KUALA LUMPUR — On Feb. 17, Malaysia’s still-influential former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad weighed in on an ongoing debate about freedom of the press in Malaysia, a rising Southeast Asian economy. Writing on his widely-read blog, he opined: “Frankly I would rather have the government censoring me … [I]f I don’t like what the government is doing, I can work for the rejection of the party which forms the government. But there is nothing I can do to stop people who may wish to deprive me of my freedom through the alternative media.” Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003, the longest such stint in Malaysia’s history, was reacting to videos posted online showing sections of the crowd mocking current Prime Minister Najib Razak at a Chinese New Year event in Penang, an electronics hub and tourist draw in Malaysia’s northwest.
KUALA LUMPUR — More than a week after Malaysian police fired teargas and water cannons at thousands of demonstrators seeking reform of the country’s electoral system, a Facebook petition calling on Prime Minister Najib Razak to quit has drawn over 200,000 backers, highlighting the role of social and new media in Malaysia’s restrictive free speech environment. One contributor to the page wrote: “The world is full of multimedia and electronics; the things we so call camera and videocam … And photos and videos were already being uploaded on the Internet but ‘it’ still denies the truth and makes stories and lies until today.” Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have played a major role in mobilising some of the demonstrators in the run-up to the rally, which went ahead despite a police ban and lockdown imposed on sprawling Kuala Lumpur on the eve of the July 9 protest. The demonstration organizer, Bersih 2.0 — a coalition of 63 NGOs (non-government organizations) that wants changes such as updated electoral rolls and a longer election campaign period — has its own Facebook page, attracting a similar number of “likes” as the page urging Najib to step down, with 190,000+ fans at the time of this posting.