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Democracy very much alive in Malaysia, says Najib

Prime Minister Najib Razak compares his leadership to that of a former PM-turned-opposition leader, who had 'locked up hundreds of people under the ISA'.

Prime Minister Najib Razak compares his leadership to that of a former PM-turned-opposition leader, who had 'locked up hundreds of people under the ISA'.


WASHINGTON DC: Prime Minister 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 former prime minister’s 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 We repealed the ISA and ended the State of Emergency that had existed for over 60 years,” he said.

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 the 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 MP.

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 practice free speech in Malaysia,” he said.

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