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“Democracy crucial to economic progress”
By Deborah Loh
“Where is democracy, Mr Najib?” in different languages. (l-r: CIJ’s V Gayathry, JIM’s Zaid Kamaruddin, Wong, and Haris)
KUALA LUMPUR, 10 July 2009: Slow democratisation will ultimately lead to economic and state failure, civil society groups said today in conjunction with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 100 days in office.
While praising Najib for liberalising the economy and making it his focus in the three months since taking office, the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said the premier should focus on democratic reforms in his next 100 days.
“There is an important link between economic progress and political progress. It is no accident that the most developed and economically affluent countries have advanced and have fully democratic systems. Failed states are the ones with corrupt and authoritarian regimes,” said Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI) chief executive officer Dr Lim Teck Ghee today.
Lim said economic growth could not be sustained in the long-term without democratisation of politics and society. This was acknowledged by the world’s major economic forums and think tanks, he noted.
He said one indicator of the lack of democracy was the brain drain where youths who studied abroad did not return to work. Lim noted that this was the experience of impoverished African nations, and was a clearly a problem for Malaysia, too.
“We should be taking note of such indicators. Malaysia is not a failed state, we’ve succeeded on many fronts but have many weaknesses. The danger sign is our slow democratisation,” Lim said at a press conference which unveiled 10 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on democratic reforms that NGOs want Najib to undertake.
“Civil society’s message to the prime minister is, if you really want Malaysia to be economically prosperous, these political reforms are imperative,” he said.
The KPIs were jointly developed by 10 civil society groups: CPI, the Civil Rights Committee of the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Centre for Independent Journalism, Civil Society Initiative for Parliamentary Reform, Group of Concerned Citizens, Pusat Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower), Jamaah Islah Malaysia, People’s Parliament, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), and Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami).
Thirty other civil society groups endorsed the statement on the KPIs.
The NGOs said that while Najib had been bold in liberalising the economy, the changes he made in scrapping the Foreign Investment Committee rules and the lifting of the 30% bumiputra equity quota were only helpful in being globally competitive.
But Najib has yet to address the structural roots of economic stagnation, which the groups listed as ethno-nationalism, cronyism, corruption and abuse of power.
“These are the major constraints and must be addressed if the country it to make any headway. At the same time, other reforms to close the income and wealth gap between the rich and poor, and to ensure environmental sustainability, also need urgent attention,” they said in the joint statement.
People’s Parliament convener Haris Ibrahim said that the KPIs on democracy were not new as Najib’s predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had promised similar reforms when he became prime minister in late 2003.
“These KPIs are a reaction to [Abdullah’s] failure to deliver. Najib must acknowledge that he is PM today because of the failure of his predecessor to deliver,” Haris said.
Wong Chin Huat
Wami chairperson Wong Chin Huat said Malaysians, of whom only 1% were concerned about democracy according to a recent poll by Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, should move beyond basic issues like earning money to larger issues such as democratic rights.
“We don’t just want the freedom to make money, but we also want the freedom of expression,” he said.
Holding a sign that said “Where is democracy, Mr Najib?”, Wong, who was arrested on 5 May 2009 for alleged sedition, said: “Whenever there is a problem, we must ask this question. If we get arrested for asking this question, then we’ll know the answer.”
Suaram coordinator Tah Moon Hui said the scheduled 1 Aug 2009 anti-Internal Security Act rally in Kuala Lumpur would test Najib on whether he believed in democracy or not.