WOMEN’s rights activists have long argued that most cases of abusive relationships conform to a specific cycle of violence. In Stage 1, the abusive partner starts getting angry and communication seems to break down. In Stage 2, violence starts to manifest, often in physical form, and the victim sustains serious injuries. In Stage 3, the abuser feels remorse, often genuinely, and promises to change and vows that the violence will never happen again. And then the cycle repeats.
In the past 72 hours, there have been at least 90 documented, politically motivated arrests of a range of Malaysians. The spate of arrests began with academic and The Nut Graph columnist Wong Chin Huat on 5 May 2009, and soon Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders and Members of Parliament (MPs) and activists were rounded up by the police.
Candlelight vigil held for Wong on the night of 5 May
This appears to be a more chaotic Operasi Lalang, sans the Internal Security Act (ISA). During Ops Lalang, a record 106 politicians, activists, academics and artists were detained in one fell swoop under the ISA. The difference now is that the arrests over the last 72 hours have not been under a specific “operasi” — none that has been officially named, anyway.
What is also different is that Operasi Lalang happened a good six years after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad assumed office as prime minister. To borrow from the cycle-of-violence theory, Mahathir must have enjoyed quite a nice honeymoon before the state started getting violent on its citizens. Even Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi spent his first couple of years as prime minister on a heady honeymoon with the rakyat.
One might argue that Najib never enjoyed such a honeymoon. In fact, Malaysians have never seen the likes of protests and harsh criticisms such as those leveled at Najib even before he took office. Sure, he later released a few ISA detainees, promised to liberalise the financial sector, and made the cabinet decide on the conversion of minors to Islam in a fairly progressive manner.
But it is clear that where Altantuya and the Perak crisis are concerned, the Najib administration brooks no dissent. The administration, of course, could argue that it is nowhere as draconian as preceding administrations — the ISA, after all, has not been invoked.
But here’s the rub: in using the ISA, previous prime ministers justified arrests by the catch-all claim that detainees were “national security threats”. Najib might not have resorted to the ISA, but a politically motivated arrest is still a politically motivated arrest. It is an iron-fisted strategy to stifle dissent.
Earlier that day, Wong (second right) held a press conference for the 1BLACKMalaysia campaign.
Also present were (from left) DAP MP for Serdang Teo Nie Ching; PAS MP for Kuala Selangor Dr
Dzulkefly Ahmad; and PKR MP for Subang Sivarasa Rasiah (Pic courtesy of Bersih)
Indeed, the arrests raise many questions.
In, for example, Wong’s case, why was the Sedition Act used? And what have the other detainees been charged with?
In brief, the government and police would have us believe that the Sedition Act says citizens cannot question the monarchy, or talk about issues of race. Clearly, the Act does limit the kinds of criticisms citizens can level against the monarchy, the judiciary, or the special privileges granted by the federal constitution.
But Section 2 of the Act clearly says it is not seditious “to show that any Ruler has been misled or mistaken in any of his measures”; or “to point out errors or defects in any Government or constitution as by law established”. In other words, you can criticise, but you cannot make baseless, hateful accusations. Fair enough.
But Malaysian laws are also known to be rife with “ouster clauses” which prevent the executive’s decision from being reviewed in court. In Wong’s case, if he is charged for sedition, it would be interesting to see which “ouster clause” is invoked by the state.
Could it be that the state has just become progressively sloppier in justifying such arrests or in citing the correct laws? Or could it be that the Najib administration just does not care which laws are being used to silence dissent. Because, as long as the ISA is not used, the PM can argue quite compellingly, “Sure, they’ve been arrested, but they can have their day in court, can’t they?”
What drives Najib?
But the question remains: In spite of such low citizen approval, what drove the Najib administration’s politically motivated crackdown over the last few days?
Could it be that the PM is misreading public sentiment, and honestly thinks that he enjoys more popularity than he really does?
Or, could it be that the PM is actually reading public sentiment quite accurately — that people might be pissed off, but that Malaysians are soft and have short memories? After all, how many people really wore black on 7 May? Besides, even leaders who are initially unpopular can stick around for quite some time. Look at US President George W Bush — he lasted a mind-boggling two full terms in office.
Perhaps Najib has something up his sleeve and is only waiting for the right moment to show it. In fact, former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and Umno veteran Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and new Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin have attested that Najib is, really, quite smart.
Or could it be that the Najib administration is just desperately clinging on to power?
According to the theory, it is most difficult for victims to break out of the cycle of violence during the honeymoon phase. It is easiest to decide to break out immediately after the violent phase.
Arguably, many political analysts say that’s exactly what Malaysian voters attempted to do on 8 March 2008. Indeed, there has been a faux honeymoon phase after March 2008, in which the BN tried its best to admit that it needed “change” and “reform“.
But, as demonstrated in the past 72 hours, the cycle of violence continues. It is not impossible to break free from the cycle, as domestic violence survivors will testify.
But they will also testify that it takes plenty of courage and a supportive network to accomplish this. And that in trying to cling on to the relationship, the abuser usually gets more, not less, abusive.