people to air their views."

Cover image via Olivia Harris/Reuters via New York Times

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has rubbished claims that the government is eroding democracy and free speech in Malaysia

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak

Image via Olivia Harris/Reuters

In a blog post on Sunday, 10 September, titled, 'Malaysia's Record Of Democracy And Free Speech Is Strong', Najib Razak spoke against recent claims that freedom of speech and democracy in Malaysia have suffered a blow in recent times.

"On August 31st Malaysia marked 60 years of independence, and along with a record haul of medals at the SEA Games, we also celebrated six decades of our country being a stable democracy and a free society.

"In fact, when it comes to fiercely fought elections and the freedom to speak your mind, Malaysia has the strongest and longest democratic record in the whole of Southeast Asia," said Najib.

He mentioned that proof of the country's strong democracy is obvious, especially since the nation has seen different parties winning different states and even prominent politicians losing their stronghold seats - proving that election results can't be guaranteed in a democratic country.

"It is up to the people to choose, and that is a record of which all Malaysians should be proud."

However, Najib said that the truth of these victories and the strength of local democracy has been tainted by accusations from the opposition leaders

"... it appears that the political Opposition does not share that respect for our tradition of democracy. They and their allies have sought to blacken our country's name in the American media, making a series of wild claims, culminating in the false claim that Malaysia is in danger of sliding into dictatorship," he said.

In late August, the White House Press Secretary released a statement, revealing that American President Donald J. Trump has invited Najib to the White House on 12 September.

"President Trump looks forward to celebrating the 60th anniversary of United States-Malaysia bilateral relations and discussing ways to strengthen and broaden our bilateral relationship and expand regional cooperation with one of America’s closest partners in Southeast Asia," read the statement.

The news led to reports on American media, with most suggesting that Najib's visit might have something to do with the 1MDB scandal that the U.S. Department of Justice is currently investigating

American President Donald J. Trump (left) and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Naijb Razak (right).

Image via New Straits Times

One of the reports contained comments from local opposition leaders - some saying that this is Najib's way of letting the world know that he is not wanted in the U.S.

Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua

Image via Choo Choy May/Malay Mail Online

"He can say, 'I am not wanted in the United States and I can go there without being arrested'," said Tony Pua, Petaling Jaya Utara MP to New York Times.

Meanwhile, Pakatan Harapan chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, said in the same article, that Malaysia has turned into a "dictatorship" under Najib's government. "Mr. Najib controls the media and nearly every aspect of government, he said, and critics are arrested and detained without due process," read the article.

Dr Mahathir is Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister, leading the country's ruling party, Barisan Nasional, for a total of 22 years. He served five terms as the prime minister of Malaysia and his government and leadership was widely seen as being authoritarian.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the chairperson of Pakatan Harapan.

Image via Lim Huey Teng/Malaysiakini

"In recent weeks, however, it appears that the political opposition does not share that respect for our tradition of democracy," said Najib.

The flags of the four parties that make up Pakatan Harapan.

Image via Free Malaysia Today

He also pointed out that the opposition leader who has been making these comments, is the one who previously admitted to being a dictator, during his time as the Malaysian prime minister.

Najib made references to the time when people were locked up under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and several major newspapers were closed under the same prime minister's government. Najib did not name the person.

"Crony capitalism was rife, with deals made that significantly burden the people today. People had no right to demonstrate, and students were not allowed to participate in politics."

"But Malaysia’s democracy survived, and under my government, it has been strengthened with the most far-reaching reforms since independence."

Activists at the 'Tangkap MO1' rally which was held on 27 August 2016 to pressure authorities to arrest 'Malaysian Official 1' named in the reports on 1MDB by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Image via Malaysiakini

"We repealed the ISA – and ended the State of Emergency that had existed for over 60 years. These were major steps that required great political courage – but we went forward with them because removing these outdated and repressive pieces of legislation was the right thing to do," Najib explained.

Najib spoke about how a large number of reforms were made under his government, including the amendment to the Universities and University Colleges Act which now allows university students to participate in political activities, scrapping the ISA, among others.

However, despite the reformations to the Universities and University Colleges Act, students have still complained that the law still restricts them from fully participating in political activities.

ISA, on the other hand, was replaced by the National Security Council Act 2016, which was dubbed by the opposition leaders as a "death sentence" to Malaysia's democracy.

In conclusion, Najib stressed the government is committed to defending freedom of speech and democracy in Malaysia

"We have faith in Malaysia’s democracy, and in the right of the people to air their views," he said, adding that the opposition parties are trying to make it seem like critics of the government are "routinely imprisoned" here.

"Why, then, is it that you will find praise for Opposition politicians in our national newspaper, and vigorous debate – including plenty of criticism of the government – on Malaysia's web portals? There is one well-known academic who, ever since he came back to Malaysia to take up a post at a Government-funded think tank – and in a position funded by the Noah Foundation, set up by my own grandfather – has taken every opportunity to attack me and my policies, from our participation in international trade deals, to the administration of BR1M, to foreign investment in Malaysia.

"He is at perfect liberty to do so, just as the Opposition's real mastermind, Lim Kit Siang, is at liberty to make all manner of accusations about me – however much I and my colleagues may think they are wrong. Why? Because we believe in, and we practise, free speech in this country," he said.

"The truth is that this government upholds democracy. We uphold free speech. And we uphold the rule of law."

Najib reminded that making inaccurate remarks about the country's state of democracy for political gain is not right.

"That does not show pride in what we have achieved. Nor does it demonstrate love of our country. And that is what should be uniting us now as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of independence and look back on the milestones that have made Malaysia the diverse, harmonious and confident country it is today."

What do you think about the state of democracy and free speech in Malaysia? Let us know in the comment section below.

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