Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Nazri-Najib spat: Freedom of speech and Freedom in politics

Sure, freedom of speech, but are we ready and able to tolerate, if not accept, statement to refer to the President as Hitler or in our case, on the Prime Minister or one's Party President?

The initial impression of Dato Nazri's opposition to the appointment of Dato Najib as BN's official Adviser was him containing any criticism against Dato Zahid's decision and his good friend from Pemuda days, Dato Najib.

It made Khairy's opposition limited to his "I am not comfortable where I am" quote. When Nazri speak, others move aside. None could match Nazri in being frank thus will not get their desired media coverage.

However, this may not be the Nazri that is loyal to the President and known in the past for his role as designated barking dog. This is a macho Nazri speaking on his personal capacity and known in limited circle as not having tolerance of man under queen control or weak leadership. He has more than a wife and even his latest addition has controversy of her own, but he is very much in control. 

Nazri's spat against Najib's appointment is a common example of Malaysians attitude towards freedom of speech.

No first amendment

Whenever news came out of someone got arrested or when charge in court and found guilty, the discussion of freedom of speech comes out.

More so these days, in which media is being curbed and the only avenue to vent out is through blogs, social media and online portals. The arrest and court decisions involving expression of views online will bring out the same discussion on freedom of speech.

These days, media is being curbed by editors getting regular calls of verbal directives to the point of harassment from someone at the PMO and claiming to talk for the PM or his CEP Chairman. It maybe partly true but more often it could be made up from their own initiatives or the Malay say, memandai or trying to be clever.

Whenever freedom of speech is discussed, the more liberal Malaysians tend to speak within the context of the US first amendment, where the government is prohibited to pass any law that deny freedom of religion, speech, press, peaceful assembly and petition government.

However, it is a different case in Malaysia. There are such rights spelled out in the constitution, but there are laws that govern the rights, against denial of the freedom, and also the exceptions to rights. As Tun Dr Mahathir used to explain, every rights given in the Constitution is balanced with a counter balance.

In not so many ways, one can brutally say whether it is in the practical sense or legally speaking, there is no absolute freedom in Malaysia in the same manner as the US. The freedom of speech has a line not to be crossed.

Salleh Buang's January article in NST put hate speech as the line not to be crossed. "Hate speech is when we say things that are offensive or harmful, targeted at a particular person or group of people".

Malaysian can be an emotional lot. Quite often, they are incapable of articulating their views sensibly and hearing views differ in preferences from their own. To rebut Mahathir's call for Malay unity by accusing him as the cause of Malay unity, the only response his fanatics like Kelab Che Det could do is to call the person as "kurang ajar" or rude and a challenge to rumble to ensue. 

Since there is such a law against hate speech and promises of reform to offer more freedom by the PH government, as Salleh claim, he has yet to see it happening, thus the Attorney General is obliged and must carryout the law.

Irrespective of the concerns of Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim or Lim Guan Eng or the small pockets of Malaysian called the "Bangsar" liberals, the court has made a decision and the law requires that Wan Ji fulfill his sentence for his hate speech against the Sultan of Selangor.

Anwar, Guan Eng and the Bangsar liberals will have to amend the law and constitution to change or clarify the definition of hate speech because requesting any party to hold back or ignore court decision is unlawfully and unconstitutionally interfering the affair of judiciary.

Freedom in Politics

That is as far as public order is concern but now, Nazri's spat against Najib's appointment as BN Adviser is politics.

While the view of Nazri as reminder and role of check and balance is certainly most welcome, does the political participants and interested public have the maturity to talk of the issue objectively without bringing in personal issues, deviating from the boundaries of the subject, and political antics?

Seldom they could not be rational enough to contain their disagreements on differing views. It is the reason UMNO elders prefer not to prolong open debate within the party and express their reservation "through proper channel".

Freedom of speech in politics seldom ended up inconclusive, but causes split and perpetual animosity. It will inhibit the party's political operation and ended up constituencies, state and now national level loss at elections. 

Often than not, there is no maturity and fair views are pushed aside for their speculated intentions and the politics rather than substance.

Not many dare admit it is fair for Nazri to question the choice of Najib as adviser for reasons he is responsible for the loss of BN, personally tainted, and blew his chance thus time to step aside. The spat is seen as putting BN at a standstill from moving forward.

However, it is not Nazri without being blunt as he laced his criticism with revelation Najib wanted to be BN Chairman instead of Adviser and reminded Zahid he is not Najib's political secretary any more.

Nazri lost the plot. If only Nazri could refrain from such a habit at his senior age of 65, his message could have hit home. Instead he invited negative responses to  expose his friendship with Guan Eng and involvement as arranger for the failed and controversial Penang Tunnel project.

In the first place, friendship should be separated from partisanship. Secondly, Nazri has no direct responsibility to the tunnel project to be deemed as accepting corruption or kickback. Nevertheless, the message is a personal attack to say you are equally tainted.

Nazri was picked on for his inconsistency to now loudly told Tun Dr Mahathir, "We will stick with PAS, but you should come back to UMNO." Last year, he voiced opposition against UMNO working with PAS.

It is a weak argument to pick on as Nazri could say he is abiding with the leadership decision and grassroot agreement to be in a coalition with PAS.

However, Nazri may have no argument to support his personal stance to vote for Anwar in the event of a vote of no confidence against Mahathir. Dato Mohamed Hassan has expressed support for Mahathir, but Zahid has returned to assert UMNO's stance to not vote any party working hands in glove with DAP.

Consistency is the essence of credibility in politics. DAP's counter argument on any matter will primarily dwelled on this and quick to accuse hypocrasy on any slight hands of inconsistency.

Politicians' consistency seldom lies in their personal objectives and priorities. They could be seen as inconsistent because the real basis of their argument are not digestable to the public and are best not revealed. 

Behind Nazri and Khairy's antic, they may have their own political motive, plan and ambition. However, they could not be accused as doing a Hamzah Zainuddin before crossing over. Nazri made it clear PPBM is not interested in him. Same with Khairy, but both have been known to have inclinations and close to personalities in PKR.

For that matter, there are quarters making unsubstantiated accusations that both Zahid and Najib have preference for Anwar as both could be saved from prison terms. Could Anwar possibly - legally or politically - promise that?


Political discourse must remain sensible and polite. It should stay away from getting personal, losing its objectivity, and any claims should be substantiated.

Party members and leaders are expected to adhere to party discipline and some level of code of conduct. Off course, disciplining party members for freedom of speech, especially critic towards leadership, is not politically correct.

A debate within the same party has to take account of impact on public perception and avoid unnecessary disclosure of back room happenings.

The freedom of speech within a party require civility and sensibility. It is adolescence of Nazri to blame Najib for his own "pondan" remark against Robert Kuok and justified it as Najib started it. He had the choice to not support Najib and from uttering the word "pondan". It does not matter that Chinese vote were waning.

If done in a civil manner, no dissenting voice should be condemned. Calling Najib as in-denial and demand his resignation cannot be considered civil in Malay culture. It should not be done to shame anyone. 

The problem with Nazri is he seldom lost track of his main objectives and get sidetracked with such antics as challenging the party leadership to sack him.

Najib may have instances of getting carried away, but he remain a gentleman who could apologise for saying words not in his usual self.

He is not habitually a rude person or a Lim Guan Eng, meaning liar. And he has taken Nazri's critic in stride, polite and professional. One cannot take that away from Najib as he is in a class by itself and has better foresight.

Nazri rudely downplayed Najib's BossKu programs as only attracting kids. Come next election, youth or young voters will feature more than 50% of voters.

The last general election shows Khairy's arrogant ways is not appealing to the youth. He is now 40, no more youth by neither Syed Saddiq's standard nor Johor state government's definition.

Nevertheless, it remain a blessing for Nazri and Khairy to take up the issue. If it is not lost in translation, sometimes UMNO needs someone gung ho, stubborn and crass to send the message.

It is their own failure to deliver the criticism in such crude manner and lost the plot. It would have been more dignified had the debate be more civil.

Though Najib may have failed, sometimes one could learn from bankrupt entrepreneurs on how to evade the potholes in business. He certainly have much to advise BN. For one, no former Prime Minister has ever faced such challenge after their term is over. The politics did not end with his election loss.

Naturally, the argument against it is Najib could advise without having to be official Adviser.

Whatever Nazri's argument to insist the decision to appoint Najib as BN Adviser should have been discussed at the UMNO Supreme Council prior to the making such announcement, there are many ways to skin a cat.

If Najib had intentions to make a comeback, Nazri and Khairy can express his reservation but they lack the credibility for being silent on Mahathir's comeback. Even if it is part of Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor's grandplan, a big if indeed, it is up to the members to decide.

Nazri and Khairy could stop his comeback by making themselves more relevant as opposition to criticise the weakness or government, or expose the leakages of government or champion the plight of the people.

If they fail to do so and could not upstage Najib's consistent effort, they have only themselves to blame. As it is, Najib is the lone torchbearer in the fight against the current government that is appealing to the people and converting PH voters to BN, Insya Allah.

Nazri and Khairy should realised the realpolitik that there is no right or wrong answer in politics. Those in power are empowered to make decisions. They will make the decisions that offers the right balance to the criteria they determined as necessary. Live with that.

Relax lah, Chief ... baru Penasihat. It was Mahathir who said, one must accept the advise of British Adviser. Najib hanya Penasihat Melayu. 

No comments:

My Say