KUALA LUMPUR: Najib Razak on Sunday (Sep 10) defended the Malaysian government's record of democracy and free speech, hitting out at the political opposition and their allies, whom he accused of trying to blacken the country's name in American media.
US media reports, published shortly before his working visit to the United States, included allegations that Malaysia was in danger of sliding into a dictatorship, Najib said.
In an article on his blog, 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."
Najib will arrive in Washington DC on Monday for the Sep 11 to 13 visit at the invitation of US President Donald Trump.
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.
"The truth is that this government upholds democracy. We uphold free speech. And we uphold the rule of law," he said.
"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 MOST FAR-REACHING REFORMS SINCE INDEPENDENCE"
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, 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"But we went forward with them because removing these outdated and repressive pieces of legislation was the right thing to do," he said.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 licenses and reforming the Universities and University Colleges Act to allow undergraduates to participate in political activities.
Without naming him, Najib also took a swipe at one of his fiercest critics, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, noting that the leader had "admitted that he was a 'dictator' during his 22 years in power". Dr Mahathir was prime minister from 1981 to 2003.
"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," Najib said.
"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 added: "Everyone knows that demonstrations, which would never have been allowed under the former leader, have taken place in Kuala Lumpur over the last few years."
This, Najib 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.
"STRONGEST AND LONGEST DEMOCRATIC RECORD IN SE ASIA"
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 Southeast 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," Najib said.