Octogenarian former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has hit out at politicians who sue their critics, after he was urged to take legal action against Barry Wain, the author of a critical new book about his long-running premiership.
On his blog, Che Det, Mahathir says that politicians must accept criticism from all quarters as it comes with the territory.
I am leery of politicians who sue their critics. I suspect that what they want is to make the issue sub-judice so as to prevent the critics from attacking them on the issue. This is a cowardly move and in fact proves that the criticisms are fully justified.
A politician who is convinced of his own integrity and innocence should be able to fend off the attacks by proving that they have no basis in fact. It is up to the people, after hearing both sides to decide on the matter. Shutting the mouth of the critics by abusing the authority of the court of law is no better than Governments which censor or shut down papers which are critical of them.
I share his view that politicians who readily turn to their libel lawyers are often more concerned with preventing genuine criticism than stopping the publication of any supposedly defamatory material.
However, the lady doth protest too much, methinks. During the 22 years when he retained a tight grip on power, Mahathir was hardly a friend of press freedom, outlawing various publications and ensuring that the mainstream media was effectively controlled by the state.
Still, I wonder what Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, a rival octogenarian political warhorse with a penchant for libel actions, would make of Mahathir’s belated conversion to free speech.