MALAYSIA: World Community must stand up to coup concerns

A leading minister of the Government of Malaysia has noted the imminent possibility of a coup led by conservative and right wing elements. This is in retaliation for the limited amount of reforms in favour of democracy and rule of law brought about by Mohammed Mahathir’s government after his recent election victory.

Over a long period of time Malaysia remained under the national security laws which were draconian in nature. Like in Singapore, it was possible to arrest and detain people purely on the basis of a letter of approval by the Prime Minister. This deprived the arrested person of all due process rights and the right of a fair trial. Whether a person would be released and when was decided entirely on the wishes of the Prime Minister.

It took long years of struggle by the people to regain the right to fair elections and the right to remedies in civil rights violations.

When the people were kept under the national security laws, they were exposed to all kinds of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, both mentally and physically. The manner of interrogation which went on for days in many instances, resulted in people losing their memories. For example, a mathematics teacher who was a university graduate lost his memory about mathematics. This took place after a prolonged interrogation of several days by a team of interrogators. Many such forms of extremely harmful practices to human beings were practiced. But, up to date, there have not been proper investigations into such serious abuses. On all such matters-Impunity Prevails.

Malaysian democracy has had a little breathing space within the last few years. And, it was possible to witness the revival of the people. They, in the natural course of life, began to participate in the activities of society and contribute in whatever manner they could to make their society more humane and democratic.

Judging from the neighbourhood, takeover coups d’etat are not an unfamiliar event for the region. Thailand is now a military dictatorship although it conducts pseudo elections, in order to create an impression that there is a transition to democracy. However, there is no possibility of any party other than the military taking power by winning an election. This is notwithstanding whatever majority they may acquire. Under one pretext or another, election results are outlawed. The military with just 25% of the votes from the electorate could claim that they are the lawful rulers of the country.

Although Malaysia has had draconian rules under the national security laws it has not witnessed a direct military takeover or military rule. This was partly due to the manner in which British rule was established in the colony of Malaya. They were like other colonies in India, Sri Lanka and the like, where the military was kept in abeyance. It was called upon only when there were extreme emergencies. A well-established principle from colonial practices was that the Military should remain in their barracks in normal times.

However, if there is coup, the only way the coup could maintain itself in a country in which there is quite a strong interest in democracy, fair elections and fair trial, is by flexing its military muscle. Whether that will happen by way of civilian policing being transformed into some form of military policing, as it has happened in several countries, OR whether there will be direct military intervention, is yet to be seen. In the advent of an announcement on the possibility of a coup, it is the duty of both the local population and the international community to intervene vigorously. It will ensure that the democracy in Malaysia will continue to function. And in the years to come, it will see an expansion of the enforcement of the rule of law, democracy and human rights. There are vast possibilities of Malaysia being a democracy not only to the people of Malaysia but also to the region.

For too long democratic traditions have been suppressed in South East Asia. The result is a direct undermining of democratic institutions. The coups may come and go but what is important is the impact it leaves on the basic institutions of a country which guarantees protection for the people and which safeguards the liberty of the people. We are at a moment when all that can be challenged. It is up to everyone to keep their eyes and ears open to prevent such a catastrophic development.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-017-2019
Countries : Malaysia,
Issues : Administration of justice, Democracy, Legislation,