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Mahathir is right – 92% BN  parliamentary majority is “too strong” and is a serious  threat to democracy



Media Statement

by Lim Kit Siang  

(Petaling Jaya
, Sunday): Former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has stirred a hornet’s nest with his off-the-cuff speech and question-and-answer session on “Current Issues in Malaysian Politics” organized by the Political and Economic Studies Institute yesterday.

He made so many controversial statements that the UMNO-owned newspaper, New Straits Times, had to trot out a battery of government top-guns, including Ministers like Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (Agriculture and Agro-based Industries), Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz (International Trade and Industry), Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar (Foreign) and the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers’ Club Chairman Datuk Shahrir Samad as well  unnamed but very highly-placed official sources to give a virtual point-by-point rebuttal to  Dr.  Mahathir.

There were  many things which I had disagreed with Dr. Mahathir in the past but I always believed, all through the five administrations of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, Tun Hussein Onn, Dr. Mahathir and the present Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to support and give praise to what is right and good for the country and not to flinch from criticizing, opposing and even deploring what is wrong and bad for Malaysia, the people and future generations.

I fully endorse what Dr. Mahathir said yesterday that 92% Barisan Nasional majority in Parliament is “too strong”.  Dr. Mahathir is right – 92% BN  parliamentary majority is “too strong” and is a serious  threat to democracy!

Dr. Mahathir said:  “I believe that the country should have a strong government but not too strong. A two-thirds majority like I enjoyed when I was prime minister is sufficient but a 90% majority is too strong.

“We need an opposition to remind us if we are making mistakes.  When you are not opposed you think everything you do is right.”

This was in fact the burden of my first speech in Parliament on May 20, 2004 after the 2004 general election, where I described  the 92 per cent BN parliamentary majority as “a time-bomb to democracy  and good governance in Malaysia because of the truism of the maxim by  British historian, Lord Acton – ‘Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’”.

I warned that  without real and meaningful check-and-balance for such overbearing power, “things can go wrong, very quickly, dangerously, catastrophically and on a  mega-scale, when it is corrupted into unbridled arrogance of power”. 

It has taken Dr. Mahathir 20 months to reach the same conclusion as  my warning to Parliament in May last year.

Unfortunately, during his 22 years as Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir failed to practise what he preached yesterday – to appreciate and  respect the important and indispensable role of an opposition in a working parliamentary democracy, as he did all he could using both fair and foul means including undemocratic and unjust abuses of power, to crush the democratic opposition.

This was the root cause for the Operation Lalang mass arrests under the Internal Security Act and why Lim Guan Eng was jailed, disqualified as Member of Parliament and disenfranchised of his right to vote and to stand for elective office  for  six years – the same reason for the long list of victims under his premiership, ranging from Irene Fernandez to Anwar Ibrahim, the judiciary to Parliament.

Yesterday, Dr. Mahathir wondered whether there was a growing tendency by UMNO members and BN MPs not to criticize even when things went wrong, noting sadly that UMNO was not behind him he exposed “the abuse of power” in the issue of approved permits (APs) for the import of cars into the country.

Calling on them to “stick their necks out” and speak up if they see something obviously wrong, he said: “My fear is that if people fail to think and criticize that which is wrong then the society will rot.”

Recounting  his days as an ordinary MP in the 1960s when “I stuck my neck out” to criticize then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman for his policies towards the Malays, he said:  “I took the risk. I was chopped and expelled from UMNO. It  was (second prime minister) Tun Abdul Razak who brought me back into UMNO, otherwise I would not have become PM”.

Dr. Mahathir was rebutted by Shahrir who, to his credit, had stood up against Dr. Mahathir in the late eighties.  Shahrir demurred: “There is more openness now compared to before, compared with Dr. Mahathir’s time. The politicians are nothing like what he is making us out to be. We are much more vocal and critical about the Government now.”

Who is right – Dr. Mahathir or Shahrir?  Shahrir is only partially right. He is correct that there is a sense of greater openness and tolerance for dissent under Abdullah than during the  Mahathir era. But Dr. Mahathir hit the bull’s eye when he lamented that he had received no support from BN MPs on the APs scandal – as the only voices heard loud, clear and persistently in Parliament on this issue were  from the Opposition MPs.

In fact, it would not be wrong to say that although BN particularly UMNO MPs are notedly more outspoken and critical of the government in Parliament as compared to Dr. Mahathir’s time, they are very selective and discriminatory in such criticisms – avoiding subjects which will tread on important political toes and prepared even to help sweep embarrassing issues under the carpet.

This was why there was conspicuous  parliamentary silence from the BN backbenchers on the APs issue and why there was the  attempt to distort the police naked ear-squats videoclip scandal from a human rights and police abuses issue into one challenging the loyalty and integrity of DAP MPs.

The preparedness of UMNO MPs to criticize the government is also influenced by whether the Minister is UMNO or non-UMNO, as there is less restraint in the latter case.

Yesterday, Dr. Mahathir, who is also Proton adviser, said he was baffled by the  RM158 million pre-tax losses reported by national car maker Proton for the second quarter of this year.  Dr Mahathir said he did not understand why Proton was suddenly not making profits now after having a strong financial performance in the past.

He said: "Have the operations cost gone up?. I am surprised that a company which was doing well suddenly reports losses. It is difficult to believe that it was because they purchased (motorcycle manufacturer) Agusta.

"If Agusta had debts, then when the purchase price would have been lower. Why did Proton buy it for a higher price, especially with the saddling debts of the purchased company...there must be a mystery here and we have to get to the bottom of it."

If the Proton adviser can be baffled by Proton losses, the 25 million Malaysians are even more baffled.

In his speech, Dr. Mahathir also admitted the failure of the privatization programme launched during his premiership, leading to his call for a re-nationalisation of privatized entities which are losing concerns.

These and many other controversial issues raised by Dr. Mahathir yesterday should be fully discussed by the Cabinet at its next meeting which  should issue a  proper and full post-Cabinet public  response.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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