Malaysian PM Najib hits back at critics ahead of US visit

PM Najib Razak said the opposition's ability to argue against the government so openly and vigorously was proof of the increased freedom Malaysians have. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (BERNAMA) - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has taken a swipe at the political opposition and their allies who he says have sought to blacken Malaysia's name in the American media with wild allegations, including claims that Malaysia is in danger of sliding into dictatorship.

In an article published on his blogsite on the eve of his arrival for a working visit to the United States on Monday (Sept 11), the prime minister said the opposition's ability to argue against the government so openly and vigorously was proof of the increased freedom Malaysians have.

"But falsely running down Malaysia's vibrant democracy and spreading smears and falsehoods about this government in foreign newspapers just for political gain is another matter.

"That does not show pride in what we've achieved. Nor does it demonstrate love of our country," Datuk Seri Najib said in the piece titled 'Malaysia's Record of Democracy and Free Speech is Strong'.

Mr Najib will be in Washington DC from Sept 11 to 13 on the invitation of US President Donald Trump.

In his article Mr Najib said the government had faith in Malaysia's democracy and in the right of the people to air their views.

He said that the opposition, however, had tried to make out in the American press that critics of the government were "routinely imprisoned".

"Why, then, is it that you'll find praise for opposition politicians in our national newspapers, and vigorous debate including plenty of criticism of the government on Malaysia's web portals?" the prime minister said.

Mr Najib said the truth was that his government upheld democracy, free speech and the rule of law.

"Our record is clear, as is the enhancements of the people's freedoms under this administration," he said, noting that the opposition was welcome to and had indeed engaged in debate with the government, as Malaysians knew from reports on both traditional and new media.

The prime minister pointed out that under his government, Malaysia's democracy had been strengthened with the most far-reaching reforms since independence, including repealing the Internal Security Act (ISA) and ending the state of emergency that had existed for over 60 years.

These, Mr Najib said, were major steps that required great political courage.

"But we went forward with them because removing these outdated and repressive pieces of legislation was the right thing to do," he said.

Other reforms that had been undertaken included increasing media freedom by scrapping restrictions on newspaper publishing licences and reforming the Universities and University Colleges Act to allow undergraduates to participate in political activities.

Mr Najib further said that demonstrations, which would never have been allowed under a former leader - a clear reference to Tun Mahathir Mohamad who is now an opposition leader - had taken place in Kuala Lumpur over the last few years.

This, he said, was due to the Peaceful Assembly Act that for the first time enshrined in law the right to peaceful protest which the government recognised as being part of a democratic society.

On claims the country was sliding into a dictatorship, Mr Najib spoke of the irony as one of the opposition's leaders had admitted that he was a dictator during his 22 years in power, another pointed reference to Dr Mahathir.

"And it is true that when he was prime minister, hundreds of people were summarily locked up under the Internal Security Act. Newspapers, including a major national daily, were closed. The judiciary was attacked.

"Crony capitalism was rife, with deals made that significantly burden the people today. People had no right to demonstrate, and students were not allowed to participate in politics," he said.

He also said that the government firmly believes in upholding the rule of law, as this was essential to the safety, security and welfare of any society.

"And the excellence of the financial markets regulations we have put in place, for instance, has been recognised in numerous world rankings," said Mr Najib who is also finance minister.

Mr Najib said when it came to fiercely-fought elections and the freedom to speak one's mind, Malaysia had the strongest and longest democratic record in the whole of South-east Asia.

The country's past elections showed this, he said, with different parties winning different states and prominent politicians losing their seats, for no results could be guaranteed in a free democratic vote.

"It's up to the people to choose, and that is a record of which all Malaysians should be proud," Mr Najib said.

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