By Kumaran Pillai
Malaysia, along with China, is one of the most corrupt nations in the world, according to an Asia-Pacific Fraud Survey Report Series 2013.
Speaking at a Media Law Policy forum in Hong Kong, Malaysian civil rights lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar spoke about the levels of corruption in Malaysia affecting good governance and socio-political stability there.
Imtiaz said that the “the rule of law is generally lacking in South-east Asia” with Singapore being the exception. He said that the judiciary is conservative but functioning in Singapore. Speaking after Singaporean civil rights lawyer M. Ravi, he qualified his statement by saying, “the grass is always greener on the other side.”
In contrast, he said that Malaysian public institutions like the judiciary and AGC are operating under a veneer of legitimacy and are used by politicians to stifle dissent. He called on the Malaysian press to put their judiciary and the judicial processes under scrutiny.
Referring to the widespread corruption in Malaysia, along with other Asian countries, Imtiaz quipped: “Malaysia is truly Asia.”
At the last Malaysian General Elections, 53% of the electorate voted for Pakatan Rakyat but they did not come into power due to political interference in the electoral process. Imtiaz cited this as another example of how the ruling party uses public apparatus to maintain power.
The Malaysian government is known to use the law to stifle dissent: they use criminal defamation and sedition laws to arrest and detain opposition politicians and critics.
It now has new powers to control any activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy. According to Imtiaz, Bersih and other civil rights groups in Malaysia are at risk of being prosecuted under the new law. The law is so broad that anyone who is involved in an “activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy” can be imprisoned for a term that may extend to 20 years while those attempting to do so can be imprisoned up to 15 years.
The amended Section 130A defines what constitutes an offence against parliamentary democracy: any activity carried out by a person, or a group of persons, or a group, designed to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by violent or unconstitutional means.
Sections 124D and 125D of the Act state that anyone who prints, publicises, sells, issues, circulates,reproduces or possesses any document or publication detrimental to parliamentary democracy can be imprisoned for a term that may extend to 15 years.
In a published article, Imtian said: “Architects of autocracies would benefit tremendously from studying the Malaysian model. It stands as a shining example of how, given the right combination of greed, ambition, maladministration and contempt for the rule of law, any democracy can be recast into an autocracy while preserving the veneer of democratic process.”
It makes one wonder what would be his fate if he said such things in Singapore?