IN the week of 30 March to 5 April 2009, the Malay-language print media focused on Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s appointment as sixth prime minister of Malaysia, what his first actions as premier mean for the on-going by-elections, and the fate of teenage star Diana Danielle as she undertakes her stint in national service.
In its 4 April edition, Berita Harian — like everyone else — reported on now-prime minister Najib taking the oath of office (Peralihan kuasa lancar). The daily headlined the first three actions (Tiga tindakan pertama Najib) of the new administration: the release of 13 Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees; a review of the draconian law; and the reversal of the suspensions of opposition party newspapers Suara Keadilan and Harakah.
Papparaidu Vao embracing his younger brother,
ISA detainee V Ganabathy Rao, as the latter was
released from detention on 5 April (Pic by Raj
Kumar, courtesy of theSun) According to Najib, these actions were taken to restore the people’s confidence in the authorities. “We will bring the people and the government closer together, to prevent society from being confused or deceived by political tricks and games,” Najib said, in his first address as prime minister.
It is prudent to remember that incoming prime ministers tend to make a show of clemency. When Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad took office in 1981, he released 21 ISA detainees as a gesture of goodwill, and a symbolic break with the past. Sinar Harian quoted Mahathir (Bebas tahanan ISA untuk rakyat on 5 April) commenting on Najib’s move: “If it is good for me, surely it is good for Datuk Seri Najib.”
This fact, quoted extensively in the English-language press, was conspicuously absent in the Berita Harian and Utusan Malaysia dailies, which preferred to focus on Najib lambasting sceptics of his move (ISA: Najib bidas pembangkang, Mingguan Malaysia, 5 April).
In Rakyat menaruh harapan tinggi pada pimpinan Najib on 4 April, Berita Harian editors bashed the foreign media for besmirching Najib’s reputation.
“As soon as the ceremony in the palace was concluded, foreign news agencies slammed and disparaged Najib’s name … the image was as though there is no stability in Malaysia today, and corruption is rampant,” the editorial said.
“The foreign news agencies do not mention at all Najib’s recent pledge to clean Umno of money politics and his desire to see firmer action taken.”
According to the article, it was not fair to take the results of the Bukit Gantang, Bukit Selambau and Batang Ai by-elections as indicators of the people’s acceptance of Najib’s leadership, as he “has only just taken on the office of prime minister and Umno leader.”
Speaking on behalf of the rakyat to cheer our new prime minister on, the article said, “We hope Najib will continue in his duties as well as possible, without reacting or caring about what is said by foreign agencies or the evil-intentioned opposition.”
Analysing Najib’s moves
In Era baru Malaysia bermula in Mingguan Malaysia on 5 April, writer Zin Mahmud maintained that Najib’s three moves should be seen as “steps taken because of principles”, and not as “tactical moves designed to ease the pressure of the opposition in the by-elections.”
“The truth is that detention without trial, more so for political reasons, can no longer be accepted. Similarly with the shackling of the freedom to publish. They no longer have a place in an open country where information flows freely through print or cyberspace,” Zin wrote.
He affirmed that Malaysia was finally becoming a mature democracy under Najib. As such, he said, the new prime minister’s actions were “enough of a sign for the beginning of a new era for Malaysia.”
Interestingly, the writer maintained that the ISA still had its place, as “in the coming times, the nation will continue to be exposed to threats to its security, especially in the form of racial extremists or terrorism.”
(Pic by Rodolfo Clix / sxc.hu) In Najib: Satu sepak mula mengagumkan in Sinar Harian on 5 April, Dr Aisar Yee Abdullah described Najib’s opening moves in exactly the game terms that Zin steered away from, saying that the three gestures of reform were “like a good kick-off by a team captain. It bounced right into the opponent’s court and caused uproar in their ranks. The kick might mean a 3-0 loss in the by-elections.”
However, the writer asserted that “cruel acts such as the ISA should be reviewed, with the aim to abolish them altogether. Freeing a few people in the lead-up to a by-election can be viewed as a move with ulterior motives.”
Aisar styled the releases, done merely in the context of a power transition, as questionable: “Suddenly someone who was considered dangerous before is no longer considered dangerous, and can be freed just like that, only because the captain at the helm has changed. Doesn’t this raise the question of whether they were a threat to national security to begin with?”
Aisar believed that Najib’s greatest challenge comes from within: Umno politicians who are “one with patronage politics, the large portion of which would not be able to survive if they were without a patron.”
“Before, prizes came in the form of valuable tenders. These politicians will continue to agitate so that the old ways are continued. However, if Najib is serious with his reforms, this cannot continue,” Aisar wrote. It is up to Najib not to get trapped in the old system in which he was born and raised.
Diana is no longer blue
Diana Danielle (Pic by vinshen /
Wikimedia commons)The Pancaindera pullout of Mingguan Malaysia‘s 5 April edition featured 18-year-old celebrity Diana Danielle in bright blue National Service (NS) livery (Diana Danielle tak menangis lagi). Having delayed her stint for three months, due to filming for a role in Kecoh Betul, the actress got on a bus to the Sepang, Selangor camp on 19 March.
Initially tearful, she is now adapting well. “Now I have 10 close friends. There are Malay [Malaysians], there are Indian [Malaysians] and Chinese [Malaysians]. They don’t treat me as an artiste but as a friend.”
Utusan Malaysia appears to have had a mild infatuation with the star, having followed her journey into NS from day one. In its 3 April edition, the Malay-language daily gave its sixth page to Tiada layanan istimewa, a report dedicated to dispelling allegations of special treatment, following Diana’s appointment to the Sepang camp’s Timbalan Penghulu Wirawati post.
The item ran above Bicara kes MB dan Exco Perak 9 April, a report about the trial date of Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Zambry Abdul Kadir and his six exco members’ motion to reverse Perak state assembly speaker V Sivakumar’s decision to suspend them from the house.