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Najib’s fear campaign

New Mandala

Najib’s fear campaign

The Malaysian Prime Minister’s ruthless tactics to hold onto power at all costs demonstrate that he is the one who is most afraid while his people are willing to fight on, Bridget Welsh writes.

This week Najib Tun Razak is beating the Malay chauvinist drum at his party’s annual general assembly (AGM). Meetings of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) have regularly followed this mode, but the use of racism and paranoia have taken on greater intensity in the face of its leader’s eroding political legitimacy.

For the past two years, Malaysia’s Prime Minister has been beleaguered by the 1MDB scandal that has involved not only nearly $700 million going into Najib’s personal account but also raised issues of criminal money laundering, embezzlement and economic mismanagement involving over $3.5 billion. The case is being investigated and prosecuted in over six jurisdictions, most notably by the US Department of Justice. The scandal featured centre stage in last month’s Bersih 5 rally in which thousands went to the streets to protest corruption, economic mismanagement and systematic inequalities in the electoral process.

Despite public discontent, Najib has adeptly used a variety of tactics to stay in power, which is crucial if he is to avoid international prosecution. The most obvious of these involves a crackdown on political opponents. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed in 2015. Since then more than 10 opposition politicians have faced a variety of charges from sedition to challenges to ‘parliamentary democracy’. Last month whistleblower and parliamentarian, Rafizi Ramli, was convicted of violating the Official Secrets Act for releasing evidence associated with 1MDB. This week’s UMNO meeting has called for continued no-holds barred attacks on the opposition.

The crackdown on dissent has also targeted civil society. On the eve of the 19 November Bersih 5 rally, its chairperson, Maria Chin Abdullah, was arrested under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act. She was held in solitary confinement, using a provision in the law that was designed for terrorism and national security. This follows a litany of attacks on other activists, cartoonists and artists, as well as ordinary citizens for ‘insulting’ posts on Facebook and WhatsApp. In 2015 there were 91 cases for ‘sedition’ alone. Human Rights Watch has detailed these in an October 2016 report.

The media has also been in the firing line. In 2015 the harassment of publishers led to the closure of The Malaysian Insider. Last month the online portal Malaysiakini was raided, and its editor Steven Gan was charged for simply publishing a video. This comes on the back of the Communication and Multimedia Act being tightened in March. ‘Protection’ from insults has extended beyond Najib to those seen to be protecting him. The aim is to silence criticism of Malaysia’s most unpopular prime minister.

To complement these attacks, Najib’s government has deepened its use of racial chauvinism. From the 2013 elections onwards, it has depicted opposition to it as ‘Chinese’ and reinforced the view that Najib’s UMNO party, is the only viable protector of the Malays. This politicised framing lacks any grounding in reality as over 40 per cent of Malays voted for the opposition in 2013 and the most recent Bersih rally showcased the breadth of multi-ethnic opposition to Najib, especially among young Malays. Nevertheless, Najib’s strategy has increased ethnic tensions along political lines. His ratcheted war-like rhetoric at the UMNO meeting points to a willingness to tear the society apart for his own political survival.

Scare tactics have extended to thuggery, most evident in the crass use of violence and intimidation by the UMNO-linked ‘red shirts’. Some of these political vigilantes – many of them allegedly paid to participate in hooliganism – have also been arrested but have clearly received favourable treatment. Despite official denials, the widespread perception is that thuggery is being promoted by the government.

Najib’s machinations also involve political manoeuvring. He has forged an alliance with conservative Islamist zealots. His government has allowed Wahhabi Islam to extend its extremist and intolerant tentacles through the unchecked and increasingly locally- and internationally-funded religious bureaucracy, with particular support from Najib’s close ally and 1MDB partner Saudi Arabia. Lacking moral authority of his own, Najib has chosen to ally himself with the discredited Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), led by Hadi Awang and his designer suit-wearing appointees. Perceptions of corruption and discriminatory land grabbing from indigenous people have corroded PAS’s public support, as Hadi has introduced a bill that hypocritically strengthens the punishment of ordinary Muslims for immoral activity. This bill, known as RUU 355, will open up opportunities for abuse by authorities in a government where the rule of law is not fairly practised and fuel ethnic tensions. It is no coincidence that bill was reactivated after the Bersih 5 rally.

…more
Najib’s fear campaign
Bridget Welsh
2 Dec, 2016 – New Mandala

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All that is necessary
for the triumph of evil
is for good men
to do nothing.

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fears their government,
there is TYRANNY;
when the government
fears the people,
there is LIBERTY.

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