Senior Malaysian opposition figure slams rights abuses

HONG KONG, Jan 11 (AFP) - Attempts to create divisions within Malaysia's opposition parties and the continued use of repressive legislation were signs Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad feared losing his grip on power, a senior opposition figure said Thursday.

Tien Chua, vice-president of the opposition National Justice party (Keadilan), headed by Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of jailed former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, told reporters in Hong Kong that repressive legislation was being used to undermine the "awakening of political consciousness generated by the arrest of Anwar."

They are the acts "of a desperate man trying to cling to power," Tuan said.

Tien's comments came following his party's virulent rejection of the government's proposal for a conference on Malay unity, saying that a "commitment to democracy and justice" were far more pressing tasks to be getting on with.

According to Tuan, the proposed meeting is an attempt by Mahathir to shore up the dominance of ethnic Malays within the country and prevent his ruling Malays United National Organization (UMNO) party from having to depend on Chinese or Indian partners to stay in power "We need to recover the fundamentals of a liberal democracy ... the main
task for us is to reinstate those things and not worry about (ethnic) differences," he said.

Tien slammed the government's use of draconian legislation, such as the much feared Internal Security Act (ISA), which gives the authorities the right to detain an individual for two years without trial, as a means of silencing the burgeoning opposition to his authoritarian regime.

According to Amnesty International, the ISA has been used by the government "to suppress peaceful political, academic and social activities, and  legitimate constructive criticism by non-governmental organizations and other social pressure groups."

He also singled out the Police Act which stipulates that any gathering of four or more people, without police permission, constitutes illegal assembly.

Under Malaysian law anyone who has served more than six months in prison of been fined more than 2,000 ringitt (526 US dollars) is disqualified from standing for political office for five years.

Tien is currently facing six charges of illegal assembly and one charge of rioting.