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Democ­racy is thriv­ing in Malaysia where free speech is prop­a­gated, Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak told Amer­i­can aca­demics and pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day (US lo­cal time).

He said that Malaysia had the “long­est and most con­sis­tent record” as a democ­racy in South-east Asia.

“Elec­tions are fiercely con­tested, and they are real fights — which is shown by the fact that op­po­si­tion par­ties have won state elec­tions. They won five out of Malaysia’s 13 states in 2008.

“I know there are el­e­ments that have been try­ing to cre­ate false im­pres­sions lately. There was even one ar­ti­cle that |said Malaysia was in dan­ger of slid­ing into dic­ta­tor­ship. That re­ally is pre­pos­ter­ous!”

Mr Na­jib was speak­ing at the Banyan Tree Lead­er­ship Fo­rum co-spon­sored by the US Cen­tre for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies and Malaysia’s In­sti­tute of Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. The Prime Min­is­ter also pointed out that Cab­i­net Min­is­ters and prom­i­nent politi­cians have lost their seats in elec­tions and that he nearly lost in the 1999 gen­eral elec­tion.

“Ours is a gen­uine democ­racy and no one is guar­an­teed elec­tion, no mat­ter how high their po­si­tion. It is the peo­ple who have the fi­nal say, which is how it should be in a democ­racy,” said Mr Na­jib, adding that it was un­true that his gov­ern­ment jailed its crit­ics, un­like one of his pre­de­ces­sors.

With­out re­fer­ring to Dr Ma­hathir Mo­hamad by name, Mr Na­jib said this per­son, who was a for­mer prime min­is­ter and now an op­po­si­tion leader, ad­mit­ted to be­ing a dic­ta­tor dur­ing his time in power.

“When he was prime min­is­ter, hun­dreds of peo­ple were sum­mar­ily locked up un­der the In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Act (ISA). News­pa­pers, in­clud­ing a ma­jor na­tional daily, were closed,” said Mr Na­jib.

“The ju­di­ciary was emas­cu­lated. Crony cap­i­tal­ism was rife, with deals made that sig­nif­i­cantly bur­den or­di­nary Malaysians to­day. Peo­ple had no right to demon­strate, and stu­dents were not al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics.

“But Malaysia’s democ­racy sur­vived and, un­der my gov­ern­ment, it has been strength­ened. We re­pealed the ISA — and ended the state of emer­gency that had ex­isted for over 60 years.”

When asked by a re­porter dur­ing a press con­fer­ence about the pos­si­ble dates for the 14th Gen­eral Elec­tion, Mr Na­jib laughed and said: “Wait first. You want me to an­nounce some­thing in Wash­ing­ton DC? You’ve got to be kid­ding,” Malaysian state news agency Ber­nama quoted him as say­ing. AGEN­CIES

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