After I stepped down there was a lot of talk about the Malaysian
Government being more open. The foreign press gleefully reported that
after I left UMNO, there would be even greater freedom in everything.
would not be able to make a comparison between my “dictatorial regime”
which a certain former judge described in his book as comparable to
that of Idi Amin of Uganda with the present freely elected Government.
But I would like to point out certain things that people and
journalists seem to ignore, which seems to belie the impression of
If people care to study the mainstream papers and
all the Malaysian television stations, they may notice that until
lately the reports were exclusively about the Government’s achievements
in managing the economy, the stability of the country and the
well-being of the people. The Gross Domestic Product Growth is high and
all the different communities seem very happy with the Government.
least four pages in the mainstream newspapers are devoted to the
activities of the Prime Minister and his advice to the people on what
they should do and how they should live. It is the same with the
Random interviews with members of the
public show unfailing support and appreciation of all the policies of
the Government and of the Prime Minister.
There are no reports
of dissent or criticisms of the Government or the Prime Minister in
particular. The spontaneous welcome of the people to his visits clearly
showed the general love for the leader and support for him. The
eagerness to shake his hand was touching.
Criticism if any came
only from the alternative media, the Internet websites and the
bloggers. This is only to be expected in an open society.
came a bombshell in the form of the disastrous General Election. The
“popular” Government parties fared very badly indeed, losing five
states, one federal territory and failing to get the usual two-thirds
majority in the Federal Parliament.
How could a Government with such openness and popularity do so badly, be so obviously rejected by the people?
answer is very strange. It is because there is really no openness. The
policy of the Government was and is to shut things up very tightly, so
tightly that people, especially the liberal western media failed to
detect the lack of openness.
It began with the sacking of many
of the editorial staff of the party-owned newspapers and their
replacement with hand-picked journalists whose main qualification is
their hatred of the previous Prime Minister.
Then there is the
unofficial “supremo” who would phone editors, including those not owned
by Government parties to tell them what to write and how to write.
The spin doctors would be busy spinning every report to make them look good for the Government.
is the same with the electronic media. All the television stations are
either owned by the Government or those close to the Government and
understandably chose not to criticise the Government.
UMNO members at all levels were not allowed to be critical of the Government.
only those supportive of the Prime Minister would be allowed to attend
the UMNO General Assembly. If they have to be bribed in order to extol
the virtues of the leader then so be it.
A sense of fear has
been instilled among UMNO supporters so that they would desist from
voicing critical opinions of the Government even between themselves in
case they would be reported and might lose something or might be
deprived of some goodies.
Any forum that was not by the
Government authorities or by the party where criticisms of the
Government might be heard were out of bounds to party members. In
particular if the speaker was the former Prime Minister UMNO members
must stay away from them.
The Government was very successful in
blacking out news or talks about its failures. So good was the spin
that even the leaders of the Government believed in the doctored
information that they had allowed to be circulated.
seemed to go the Government way. Everything seemed under control. Such
was the impression created by the censored news that Government leaders
in particular the Prime Minister were convinced that in any election,
at any time with any candidates the Government party would sweep clean
and would romp to victory as in 2004.
But the results proved
otherwise. Having muzzled the Press and the people, having doctored all
information, the Government leaders fell into their own trap. They so
believed in their doctored information that they failed completely to
detect disaffection and the antagonism of the people including their
traditional supporters over their lack of openness and the behaviour as
well as the policies of the Government.
And so, unable to
express their opposition openly, the traditional supporters of the
Government parties voted for the opposition or deliberately spoilt
their voting slips or simply refused to vote. The results of the March
2008 elections tell the whole story.
There is really no openness
just as there is no transparency in this Government. You can deceive
all of the people some of the time, some of the people all the time but
you cannot deceive all the people all the time.