Transcript of Interview at ABC Radio Australia (en/cn)

Asia Profile:Human rights and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng
Updated September 20, 2011 14:01:54

Lim Guan Eng is the Chief Minister of the Malaysian state of Penang and the Secretary General of Malaysia’s Democratic Action Party, the DAP.

Mr Lim has brought resounding progress to Penang under his system of governance based on the principles of ‘Competency, Accountability and Transparency’.

On Monday, the Chief Minister delivered a speech on human rights and transparency at a function sponsored by the Centre for Malaysian Studies at Monash University’s Asia Institute here in Melbourne.

Presenter: Cameron Wilson
Speaker: Lim Guan Eng, Chief Minister of Penang and Secretary General of Malaysia’s Democratic Action Party

LIM: We were quite pleased when he made the announcement but when he said subsequently that it’ll be scrapped next year likely after the next elections, we were wondering whether he’s just a cosmetic exercise and merely to present or portray his human rights credentials. So I think whether this is a genuine repeal of the act I think remains to be seen, there’s a big question mark.

WILSON: Do you think you’ll get more detail before the election?

LIM: We hope so but if he’s sincere about repealing the act he should have done it at the coming parliamentary sitting this year. There’s no reason to wait for it next year. How difficult is it to repeal an act? It’s only a one-page statute, and I do not think there will be any opposition in parliament.

WILSON: How much of this decision or the announcement to repeal the act, how much do you think is related to some of the protests and the social push that we’ve seen in Malaysia this year?

LIM: Definitely it’s linked because the Bersih rally, the quest for free, fair and clean elections was badly mishandled by the government resulting in two-thousand arrests of ordinary and law-abiding citizens, and Malaysia received widespread condemnation of the harsh crackdown. And I think they lost tremendous support, the Prime Minister’s approval rating slipped from a high of 73 per cent to 59 per cent. So this is an attempt by him to shore-up support to try to regain the initiative that he’s also a human rights advocate. But we are wondering whether he’s merely pouring old wine in new bottles.

WILSON: Does that change in support for the Prime Minister or drop as you say in support for the Prime Minister, does it naturally translate to an increased support for Bersih?

LIM: Definitely, and also I think it also eats into his efforts to try to win back more states in the next elections. So this is as I said an attempt, a cosmetic exercise which will only be proven if he continues to repeal it next year, but if he does it this year. And also the other question of this Cameron is that he has said that whilst the ISA is going to be repealed, it’ll be replaced by two other preventive laws, and we are wondering if the preventive laws that he’s going to replace the ISA is the same. And it’s not one, it’s two preventive laws, and are we getting now two ISA’s instead of one.

WILSON: And at this stage the detail of those two new laws is still relatively scant?

LIM: No details whatsoever. So it may end up to be just an empty, a meaningless announcement.

WILSON: Can we add, I’d like to hear your personal experience with the Internal Security Act. Now you were arrested under this act in the past, it was quite some time ago, but can you just outline for us the circumstances of that arrest?

LIM: Well I was detained for being a threat to national security, at the time I was only 26 years old, newly elected to parliament, and it is actually a preventive law which detains you without trial. So it is a subjective exercise or discretionary exercise by the minister in charge. They do not have to justify why they arrested you, and it is arbitrary and completely, well described as high-handed abuse of democratic norms, an act to stifle dissent. If I am considered a security threat when I was only 26 years old, I’d like to believe I’m a greater security threat now. Why am I not detained now?

WILSON: But did you know at the time that you were being antagonistic and you perhaps would be subject to this sort of treatment?

LIM: No I expected to be detained at some point of my career, not when I was just elected to parliament. How can you be a threat to national security when you are just 26 and I do not think I was that influential that if I’m not detained the whole country will go up in flames. That is far-fetched.

WILSON: And you were detained for over a year, just explain the circumstances?

LIM: 18 months, well for the first 60 days you are put under solitary confinement, the conditions of detention were what you saw in the movies; interrogation continuously for 48 hours, they put you in an enclosed room without any windows, only a ventilation shute or a vent and you’re just cut off completely from society. So you only face four walls and you have no human contact whatsoever except with your interrogators. And I think that boredom and that solitary confinement can really drive you up the wall.

WILSON: So you had no idea of what sort of support you might have had outside of your confinement and how much people knew about your situation?

LIM: For the first 60 days, none. But after my detention was extended for two years, then I had contact with the outside world, but not for the first 60 days.

WILSON: How did that experience shape your political career?

LIM: Well when you’re detained under ISA there are only two possible results; one is either you break down and you give in, what … described to your family you are turned over, or you become more determined to try to reform. And I think that I ended up angry and more determined as I said to make sure that what happened to me if possible doesn’t happen to other Malaysians.

WILSON: My guest on Connect Asia’s Profile segment today is Lim Guan Eng — the chief minister of the Malaysian island state of Penang, and Secretary General of Malaysia’s Democratic Action Party. Did you feel at all that your family’s role, the fact that you’re from a politically active family and relatively well educated and the like, did that change the treatment you received?

LIM: No I think that probably they treated me a little bit more harshly than my other comrades, probably because I was a little bit, I was a young man then, I was angry at the fact that I was detained, and some of the questions that they asked and the reasons they tried to justify for my detention were just ridiculous. So they considered me to be uncooperative and that’s why as I said perhaps they treated me a little bit more harshly.

WILSON: And how is that use of detention and the ISA, how has that changed in your view the use of that to influence political opposition over the years since you were detained, what is it, it’s 25 years ago now?

LIM: 1987, that’ll be nearly 25 years, right.

WILSON: So has it changed, have you seen a different treatment of political opponents in that time?

LIM: Yes, I think the treatment now is a little bit more, well I wonder whether the use of the word humane is appropriate, but I think they treat them a little bit gentler than during our time, because they’re used to getting away with it, and when you highlighted your abusers they had to do some modifications. But again these are superficial modifications. The core of the issue is that the ISA is evil, detention without trial is wrong. Nothing, no explanation can turn what is black into white. And it must be scrapped unconditionally.

WILSON: So that’s what you’d be looking for from the Prime Minister, Najib Razak, is it, a commitment to repeal it unconditionally?

LIM: That’s right.

WILSON: How optimistic are you that you will actually see that?

LIM: Well the fact that he’s forced to yield, previously his position is that there will be no repeal of the ISA and he’s refused to compromise on questions of security. Now this sudden announcement I think is a result of concerted pressure from all segments of society, even from supporters within the ruling coalition. I think he has come to realise that he cannot withstand the demands of civil society, and even if Malaysia is to be a civilised nation such oppressive, repressive and suppressive laws have to go.

WILSON: Do you believe that the Australian High Court decision to reject Australia’s planned deal to send asylum seekers to Malaysia for processing and the attention that that has brought on Malaysia as a country, its human rights practices here in Australia, do you feel that’s had any influence?

LIM: Well I would say it may have prompted the Prime Minister to speed up the calls and the demands that the ISA be scrapped. Definitely it’s embarrassing for Malaysia to be described by certain political leaders in Australia, and I think more importantly by the Australian High Court that we do not measure up to international human rights norms. And I do not think that this is something that we can hold our heads up high, and definitely I’m sure it would have prompted the Prime Minister to speed up the consideration to repeal the act.

WILSON: Is that not overstating the influence of Australia’s court decision and the debate here in Australia that this decision could see a repeal enacted that’s been on the cards for years with nothing happening?

LIM: I just say it could have prompted the decision be speeded up. As I said Malaysia doesn’t want to be measured negatively compared to Nauru. I would think that wouldn’t be complimentary by any standards. So definitely it would be embarrassing for any Malaysian leader, well not only just in Australia but also other countries that our human rights record doesn’t measure up internationally, and I think by repealing or by making this announcement he has received tremendous credit, and I’m sure Malaysia has received favourable press internationally.

WILSON: So in hindsight was entering into negotiations with Australia for an asylum seeker deal, was that perhaps an error in judgement, did it just bring about greater scrutiny on Malaysia?

LIM: Maybe in retrospect yes, but I think initially they were looking at the economic benefits of this deal. And when Malaysia’s human rights record was scrutinised, in the end it just doesn’t measure up.

WILSON: Can we just finish up talking a little bit on a separate note, talking about economics in Malaysia at the moment, Penang where you’re from, one of the most developed and economically important states of Malaysia. What’s driving its boom at the moment?

LIM: I think a couple of factors; number one I think many companies are looking for alternatives and Penang is able to offer that because we have finally got our act together. Principally since we took over in 2008 we have implemented governance based on competency, accountability and transparency. We have taken a strong stance against corruption, promoting integrity and I would like to say that basically we have nearly zero corruption in Penang. We were praised by Transparency International for implementing open tenders and fighting corruption.

WILSON: So has that been a success the implementation of the open tenders?

LIM: Yes we have saved public money resulting in budget surpluses every year, and we’ve got record budget surpluses, so this has resulted in record levels of investment, record budget surpluses, a labour shortage and also nearly zero debt.

WILSON: Is it something that you could see being applied to the rest of Malaysia?

LIM: Definitely, actually when you talk about open tenders Cameron it is an international norm, but in Malaysia it is considered as what I would describe as even heresy, heresy because Malaysia has never practised open tenders, it is always done through negotiated tenders and basically something for the cronies, something on the gravy train. So we feel that we have proven that a clean government practising transparency, practising open tenders can out-perform a government that looks after cronies and is not transparent.

WILSON: So given all we’ve discussed in the last 15 minutes here, the change in politics, some of the change in the economics that you’ve just discussed there, how significant is this moment in Malaysia’s history for real reform, to really see changes in the future of the way the country is run?

LIM: Well we’re at a crossroads, whether we can see change and I think change is now the most powerful word in the world. You can’t stop change, you either have to change or you will be changed, and it is up to Malaysians to seize the initiative to reclaim democracy and reclaim their government. Government should be for the people, not for the cronies, and if Malaysians are able to have the courage to change I’m sure we can be high-income economy and we can join the ranks of civilised democratic nations.

====== Mandarin Translation ========================================================






Presenter: Cameron Wilson
Speaker: Lim Guan Eng, Chief Minister of Penang and Secretary General of Malaysia’s Democratic Action Party

林冠英: 当他(首相纳结)宣布(废除内安法令)时,我们都感到很欣慰,但是当他说明年才废除,而是可能是在大选之后,我们怀疑这是不是粉饰的动作,也为他的人权记录加分。那么究竟会不会真的废除上述法令,我还是很怀疑。

威尔森: 你认为你会不会在大选前获得更多资料?

林冠英: 我们也希望,如果他是真心要废除这个法令,他应该在今年的国会废除。不用等到明年。废除法令有多难?那只是一张法令,我不认为国会里会有人反对。

威尔森: 你认为废除内安法令的决定或宣布,与今年我们看到马来西亚的示威及社会压力有什么联系?

林冠英: 肯定有关系,因为净选盟大集会这个要求自由、公平及干净选举的集会,被政府严重处理不当,导致2000个普通市民被逮捕,马来西亚也因强行镇压集会而遭到各界的谴责。我想他们也因此失去支持率,首相的支持率从73%下跌到59%。这是他希望通过废除内安法令为自己树立人权支持者的形象、重新赢取支持率的做法。但是,我们怀疑,他是不是旧酒装新瓶、换汤不换药。

威尔森: 对首相支持率的改变,或者是你所说的对首相的支持下跌,是不是可以自然地被解释成越来越多人支持净选盟?


威尔森: 在这个阶段,另外两条新法令的内容还不足够?


威尔森: 你可不可以谈话你与内安法令的亲身经验。你曾在这项法令下被捕,虽然已经是很久以前的事,但是你可不可以大概讲述一下你被捕的情况?


威尔森: 那个时候你知不知道你被视为敌对分子,而你当时可能会遭对付?

林冠英: 我预料在我的事业里我可能会遭逮捕,但是,我中选为国会议员时我没有想过。当你才26岁,你怎么可能会威胁国家安全?我不认为我有那样的影响力,如果不捉我,整个国家会陷入混乱。这太牵强了。

威尔森: 你被扣留了超过一年,能不能说说当时的情形?

林冠英:18个月,首60天你独自被监禁, 扣留室的情形就像电影里那样;48小时连续不断地盘问,他们把你关在一个没有窗口的密室,只有一个抽风孔,你完全与世隔绝。你只面对四面墙,除了盘问你的人,无法接触其他人。我想,当时的苦闷及单独监禁,真的可以把你逼疯。

威尔森: 所以你完全不知道当时外面有多少人支持你?有多少人知道你的情况?


威尔森: 这样的经验如何造就了你的政治事业?


威尔森: 你是否觉得自己的家庭里的角色,比如:来自具政治背景的家庭,受过良好教育等,会不会因此而受到不同的对待?

林冠英: 我认为,我反而因此遭受比我的同志更恶劣一点的对待,可能是当时我还年轻,我为自己遭扣留感到非常愤怒,他们问我的一些问题、以及他们企图制造扣留我的理由,都让我觉得很荒唐。所以,他们认为我不合作,因此我说他们对我可能恶劣一点。

威尔森: 这段在内安法令下被扣留的经验,从你被扣留那一年,直今25年了?当局有没有改变他们影响政治反对派的方式?


威尔森: 你有没有发现对待政治对手的方式已经不同往日?

林冠英: 是的,我想现在他们对待反对派人士的方式,比我们那个年代“人道”一点,当我们不断地突出侵虐者时,他们就必须调整。但是,这些都是表面上的调整。内安法令的核心问题就是:无审讯扣留是不对的。任何人都不能把黑的讲成白的。它必须无条件被废除。

威尔森: 因此,你要知道首相纳吉是不是有诚意要无条件废除这条法令?

林冠英: 是的。



威尔森: 你相信澳洲高庭反对来自澳洲的难民到大马处理,多少影响到大马本国的人权进程吗?


威尔森: 澳洲高庭的裁决是否有此高的影响力,因为澳洲方面正辩论这项决定可否见到多年来只厅楼梯响的废除动议?


威尔森: 所以在澳洲难民交换计划进入协调的尾声之际,这项裁决或许是错的呢,这是否导致对马来西亚进行更严格的审查?

林冠英: 若回顾的话也许是,但我想他们最初对这项交易只是经济利益的考量 ,但随着大马人权纪录被审查,最终只会发现不符合标准。

威尔森: 在结束之前,我们可以谈谈别的吗?就谈现今的大马经济,你来自的槟城,大马其中一个高度发展及经济重镇。是什么导致槟城现在高速增长?

林冠英: 我认为有几个因素,其一是很多企业正在寻求替代方案,而槟城正可以提供它们的要求,因为我们与这些企业最终一起付诸行动。自从我们在2008年执政以来一直秉持着能干、公信、透明的施政方针。我们坚决反贪的立场、提倡廉政,我可以说槟城已经接近零贪污。我们因为实施公开招标及打击贪污,还受到国际透明组织的赞扬。

威尔森: 因此公开招标已经获得了成功?

林冠英: 是的,我们为公众省下了许多钱,因为每年都有财政盈余,而且还创下纪录。这些都体现在了投资创下纪录、财政盈余创下纪录、员工短缺及几近零的债务。

威尔森: 对你看来,这可以在大马其他地方实行吗?

林冠英:当然可以,说实在的,卡梅隆当你提到公开招标,这可是国际的标准规范啊,可在大马公开招标好像被看成异端般,因为大马不曾实施公开招标,而是给予朋党及经过谈判的招标 ,是一个黄金外快列车。所以,我们已经证明实施透明政策、实施公开招标的政府会比只照顾朋党及不透明的政府,表现好很多。

威尔森: 看回我们这15分钟的讨论,目前政治的改变以及经济上的一些改变,对马来西亚历史上的真正改革、对这个国家的未来是否有显著的影响?


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