Malaysian NGOs Sound Warning on PM Candidates

Malaysian NGOs Sound Warning on PM Candidates
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

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Civil society groups are urging Malaysia's major political parties not to throw stones from within glass houses.

We would like to reiterate that democratic struggle must not be reduced to a competition merely between political elites for state power.

Seventeen NGOs and 107 concerned citizens have endorsed an initiative calling on the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) party and the Pakatan Harapan left-center political alliance to remove current prime minister Najib Abdul Razak and former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad as their respective prime ministerial candidates in the next general election.

The signatories warned Harapan that it risked losing its moral authority to champion issues like social justice, human rights and accountability if it nominated Mahathir for the top post.

“The biggest failure of Harapan lies in the fact that, while pursuing relentlessly BN's wrongdoings, it has simultaneously been turning a blind eye to the former prime minister's appalling records on democratic values, giving the general public the impression that it has succumbed to the culture of impunity and now puts partisan interests above democratic principles and the people's well-being," the statement said.

“This political expediency certainly does not augur well for Malaysians yearning for change.

“In our opinion, wrongdoings of national significance committed by the current or the previous administrations are equally severe, and these include 1MDB, the crackdown on the Bersih rallies, the [disputed] murder of [journalist] Teoh Beng Hock, Bank Negara’s forex scandal in the early 1990s, Operasi Lalang in 1987, Project IC, the sackings of the former Supreme Court judges in 1988, among many others.

“By absolving Mahathir of his responsibility, Harapan has lost the moral authority to demand for the removal and prosecution of Najib,” they added.

In view of this, the signatories urged BN and Harapan to drop Najib and Mahathir and pick candidates with integrity to ensure good governance and well-functioning public institutions.

The NGOs and concerned citizens also condemned the use of race as a political ploy with regard to key leadership positions.

“In particular, the oft-repeated claim by Umno [United Malays National Organisation] leaders that the Malay community would be marginalized under a government dominated by the 'Chinese' Democratic Action Party (DAP) is abhorrent," they said.

“Furthermore, Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) president (Abdul) Hadi Awang has openly suggested that only Muslims and members of the 'influential race' should be allowed to assume national leadership and form a cabinet, effectively denying non-Muslims their constitutional rights,” they added.

The signatories urged all political parties to respect every citizen's democratic right to run for office, including the office of prime minister and the cabinet, regardless of their gender, age and ethnic or religious background, because the suitability of public office holders should be determined by integrity and competency.

“In closing, we would like to reiterate that democratic struggle must not be reduced to a competition merely between political elites for state power, since democracy can only take root with a vibrant civil society as well as with an empowered citizenry ready to stand up for its rights.

“We would like to encourage Malaysians to be active citizens by participating in community activism and social movement in daily life, and be involved in the decision-making process at the community, local and national levels.

“This is because democracy is much more than just casting one’s vote at the ballot box or pinning one’s faith on individuals, as it entails participation in effecting real change throughout the political process.

“Most important of all, Malaysian civil society has made tremendous progress since 2008. In appealing to personality politics in a desperate attempt at regime change instead of building on past successes, there is a strong likelihood that the hitherto achievements may go down the drain,” they added.

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The News Lens has been authorized to republish this article. The piece was first published on Malaysiakini.