Thursday, March 17

In Conversation with Raja Petra Kamaruddin

The Raison d’etre of Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement

By Raja Petra Kamarudin
There are some who are puzzled by the sudden emergence of the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM) and the perceived confrontational stand that MCLM is taking towards the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat.
Maybe it is time I corrected this misconception and make clear what is our Reform Agenda and state MCLM’s Mission and Vision.First of all, I have always been critical of the opposition since way back in 1999 when the opposition alliance called Barisan Alternatif was first launched and before there even was anything called Pakatan Rakyat.
And my critical articles were published in both Harakah and Berita Keadilan, the opposition newspapers of PAS and PKR (then called PKN) respectively.So there is nothing ‘sudden’ about my criticisms and the opposition parties even saw fit to publish these articles in their newspapers without any editing or censorship.
Maybe people have become more sensitive to criticism now compared to 11 years ago, so they have the impression that only of late have I been critical — whereas I have always been critical of the opposition since there was an opposition alliance or coalition. (We must remember, before 1999 there was no formal opposition coalition, only electoral pacts, which did not quite work anyway).
It could be that the sensitivities arise because prior to 2008 no one imagined that the opposition ever had a chance of forming the new federal government whereas now they do. So now they are more sensitive to criticisms because they feel that this criticism may result in Pakatan Rakyat losing out to Barisan Nasional.
The second point is that MCLM is not ‘sudden’. It emerged as a result of a culmination of events and a progression of developments in the political front that stretched over 35 years (as far as my involvement in politics is concerned).
The move (for me personally) to see changes started back in the late-1970s and the various stages of these events have brought us to what we see today — the emergence of MCLM.
In 1990 it was the Gagasan Rakyat and Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (APU) loose coalitions between Semangat 46 and DAP and between Semangat 46 and PAS respectively. In 1999 it was Barisan Alternatif, a coalition of PKN, DAP, PAS and PRM. And in 2008 it was Pakatan Rakyat, a coalition of PKR, DAP and PAS.
Wakeup call
So, over the last 20 years, we have seen the emergence of four different opposition coalitions. Therefore, nothing is static and instead we saw a progression and transformation where events dictated changes that were needed to meet these changes of events.
The same thing happened for political activism and the civil society movements. They evolved and transformed, peaking in 1999 when the Reformasi Movement was born.
In the beginning it was a ‘crude’ movement where the focus was merely to oppose a tyrannical government and bring about changes or reforms. But this movement was not so organised and lacked direction.
Worse still, we would not have known what to do had the opposition won the elections back in 1990 or 1999 and had to form the new federal government (which was demonstrated in 2008 when the opposition merely won five states and not even federal power yet).
But the civil society movements have matured since then and are now clearer in their minds as to what is required. 2004 was a wakeup call for the civil society movements although we are not too sure if the political parties have also woken up. And the wake-up call was the disaster suffered by the opposition in the March 2004 general election.
That was when I realised that the opposition and civil society movements must be better equipped to face the next general election due in 2008 or 2009. And to satisfy that requirement I launched Malaysia Today soon after the 2004 general election.
Also in 2004 a few of us also got together to form the Malaysian Civil Liberties Society (MCLS). This was so that we could offer a platform to unite the many rakyat eager to see changes and reforms and so that we could speak as one voice and help the opposition not only avoid another 2004 general election disaster but also prepare itself for the eventuality of forming the new federal government in the event it wins the general elections (or a few states, as the case may be).
So, MCLS was not ‘sudden’. It was in fact something that was started back in 2004 in response to the 2004 general election fiasco that the opposition suffered.And MCLS was not the only thing that we started. Malaysia Today was another exercise in the many that were started in 2004 in preparation for the general election that would have had to be called at the very latest by 2009.
The general election finally came, but in March 2008 instead of March 2009. But MCLS never saw the light of day. Until today it is still awaiting approval by the Malaysian government. Realising that after six years of waiting and not getting any response from the government it is futile to continue waiting, we decided to formalise MCLS outside Malaysia instead, in a country that would not block or hinder the formation of MCLS.
Two documents
And that was when we decided to formalise MCLS in the UK and instead of calling it MCLS we decided to call it MCLM by swapping the word ‘Society’ for ‘Movement’. Movement, after all, sounds more proactive than society, which gives the impression that we are merely a ‘talk shop’.
Anyway, let me backtrack a bit prior to the formation of MCLM in 2010.Realising that 2004 was the worst setback for the opposition and that the opposition really needed to get its act together if it wants its fortunes to change, we launched two documents called The People’s Voice and The People’s Declaration in the run-up to the March 2008 general election.
These two documents were endorsed by six political parties (PKR, DAP and PAS included) in a ceremony organised by the civil society movements.Even before there was any inkling that the opposition’s fortunes would change we got the opposition to commit itself to a clear and documented reform agenda.
This would be the basis of how the opposition would run the country in the event it won the March 2008 general election.Unfortunately, the opposition fell short and failed to deliver on a lot of its promises. While Pakatan Rakyat did bring about some changes in the states they ruled, we feel that the opposition could have done more if it had been more focused on the task in hand. But because of the many internal problems the opposition lost focus and even lost one of the states it controlled.
It is no secret that many are disappointed with the opposition’s performance and those who have not swung back to Barisan Nasional have threatened to abstain from voting come the next election.
This does not augur well for the nation and the hopes to see a new reform-oriented government post the much anticipated 13th General Election.Hence, the birth of MCLM on October 30, 2010 in London.

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