LOOK AT THE LIAR - MANIPULATIONS, BN STYLE In the Aljazeera Channel East 101 interview with Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the Q&A touched on various election issues - press and campaigning freedom, sedition, balloting transparency, Hindraf and the Government's liberal stance. The Aljazeera media team had travelled nationwide to gauge the election campaign.Transcribed by Nisha Sabanayagam
Q. On the conduct of the electoral process. The group BERSIH has provided with us some details on what they way are anomalies in the process. Do you think the registration and the voting practices are completely clean?A. Yes, its very transparent. It is very fair. We have lost the elections before. In fact, the entire state of Kelantan is controlled by PAS. And the present state government has survived for a number of years on the basis of having one seat more than Barisan Nasional. And that one seat which they won, they won by a majority of two. If BERSIH claims that the process is not fair and is not transparent and that we have the means of exploiting the elections results, don’t tell me we cannot find three more votes to change the situation.
Q. I have a list here of at least 100 people over the age of 100 registered as voters. A. It is possible that the names of people who have died in the past, their names are still on the list. But they will not appear as voters. The opposition parties also have polling agents. They can verify those names.
Q. There have been instances where dead people have turned up to vote. A. Let us find out and let them bring it up to the Elections Commission.
Q. The DAP recently called this the most important election in Malaysia’s history because they perceive a very strong move towards greater Islamisation of what is the historically a secular state and they worry about issues which marginalise those who are not Muslims. Do they have a reason to be concerned? A. No. We have not changed the fundamental policies. But the irony is that they have some sort of political understanding with PAS, which has a much more Islamic agenda, which is they want to turn Malaysia into a theocratic Islamic state. That is an agenda we do not have. They are political partners.
Q. Does that suggest they are desperate? A. Yes, absolutely. It is just a political ploy on the part of DAP. How can you present an electorate when you cannot even agree on a common policy let alone a common symbol? They don’t even have a common symbol. So they are not really an alternative to the present Barison Nasional.
Q. On the issue of freedom of speech. There have been a number of attempted rallies in Kuala Lumpur in the past few months which have been denied permission to take place and there have been a bit unpleasantness. Why is it that the government is so cautious about public rallies? A. Because most of the demonstrations that have been organised are street demonstrations. When there are street demonstrations, there is very little control about what’s likely to happen. As you know some of the demonstrations that have been organized have resulted in some physical clashes and there is the risk (not withstanding the risk of businesses being affected) that could spark off retaliatory demonstrations by others who are opposed to some of the issues carried by these groups.
Q. On the HINDRAF rally recently. What you say demonstration they would call it a rally, with the point of trying to present a petition to the Prime Minister at Parliament. They were a rather modest crowd of 700 people and yet the force of police that turned out against them was much higher and rather immediate.. Where was the threat? A. The threat can come first of all (from) the people who are involved in this who may resort to throwing stones. That actually happened in the Batu Caves area, organised by HINDRAF. Secondly there is also the danger that other groups for example the Malays in Kampung Baru, who can get quite agitated and they may organize their demonstrations and this could lead to something very serious in terms of a multiracial society.
Q. What about the different approach to facilitate the demonstration and allow it to disperse as soon as possible? A. We leave it to the police to manage this. It is very much a police matter. We don’t actually give explicit instructions to the police. They will decide what is the best way to control the situation.
Q. The police obviously have control of the actual event on site.. The government has control over issuance of permits and acceptance for those demonstrations. A. Well, actually I have to correct you. The issuance of permits is actually decided by the police. For your in formation, in the state of Terengganu for example, in the last year, there were about 200 public rallies organized by the opposition and another 200, without permits. So there are many instances in which the police have allowed rallies to be continued despite the fact the organizers have not obtained the necessary permits from the police.
Q. The former deputy prime minister Datuk Anwar Ibrahim has complained that genuine political gathering for the purpose of disseminating information are denied permits? A. I give the example of the state of Terengganu. There were more rallies organized by the opposition and rallies that do not get police permits were actually allowed by the police and not disrupted. So in fact, there is a deal of latitude given in our society. In fact, the opposition parties have started their political rallies or campaigns ever since the last elections happened. Over a period of four years, they have been going down to the ground.
Q. Let me ask you your view of the local media. Many complaints have been made, not just against the media, but within the media itself, that they are not allowed to report on and often do not report on issues of certain significance. Do you think there is free speech in the media? A. I think it is quite open. For example, the alternative media is very open in this country.
Q. And often quite oppressed, it is not? A. No, it is not. You go through the internet, there are websites and blogs and a lot of the material there is actually very, very critical of the government. And this has been allowed. There are also papers owned by the opposition parties, for example PAS, Keadilan and DAP all have their own newspapers.
Q. So, it the government’s position they are free to write what they want? A. Of course. Except if you break the laws of the country. If what you write can be construed as seditious, then its different. There is a lot of latitude given. I tell you, the kind of things that is written on the internet, it is mind-boggling.
Q. Some of the HINDRAF leaders have been arrested with charges of sedition. Is there any intent to bring charges against these people? Do they deserve to be held? A.. The general reaction of the people have been quite positive in terms of using of the ISA because this has led to quite a de-escalation in terms of all the activities going on this country such as the street demonstrations. With some of the street demonstrations in the country, people feel that the government has been too liberal perhaps and people want the stability in this country to be upheld.
Q. A lot people say that the government has not been liberal enough?A. On the contrary, we have been very liberal in this country. - NST