Behind the scenes – how the Citizens’ Declaration was made

The signing of the Citizens’ Declaration on Friday was hailed as a landmark re-alignment of forces in the country as it brought together the establishment loyal to former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the opposition and civil society.

Much of the spotlight have been on the top activists, opposition leaders and members of the ruling coalition who signed declaration, which among others called for the ouster of scandal-plagued Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and institutional reforms.

But little attention has been given to how the 37-paragraph document came about and the behind the scenes debates and negotiations in the run-up to the high-profile announcement.

Malaysiakini understands that the original document was personally drafted by Mahathir, who was more fixated on the issues surrounding Najib and debt-ridden state-owned company 1MDB.

But the draft was subsequently changed to incorporate concerns from interest groups who were to be party to the declaration.

Most notably, civil society groups wanted the declaration to acknowledge the issue of fundamental freedoms in the country which was spelled out in paragraph 34, 35 and 36 of the final document.

Among the key figures who put together the wording on behalf of the civil society groups were Maria Chin Abdullah, Ambiga Sreenevasan, Hishamuddin Rais and Cynthia Gabriel.

When contacted, Maria (centre in photo) said Mahathir was open to suggestions to include their wording in the document.

“Of course, he (Mahathir) drafted the first draft, there is no denying that. But he gave us the opportunity to amend it.

“When we read the first document, there were only vague mentions of the undemocratic system… it wasn’t very clear so we added our wording and he accepted it,” she said.

Maria said this was subsequently presented to a meeting of civil society groups on Thursday night.

“Mahathir definitely knows our agenda that it’s not just about (removing) Najib. It is really about long-term institutional reforms,” she said.

The key paragraphs noted that Malaysia was now regarded as undemocratic amid denial of freedom of speech and the press while people live in fear of arrest and detentions.

It also noted the expansion of security powers for Najib and the abuse of security laws.

The declaration also made specific urgings for the repeal of all recent laws that violate fundamental rights.

Feedback sought from opposition’s representatives

Meanwhile, Bukit Katil MP Shamsul Iskandar, who is also PKR vice-president, said feedback was also sought from the opposition’s representatives for the final draft.

“Mahathir in the original draft focussed solely on 1MDB and uniting all quarters.

“After our leadership and individuals involved scrutinised and discussed the original draft, we emphasised the need for institutional reforms and a level-playing field.

“In particular, reforms to the police force, attorney-general institution as well as the separation of powers,” he told Malaysiakini.

He added that the opposition also stressed on similar points raised by civil society.

Shamsul (photo) added that this was in line with jailed de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim’s insistence that systemic change was required.

The ‘compromise’ achieved between Mahathir and interested parties was facilitated by a group of coordinators, who include Khairuddin Abu Hassan, a loyalist of the former premier.

Khairuddin told Malaysiakini that the team was instructed to reach out to all quarters for support and feedback, which was subsequently incorporated in the text.

“The process took a few weeks,” he said.

“I think when he did that, most of those who are interested in signing the agreement yesterday (Friday), they have voiced up, suggested some amendments, and so forth.

“At the end of the day, the final draft is so well-accepted by each and every one, because it was read through by everyone and opinion was sought from everyone, so it came out in a very nice, short, simple and precise (way),” he added.

Khairuddin said the declaration was also designed in such a way that the many quarters can set aside their allegiances and focus on Najib and the ongoing national crisis.

Mahathir, who has accused Najib of corruption, is spearheading a movement to oust him.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) had investigated deposits of RM42 million from state-owned SRC International and RM2.6 billion from an offshore account into Najib’s personal bank accounts.

Najib had denied wrongdoing while the attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali had also cleared Najib of any offences.

However, the MACC is appealing Apandi’s decision not to prosecute. – Malaysiakini

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