Call on Abdullah to rethink the Home Ministry proposal to take action including a ban against The Economist – which will send a wrong message to Malaysians and the world

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Tuesday): Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said yesterday that the Home Ministry was studying several options, including banning The Economist, for “tarnishing” the image of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. 

DAP calls on Abdullah to re-think the Home Ministry action as it will send a wrong message to Malaysians and the world. 

Some UMNO leaders have worked themselves into a frenzy against The Economist for its April 5 issue with its special 16-page feature on Malaysia, entitled “The Changing of the Guard: A Survey of Malaysia”, turning it into a  test of loyalty to Mahathir and UMNO – and undoubtedly there are  UMNO leaders with their hangers-on from the other Barisan Nasional parties who also want to expand it into a test of loyalty and patriotism to Malaysia! 

One of the UMNO leaders breathing fire and brimstone over The Economist is the Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, the most senior Cabinet Minister calling for a ban of the London-based weekly when he declared that foreign magazines condemning and belitting  Malaysia  and discrediting the country’s leaders should not be sold in the country. 

Last week, Hamid hit out at New Straits Times columnist and assistant political editor Shamsul Akmar Musa Kamal for an article which he described as “defamatory” , which “goes beyond independence of the Press and freedom of expression to do a personal attack on the person of the minister, as well as the ministry”, complaining that “even the Opposition media had not belittled him as such” and that “the foreign media has never done that to our Foreign Ministry”! 

Whether fortunate or otherwise, Hamid had not touted for a ban of the newspaper concerned  at the time  for whatever the reason. 

Malaysians who have been alerted by the UMNO brouhaha to read  The Economist special survey on Malaysia which was published more than three weeks ago are generally non-plussed  by the emotionalism and over-reaction of  UMNO leaders. 

Offence have been taken to one  article in  The Economist  survey which suggested: "The greatest service Dr Mahathir could render Malaysia after all these years would be to retire, full stop." Umbrage was expressed at the further suggestion that Mahathir should be installed as secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) after his retirement to "get him out of the country."

UMNO leaders are completely within their right to express anger and outrage at the journalist, Christopher Lockwood and The Economist for the critical, irreverent, disrespectful and even misguided series of articles, but displeasing UMNO leaders and Ministers do not constitute sufficient material to be categorized as “discrediting” Malaysian  leaders and “belittling” and “condemning” Malaysia as to justify a ban on the London-based weekly.

I have no doubt that if a national opinion poll on  The Economist special survey is conducted among Malaysians, who will be  divided between those who agree and those who disagree with the articles, the overwhelming majority (including ordinary UMNO and Barisan Nasional members)  would be of the view that any Home Ministry action, let alone a ban, would be an over-reaction and overkill which does no credit to Mahathir, Abdullah, UMNO or Malaysia. 

Why should certain UMNO leaders, who have clearly a political axe to grind by inflaming the issue, be allowed to dictate government policy undermining national interests in the international community of nations when it is also  against the wishes of the majority of the people in Malaysia? 

The Cabinet meeting tomorrow is an opportune occasion to cool the rhetoric and end the  frenzy over The Economist – unless we are witnessing a breakdown of political authority of the Cabinet and the Acting Prime Minister, who are being held hostage by a few UMNO leaders who have successfully hijacked the issue and turned it into a test of loyalty to Mahathir and legitimacy to assume high office in post-Mahathir UMNO and Barisan Nasional. 

There are moves in some quarters to derail the transition plan for Mahathir to step down in October and pass the baton of premiership to Abdullah, but are such moves so credible that Abdullah should succumb to unhealthy pressures like the one being exercised over the synthetic issue of The Economist?


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman