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Monday, June 30, 2014

Idris Jala, what growth without civilian rule now?


COMMENT Senator Idris Jala, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and CEO of Malaysia’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu), assured Malaysians and investors that Malaysia’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) is on track. The Gross National Income (GNI) per capita had grown by 50 percent, based on the yardstick that 1.3 million jobs were created within the last four years.

The senator is talking as if economic growth can happen in a political vacuum. The truth is that successful economic growth programmes require rule of law - leaders and institutions have to obey and act within the law so that everyday and economic life can be predictable. When this fails, whatever ETP does, it will be a spent effort. No investor will put their funds in a country where rule of law is replaced by rule of violence as civilian rule is called into question.

Unfortunately, such a sorry state of affairs is exactly where Malaysia is increasingly moving towards. Civilian rule is no longer of certainty as the country is ripped apart by ethnic and religious tensions.

In defying judiciary, IGP snubs civilian rule

While the heart-wrenching stories of Subashini, M Indira Gandhi, S. Deepa and others are painful lived experiences of families and children torn apart by unilateral conversions, both the Indira and Deepa cases raise much deeper concerns. They have gone beyond tussles over children’s custody and unilateral conversion of children to something that must concern all Malaysian citizens - the breakdown of civilian rule.

To put this into context, on Oct 7, 2013 the Seremban Syariah High Court amended its court order dated Sept19, instructing the police to assist Izwan Abdullah @ N Viran to recover from his non-convert wife, Deepa, their children whom Izwan had unilaterally converted to Islam without Deepa’s knowledge.

On April 7, 2014 the Seremban High Court awarded the custody of the children to Deepa. The next day, Izwan abducted the children from Deepa’s house. The inspector-general of police (IGP), Khalid Abu Bakar (right), refused to arrest Izwan, claiming that there were conflicting orders from the civil and syariah high courts.

Prior to this, the IGP had also refused to act on the Indira Gandhi vs Ridzuan Abdullah @ S Pathmanathan case, in which the Ipoh High Court issued an order to Ridzuan to return Indira their child.

Instead of executing the High Court’s orders, the defiant IGP ignored them and decided on his own that the best solution was to have the children placed in welfare homes. In his latest move, he even decided that the Syariah Court and Common Law Court systems are equal.

It is crucial to remember that the rule of law is the legal and political framework under which all persons and institutions, including the state and the police, are held accountable. Without this respect for rule of law, we have no civilian rule and the nation would be in chaos.

Simply put, the law is superior and it is binding for all government servants, including law enforcers. This means that the IGP cannot act in his personal capacity or on his personal views just because he disagrees with both court orders.

Seriously, if all these legal decisions can be made by the top cop, why do we need the courts?

The IGP is not just contemptuous of the court order - he is in actual fact challenging civilian rule. He is effectively declaring the political autonomy of the police force!

The Najib Abdul Razak administration has yet again failed to demonstrate even the minimal leadership to defend civilian rule. The IGP has become such a powerful office that Khalid is now beyond any disciplinary mechanism.

‘Taichi-ing’ the issue to the AG

Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi conveniently ‘taichi-ed’ the issue to the attorney-general (AG).

Prime Minister Najib was as ‘decisive’; instead of dealing with the conflicting court orders, he passed this issue over to the Federal Court. He had to meekly appeal to everyone (not even daring to mention the IGP!) to “respect the court decisions”. Implicitly, the PM is saying that the high courts have no jurisdiction to instruct the police to perform their duties.

Civil society’s urgings for the IGP to resign or be sacked have but fallen onto deaf ears.

In an attempt to appease and cover up for the IGP’s challenge of civilian rule, the AG now seeks to suspend the custody orders issued by both the civil and syariah courts. The lame excuse offered was that both cases have “become a public interest matter which touches on religious sensitivity and has upset public order”.

If Najib and Zahid as elected politicians are abdicating their civilian control over to the police, the AG is now disgracing his office by this deliberate act to legimitise the IGP’s challenge of civilian rule.

Practically letting off the IGP, the AG is declaring to the police force that defiant behaviour is acceptable. The principle that police are employed to enforce the law and they are certainly not a law unto themselves is thrown out of the window.

The PM, home minister and the AG must bear the full political and legal responsibility for any defiance of civilian rule by not just the police but any security or law enforcement force.

Their shameless betrayal of their office and duty to uphold constitutional rule is ruining lives and families by denying them justice. These three individuals, PM, home minister and the AG are committing a crime against civilian rule.

Rule by violence?

As if political autonomy of law enforcers is not bad enough, the Najib administration is also actively glorifying political violence by praising terrorists and signaling impunity for thugs. The PM himself received a lot of flak for asking his party members to emulate the bravery of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), a terrorist group.

Instead of retracting the statement and apologising to Malaysians and also the Iraqi and Syrian victims of ISIS, Najib tried to blame the media for disproportionate reporting of his praise for the terrorists.

Will praising the combative power of the Israeli army ever be justified even if it becomes the world’s most powerful military force? Surely not.

Najib’s recalcitrance in not retracting his praise for ISIS’ terrorism suggests a dangerous culture of glorifying political violence and is seemingly rooted in his administration. Even non-state actors who promote, threaten and conduct violence are defended by the Najib administration.

In 2009, when a freshly severed cow-head was used in a militant demonstration to criminally intimidate the Hindu community and the Selangor state government, the then-home minister Hishammuddin Hussein tried to blame it on the victims, claiming they had provoked the thugs - incidentally led by low-ranking Umno leaders.

The placing of acow-head in front of Sri Delima assemblyperson RSN Rayer’s house on June 28, 2014 was again met with an irresponsible comment from the current Home Minister Zahid, who said that it was the price Rayer had to payfor being a “loudmouth”.

This is where we must draw the line as a civilised nation: While we may or may not agree with Rayer’s comment on Umno members or by anyone on other persons, there is no rational reason for anyone to violently trespass the safety and security of another person to punish her or him for differing views.

Where is our future?

In our shared nation, democratic civilian rule and rule of law require three things: authority and power in the hands of legitimately elected governments; checks and balances by an independent judiciary; and, execution and enforcement by professional and impartial state agencies. Without these, we will soon be a failed nation.

Unfortunately, not only are our elections far from free and fair and the rule of law being compromised on a daily basis, it seems that civilian rule is giving way to political autonomy of security forces and mob rule.

The challenge before Malaysians is not just in dealing with the faith and custody of children in conversion-related divorces, or about a controversial lawmaker.

Our real challenge is about maintaining civilian rule and civility. It is about putting off the culture of violence fanned by shameless politicians who glorify terrorism and impunity of violence due to non-compliance and non-enforcement of the law. It is about how not to breed our own ISIS at some point in the future.

So Mr Idris Jala, what economic growth or economic transformation programme are we talking about here if we cannot even secure civilian rule?

Fellow Malaysians, let’s speak up before violence consumes us in our silence.



MARIA CHIN ABDULLAH is the chairperson for the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) and the executive director of Empower. She believes politicians are bad masters if not made good servants through free, fair and competitive elections.

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