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Is the curtain for greater openness, accountability and transparency pledged by Abdullah coming down when it is only in the process of being lifted up after 31 months of his premiership?
Yesterday alone, Abdullah made two announcements which raised this concern, viz:
On Saturday, UMNO Youth joined PAS and other organizations to disrupt the Article 11 forum in Johore Baru, and Malaysians are presented with another case of the government siding with those who flout the law and the constitution with UMNO determining what should be Barisan Nasional government policy without having to seek the agreement of the other Barisan Nasional component parties.
It would appear that we are fast reaching a stage where upholding the original principles and spirit of the “social contract”, 1957 Merdeka Constitution and 1963 Malaysia Agreement bringing Sabah and Sarawak into a larger Malaysian nation that this is a democratic, multi-religious and secular nation with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic State will be regarded as anti-national, subversive and seditious.
Yesterday, UMNO Youth leader and Education Minister, Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein made a most startling claim when he warned that Article 121(1A) of the Constitution should not be questioned as this provision clearly demonstrated that Malaysia is an Islamic State.
This claim must have shocked Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who moved the constitutional amendment of Article 121(1A) in Parliament during the dark days of Operation Lalang in 1988 as he never knew that it was to meant to turn Malaysia into an Islamic State.
It would have shocked Hishammuddin’s father, Tun Hussein Onn, the third Prime Minister of Malaysia who maintained until his death in 1990 that Malaysia was a secular nation and not an Islamic State.
Although Mahathir subsequently made the infamous “929 Declaration” on Sept. 29, 2001 at the Gerakan national assembly that Malaysia was an Islamic State, he had never thought that Article 121(1A) could be used to fortify his unilateral, arbitrary and unconstitutional declaration.
Abdullah’s statement that the government “will not rush to take action” against the media is a reminder that 31 months into his premiership, the institutional apparatus for media control and censorship is fully intact and could be invoked any time for a clampdown on media freedom whether by the present Prime Minister or the next Prime Minister.
In the past 31 months, there is a greater air of media freedom but this is not because of any institutional reforms and only in certain selected areas, and this is why former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad complains of being a victim of a media “blackout” when for 22 years he had presided over an even more draconian media blackout against dissent and criticism.
Mahathir’s challenge to the Abdullah premiership could create a most ironic and unfortunate result in accelerating a relapse to repressive controls and governance covering entirely new areas not imposed in the previous Mahathir premiership - such as banning discussions and forums upholding fundamental constitutional rights and freedoms whether Article 11 on freedom of religion or the cardinal “social contract” principle that Malaysia is a democratic, multi-religious and secular nation with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic state.
Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic
Planning Commission Chairman
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman