Malaysia’s Najib must abandon the Mubarak model

Simon Tisdall,	 Wednesday 13 July 2011 19.30 BST

It is not in the same league as Arab spring uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere. But Malaysia’s fancifully named “hibiscus revolution” has potential, at least, to inflict a winter of discontent on the gormless government of prime minister Najib Razak. That’s something David Cameron should bear in mind when Najib comes touting for business in Downing Street on Thursday. Bilateral trade and investment is important. Respect for basic human rights more so.

Najib reacted with characteristic heavy-handedness when tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur at the weekend demanding “reformasi” – democratic reform – and an end to a defective electoral system that guarantees Najib’s party representing the Malay majority, Umno, stays in power indefinitely. About 1,700 people were arrested and many injured as police used baton charges, watercannon and teargas to break up peaceful protests.

In an echo of Britain’s Ian Tomlinson affair, one protester, identified as Baharuddin Ahmad, 59, collapsed and later died near the Petronas Towers in central Kuala Lumpur while fleeing teargas. Amnesty International said police had beaten many demonstrators. It demanded an investigation into claims they failed to provide prompt assistance to Baharuddin and that there was a 90-minute delay before an ambulance arrived.

“Prime minister Najib’s government rode roughshod over thousands of Malaysians exercising their right to peaceful protest,” Amnesty said. “This violent repression … flies in the face of international human rights standards and cannot be allowed to continue. David Cameron should tell prime minister Najib that these human rights violations are unacceptable.”

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