By Raman Letchumanan

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--I have my full respect for the activist group, Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), the few who stood up against past ruling regimes when they digressed and ruled by law. 

But their latest statement saying “it’s unacceptable for the new government, which promised reform, to immediately call for police action against critics of the prime minister” is totally unacceptable, coming from a learned group of lawyers.

However LFL qualified by saying police intervention can only be justified where offenders make statements which incite harm, violence or injury to the public. They seemed, therefore, to be too quick on the draw, and probably misdirected.

From what I understand the calls were made by ruling party members, to which I would suggest they tone down so as not to implicate the prime minister. The issue is the purported statement by an opposition member accusing the prime minister of being an Israeli agent, the foremost foreign relations enemy.

Prime Minister Anwar has rightly issued a private legal notice asking that person to withdraw his statement and apologize, failing which a legal suit will follow. As for criminal action, it is up to the enforcement authorities to act impartially as provided under the law, and not wait for ‘instructions’.

I believe LFL was influenced by the actions of past regimes where many felt only the opposition parties were punished by the enforcement authorities. Even so, as prime minister, Anwar is duty bound to call on the authorities to act without fear or fervor, and impartially.  

To the credit of the government authorities, especially the Election Commission and the police, I believe GE15 was the most peaceful election. In fact the whole nation was in celebratory mode. There was hardly any untoward incident considering the acrimonious campaigning, and the election results were well accepted. Yes, we can live in peace and solidarity if we want to.

But the politicians seem to be continuing the election campaign mudslinging, now with a view to topple the government duly installed. Even the 260th Conference of Rulers on 30 November has to remind the “leaders not to raise racial or religious issues with the purpose of incitement”.

Crude and vulgar words like “rotting corpse”, “faeces covered hands”, or “parasites” are street language one should not use on political opponents, a fellow citizen. 
The parties should tone down their rhetoric, and as duly elected members of parliament, use that forum to show their might and intelligence to serve the people.

Having said that, the enforcement authorities should perform their duty according to law, and not side with the ruling regime. Cartoonists and balloonists should not be treated like hard core criminals, while those in power are treated with kid gloves. 
There shouldn’t be selective investigation and prosecution. We have to admit this was the case in previous regimes.

When reports are made, the complainant should first be investigated to verify the facts. The quality, not the quantity of reports should matter. 
Otherwise, these mischief makers will make use of the enforcement authorities for their own purpose. Anyone making a false report should be severely dealt with.

This is where Anwar should brook no nonsense and call out the enforcement authorities if such transgression occurs. He should be especially hard on those committing misfeasance in office, as they are emboldened to act with impunity. 
Past experience has shown the crooks vested with power only get prosecuted when there is a regime change, and probably vindicated after another regime change.

Otherwise activists like LFL, anti-corruption crusaders, whistleblowers cannot be faulted for chiding the prime minister or the government every now and then. 
That’s their service to the people, and no need to be so hard on them. And please don’t haul them up unnecessarily or intimidate them.

The said Conference of Rulers has also urged the new government “to seize the opportunity to propel the country to greater heights”.

To those vested with such governing powers by the people, here’s another saying “it’s the economy, stupid!”
So, please stop playing politics.

*Raman Letchumanan is a former senior fellow at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, a former director at the Minister of Science, Technology and Environment, and a former head of environment/disaster management at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta.*