Susan Loone reports on Ambiga’s address at the Aliran dinner in Penang recently.
Former Bar Council chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan did not mince her words when she said that the country’s leaders are democratic and liberal outside Malaysia but once they return, they become “oppressive monsters”.
At a fundraising dinner in Penang on 11 October 2014 organised by the 37-year-old Penang social reform movement group, Aliran, Ambiga dared Prime Minister Najib Razak to present a similar speech on democracy and pluralism, which he made recently at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Ambiga also challenged vocal Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to say half the things he has said in Malaysia, which she alleged had “racial undertones”, in the United States of America, where he was visiting with Najib recently.
“I can guarantee you he will not make those speeches outside the country because he will be charged or prosecuted,” she said.
The funny thing about our politicians, she added, is that they are democratic and liberal only when they leave the country’s borders, where they do not mind using the word “pluralism”.
“But the minute they come back to the country, they turn into oppressive monsters,” she quipped.
“I only regret that the PM will not make a speech like the one he did (In the UN) in Malaysia because that is what we need, we need him to make the same speech in Malaysia, exactly in those words, don’t add anymore or take away, as he has captured the strength of this nation,” she said to applause from the 500-odd dinner participants.
“He knows exactly what is needed in this nation. At least his speech writer knows,” Ambiga said to laughter, at the event which celebrated Aliran Monthly’s 33 years in circulation and its transition to aliran.com.
‘Break the cycle’
The Bersih icon was referring to Najib’s speech at the UN in September, where he had said: “We must break the cycle where one group rules with power only to wield it against the other, with marginalisation leads to radicalisation, as people lose confidence in the state’s ability to provide more security and coexistence.
“Individuals and ethnic and religious groups need to feel they have space in a nation’s success not its failure so we should commit to more inclusive politics.”
Najib had also said that Malaysia stands ready to share its experience of marginalising extremism.
Ambiga said she applauded Najib’s speech, saying it was indeed beautifully worded but the goals demanded pragmatism and compromise.
“Are we doing that? We could share our experience but I don’t think it would be very useful”, she asked.
Najib also spoke about maintaining a multireligious country where different faiths coexist and prosper and showing that Islam not only succeeds but drives progress and development in “pluralistic society”.
“Do you remember not long ago, the PM said pluralism was a bad word but then it is all right to use it in the UN,” Ambiga quipped.
Najib also had said in his speech: “In Malaysia, there are streets in which mosques, temples and churches stand side by side. Ours is a society in which religions may differ, but do so with the knowledge that we are all citizens of one nation.”
Ambiga said Najib’s speech should be used as a basis to build this nation.
“We must use this and tell all the people who try to divide us, this is what the PM has said and this is what we should do,” she added with loud applause from the 500-odd crowd.