WASHINGTON DC: Datuk Seri Najib Razak said democracy is very much alive in Malaysia and the country is not in danger of sliding into dictatorship.
“That really is preposterous,” he told an American think-tank based here, referring to false impressions circulated about Malaysia.
But under his leadership, the prime minister said that democracy had survived and was in fact being further strengthened.
“Now, it’s true that one of the Malaysian opposition leaders has admitted that he was a ‘dictator’ when he was in power. When he was prime minister, hundreds of people were summarily locked up under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Newspapers, including a major national daily, were closed,” Najib said.
Najib, who is on a three-day working visit to the United States, was speaking at a luncheon hosted by the US Center for Strategic and International Studies here on Wednesday.
Najib said during that era, the judiciary was emasculated, crony capitalism was rife, with deals made that significantly burdened ordinary Malaysians until today.
People had no right to demonstrate and students were not allowed to participate in politics, he said of the conditions back then.
“But Malaysia’s democracy survived and under my government it has been strengthened. We repealed the ISA and ended the State of Emergency that had existed for over 60 years,” he said.
Accompanied on the working visit by wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Najib, who is here at the invitation of US President Donald Trump, held talks with the American leader at the White House on Tuesday.
At today’s event, Najib pointed out that restrictions on media freedom had been removed and undergraduates could now participate in political activities.
“Large demonstrations that would never have been allowed under the former leader have taken place in Kuala Lumpur over the last few years,” he told his audience.
Najib also denied that the government jailed its critics.
He explained that the Malaysian judiciary was independent, with ministers and state chief ministers from both sides of the political divide having been taken to court.
“If an opposition politician breaks the law, he may well be arrested, yes. But not for being a critic. No, his arrest would be for having broken the law – which is actually the norm in most countries, and both Malaysians and Americans would be worried if it was otherwise,” Najib said.
Najib shared with his audience that elections were fiercely contested in Malaysia, with cabinet ministers and prominent politicians having lost their seats in the polls.
“I myself only just retained my parliamentary constituency in 1999,” the prime minister said, referring to the slim 241-vote majority he received to remain as Pekan member of parliament.
Najib also took a swipe at a well-known academic whom, he said, ever since he came back to the country to take up a chair funded by the Noah Foundation set up by his grandfather, had taken every opportunity to “attack me and my policies”.
“He is at perfect liberty to do so, as are others – however much I and my colleagues may think they are wrong. Why? Because we believe in and we practise free speech in Malaysia,” he said.
On the plight of the oppressed Rohingya community in Myanmar, Najib said he raised the matter during his meeting with Trump at the White House.
The prime minister said he was glad that the president shared his concern and believed that the US would also provide humanitarian assistance to those victims of atrocities.
The prime minister said he had for quite some time expressed concern over the Rohingya issue and believed that the world was almost completely united in being appalled by the latest wave of violence against them.
He added that the violence had the potential to radicalise desperate young people enraged by the treatment meted out against them. – Bernama