WASHINGTON, Sept 14 ― Democracy is thriving in Malaysia where free speech is propagated, Datuk Seri Najib Razak told American academics, scholars and policymakers here.
The Malaysian prime minister said Malaysia had the “longest and most consistent record” as a democracy in Southeast Asia.
“Elections are fiercely contested, and they are real fights ― which is shown by the fact that Opposition parties have won state elections. They won five out of Malaysia’s 13 states in 2008.
“I know there are elements that have been trying to create false impressions lately. There was even one article that said Malaysia was in danger of sliding into dictatorship. That really is preposterous!”
Najib was speaking at the Banyan Tree Leadership forum co-sponsored by the US Center for Strategic and International Studies and Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies yesterday.
He pointed out that cabinet ministers and prominent politicians have lost their seats in elections and he also nearly lost in the 1999 general election.
“Ours is a genuine democracy and no one is guaranteed election, no matter how high their position. It is the people who have the final say ― which is how it should be in a democracy,”
Najib said, adding that it was untrue that his government jailed its critics unlike one of his predecessors.
Without referring to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad by name, Najib said this person, who was a former prime minister and now an Opposition leader, admitted to being a dictator during his time in power.
“When he was prime minister, hundreds of people were summarily locked up under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Newspapers, including a major national daily, were closed.
“The judiciary was emasculated. Crony capitalism was rife, with deals made that significantly burden ordinary Malaysians 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. We repealed the ISA ― and ended the State of Emergency that had existed for over 60 years,” he said, adding removing these outdated and repressive pieces of legislation was the right thing to do.
Najib also told his audience his government had also encouraged democracy by allowing demonstrations under the Peaceful Assembly Act, increasing media freedom by scrapping restrictions on newspaper publishing licenses, and reforming the Universities and University Colleges Act to allow undergraduates to participate in political activities.
“The Opposition has tried to make out that free speech in Malaysia is under threat. Why then is it that you will find praise for Opposition politicians in our national newspapers, and vigorous debate ― including plenty of criticism of the government ― on Malaysia’s web portals?”
He also told the forum that Malaysia was a true partner of the US, especially on international issues and regional security.
On North Korea’s repeated missile and nuclear weapons testing, Najib said there was no place for the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).
“They pose a grave concern to the peace, security, and stability of the region and the world. Asia must not be held hostage over the prospect of either a WMD or conventional war breaking out in our midst. The stakes are simply too high.”
On the fight against terrorism and extremism, Najib revealed that there had been only one successful Islamic State-linked attack in Malaysia and there were at least 13 other attempts since 2012 which were thwarted by Malaysian law enforcement agencies.
“Nonetheless, Daesh has ensnared some of our citizens both in life and in death, from Mosul to Marawi,” Najib said, using another name for the terrorist group.
“These people, both those who encourage others to go down the path of violence ― and those that do so themselves, are our enemies just as much as they are your enemies. By claiming their terrorism is Islamic in nature, these individuals blaspheme against our religion and that we cannot forgive.”