For Indonesians, the manipulative tactics being used by Malaysian leader Najib Razak to win the upcoming general election is a strong reminder of former president Suharto’s tricks during his 32-year rule.
Unfortunately PM Razak is not alone among the 10-member Asean leaders in adopting this strategy.
Since 1999, Indonesia has had four democratic presidential elections, three of which were direct ones. Next year, legislative and presidential elections will be held simultaneously. As the largest Asean member, Indonesia has a constitutional obligation to persuasively share its experience of democratisation with its neighbours.
As many have observed, we continue to stumble and remain vulnerable to risks of stepping back rather than forward; and we urge fellow citizens of Asean to remain wary of allowing leaders to rise without effective control.
Developments in Malaysia are indeed worrying. Its leaders know very well how to benefit from divisions in society, where Malays and Muslims are treated as first-class citizens according to its Constitution.
Oppress the opposition, manipulate the fears of the majority Malays against economically powerful minorities, rewrite the election rules, control the mainstream and social media. PM Razak has used and will continue to use such primitive tactics to win the next election. The “1Malaysia Development Berhad” corruption case that allegedly involved him and people around him, which he has repeatedly denied, has been effectively swept under the carpet.
Like Suharto, PM Razak has effectively killed even the smallest chance for the opposition to participate in the upcoming parliamentary election. The government has blocked former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) from running against the ruling Barisan National (BN) coalition in the election.
Tragically, the 92-year old Mahathir, who ruled Malaysia from 1981 until 2003, is the opposition’s only available alternative. Razak learned from Mahathir how to treat minorities and opposition.
In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in office since 1985, has also mercilessly cracked down on political rivals and has openly declared his intention to stay in power for life. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won a sweeping victory in February’s election.
Thailand’s situation is even worse, where the military continues to refuse to transfer power to civilians. Junta leader General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who toppled the democratically elected government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014, later appointed himself as Thai prime minister. The military had previously forced her brother Thaksin Shinawatra to resign in 2006. The military has staged no fewer than 12 coups since 1932.
For how long will Thais allow themselves be ruled by a dictatorship?
Our message is very clear: Despite shared temptations to let strong leaders rule instead of work on the nuts and bolts of noisy democracy, Asean must be an example to the world where people hold supreme sovereignty in their respective nations.