Saturday May 21, 2016
10:02 AM GMT+8

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MAY 21 — This time, the question is not whether Maria Chin Abdullah has ridiculed the Malaysian government but whether the government is making a fool of itself.

Not everyone agrees with what Maria or Bersih has to say, but barring her from travelling out of the country is definitely an overreaction.

The immigration department’s rationale is that citizens making fun of or belittling the government must be barred from travelling overseas.

If such a rationale ever holds, more than half of the country might as well find themselves in the department’s black list.

A democratic government doesn’t need to be that serious. In fact, the legitimacy of a government should stand the test of public arguments, which could come in the form of reprimands, or ridicules.

Major TV stations in the United States often host talk shows during prime time, shows that are bound to catch the eye of many an audience. David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel and many others have done their best to poke fun at the government and politicians, including the president.

It doesn’t matter whether Mr President is happy with them. All that matters is a good audience rating from the American public. Sometimes, the president may even show up at such shows in an attempt to better connect with the people, and will invariably display his funny side to prove his approachability.

Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou is another who has won high acclaim for his funny self videos and humour. If we were to do a survey, this could have been one of Ma’s most popular moments. Some say he has attempted to shed his stereotyped serious image in a bid to diffuse the many frustrations choking Taiwanese society.

Back to the Malaysian immigration department, deputy home minister Nur Jazlan later clarified that only those insulting the country could be barred from travelling overseas, which is of course more acceptable.

The government and the country are two separate concepts. The government is an elected body while a country comes naturally. It is not a crime slamming a government, but belittling the country is another matter.

The thing is, Nur Jazlan has fallen short of further defining “ridiculing the country”, saying instead that this depends on the feelings of the people and that the government will act in response to public complaints.

This is way too ambiguous. Take the instance of Maria Chin for instance, we have no idea how many people feel uncomfortable with her remarks and how many complaints the authorities have actually received. Even if it can be proven statistically that one million Malaysians are unhappy with her, that should not be reason enough to bar her from travelling out of the country.

The point is, so long as Maria has not been barred by a court from leaving the country due to a violation of the country’s laws, there is no way the government should limit her movements.

If the government limits her movements just because it is worried she will criticise the government in a public event overseas, this shows nothing but a severe lack of confidence on the part of the Malaysian government.

(Prime Minister Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak) can always brag loudly about the government’s many achievements and efficiency in the Parliament House and it is up to the listeners to gauge whether they should agree with him.

In a similar manner, (former prime minister Tun Dr) Mahathir (Mohamed) and Maria Chin should also be allowed to speak at different occasions, including international events. The listeners will appraise their speeches themselves and there is no big deal about it at all.

Foreign leaders, investors and tourists are no country bumpkins who will judge a country merely by a few words uttered from the mouth of an individual.

A confident government should be one that convinces the public — Malaysians and foreigners alike — with its actions meted out in accordance with the laws. — Sin Chew Daily

* This is the personal opinion of the writer and/or publication in which this is first published and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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