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Monday, June 16, 2008


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.

I 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 “openness”.

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.

At 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 television stations.

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.

Then 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?

The 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.

It 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.

Mostly 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.

Everything 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.

Posted by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

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