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‘Remember Beng Hock’ will be a steady battle cry

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on July 20, 2009

THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER

JULY 20 — Whatever support Datuk Seri Najib Razak managed to gain for himself with his recent attempts at reforms has now gone out the window along with Teoh Beng Hock.

Teoh, the political secretary to Selangor DAP exco member Ean Yong Hian Wah, was found dead on a neighbouring rooftop below the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s building in Shah Alam on July 16. According to reports, he had endured 10 hours of questioning by the MACC throughout the previous night.

Later that afternoon, his body was discovered on the roof of the adjacent building. The police have quickly announced that there is no evidence of foul play.

Teoh was apparently not even a suspect in the MACC’s fervent operation recently launched against Selangor state assemblymen belonging to the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition. What makes his death more painfully tragic is that Teoh’s fiancée is pregnant, and the couple was scheduled to register his marriage the following day.

Given the lack of public confidence in the police, the anti-corruption apparatus and the federal government itself, calls for a thorough investigation by an independent commission into the case can be expected for a long time to come.

When the anger and sadness that this incident is generating subsides, the fingers of blame cannot but point beyond the MACC officers involved, and at Najib himself. He will be called upon to clarify why his party and coalition should not bear the responsibility for failing to reform the police and the anti-corruption authorities from the bottom up, as recommended by an endless number of experts.

The suspicion will grow that the federal government under Najib — judging from the mix of tactical reforms and sly politicking — does not appreciate how badly compromised the federal apparatus actually is. Despite continuous defeats at the polls, his administration has continued to treat the success of the opposition as if it were the result of clever tactics on the part of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his allies, and not as a public outcry for clean and reliable government.

Criticism that his recent reforms are cosmetic and more tactical than sincere will continue to grow. Given the difficult times that the Pakatan Rakyat has had in recent weeks, Teoh’s death provides renewed focus for its disheartened supporters.

Unlike the few recent cases of deaths under police custody, this one at the Selangor MACC headquarters involves a young man known for his political engagement. His demise therefore carries great political implications, and will be a milestone in the nation’s painful history that future students of Malaysia will have to commit to memory for their exams.

It is a tipping point. “Remember Teo Beng Hock” will be a battle cry for a long time to come.

The ball has now landed squarely in Najib’s court. If he is serious about reforming Malaysia beyond foreign investment regulations and quota changes, he now has his chance of putting partisanship aside, seizing the moment, and acting as a national leader who realises how vital the integrity and professionalism of its investigative authorities are.

Teoh’s death is too big to be swept under the carpet, and will continue to arouse anger unless properly investigated. And even then, strong demands for some decisive action on the government’s part to make sure that no such thing will happen again are to be expected.

Needless to say, the many young activists who have arisen since the Reformasi movement started in 1998 will sympathise at a personal level with Teoh’s family. As long as the case is not openly cleared up, the misgiving will remain strong that it could have been any one of them who might have suffered — or may suffer — an end similar to Teoh’s.

Just a day before Teoh died, the ruling Barisan Nasional was asserting that the narrow margin of 65 votes with which it lost to PR in the Manek Urai by-election showed that the pendulum that had been swinging in PR’s favour for two years was now going the other way.

Indeed, Najib’s popularity had risen sharply according to a recent survey done by the Merdeka Center. Teoh’s death sends a reminder to voters that the police and the anti-corruption body are in pressing need of serious reforming. For PR supporters, their resolve to work for a change of federal government will be strengthened.

What one must conclude from this incident is that Najib’s chosen course of reform avoids his major challenge, which is to restore the credibility of the police, the judiciary and the anti-corruption apparatus.

As long as he sidesteps this duty, his other attempts at change will not be taken seriously. Indeed, even his allies within BN are feeling a greater need to put pressure publicly on Najib.

For starters, it would be wise of Najib to call off MACC’s blatant campaign against the Selangor government.

The writer is a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. His latest book is “Arrested Reform: The Undoing of Abdullah Badawi” (Refsa).

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