by Tan Wah Piow
Vicki Treadell, the British High Commissioner to Malaysia said at a meeting held at the Portcullis House of the House of Commons that some politicians in the then Najib’s government had wanted the British Foreign Office to replace her because of her contacts with opposition politicians and civil society.
This Ipoh-born British diplomat explained how, through quiet diplomacy, she managed to advance the cause of human rights in Malaysia. As the High Commissioner at the time of David Cameron premiership, she had to deal with the severe criticisms raised by opposition politicians in Malaysia that the high profile Cameron-led trade investment visit in July 2015 should have been cancelled. Just prior to the visit, Najib Razak as Prime Minister had sacked both his deputy and Attorney General for raising the issue of the handling of 1MDB corruption scandal.
The High Commissioner explained to the audience that once the sacking had happened, she knew that the official visit had to be arranged differently. She went to see the Malaysian foreign minister insisting that David Cameron program had to be changed to include meetings with civil society leaders, and at least family of Anwar Ibrahim. She had then insisted that unless that was agreed, the visit had to be cancelled. Although her demands were accepted by the foreign minister, they later reneged on the agreement upon her return to the High Commission.
When the Malaysian Foreign Minister insisted she had to tell David Cameroon that under no circumstances should he meet Nurul Izzah, the daughter of the jailed Anwar Ibrahim, Vicki Treadell told the audience it was for her to decide what to tell her boss, and not the Malaysian Foreign Minister. Eventually she managed to secure a compromise, and the visit went ahead, although not without criticisms even in the British media.
She was proud of the fact that following her intervention, Maria Chin Abdullah, the leader of Bersih, was released by two weeks of detention. She said she had argued that there was no justification to detain Maria Chin as she was merely campaigning for electoral reform. Vicki did not claim exclusive credit for securing the release of Maria Chin, though she used that episode to demonstrate the effectiveness of ‘quiet diplomacy’ as opposed to any high profile diplomatic protest. This was probably the High Commissioner’s oblique response to criticisms of the Foreign Office forf its otherwise uncritical acceptance of the Najib regime,
In her 40 minutes speech organised by the British Malaysian Group (BMG), Ms Treadell gave a personal account of how events unfolded on the night of the GE 14 Elections. She had her televisions on showing the news on the mainstream channels, while using the laptops to follow live streaming by online portals, and WhatsApp groups.
“At 10 pm all the Channels we’re showing Najib speaking to carefully chosen audience, while social media livestreams were showing Tun Mahathir with ordinary Malaysians. She said she had never seen Najib in such a state, sweating profusely, wiping his sweat with his white upper pocket handkerchief. “I am sure he was shown the real figures by special branch,”
By 10.30pm on election night, “everything was going slow motion”. “We had the worst case scenario plan, what would be our response then.
Between 10.30 to 11pm, the numbers stopped.” “Malaysiakini became one portal (that) Malaysians trusted” she said. “The portal stopped,” she recalled, “social media everywhere people were trying ways to connect to Malaysiakini.”
As to British businesses response to Mahathir’s government, she said she had hosted a meeting with 24 top British companies in Malaysia. Their views are that “in the medium and long term, if the government follows through its program Malaysia would even be a greater country”.
She gave credit to Dr Mahathir for making Malaysia into a ‘Tiger economy’ during the first period of his rule. “Can this tiger regain its roar?” she asked. “All the early signs are everyone is committed to do it.”
On the human rights front, she had met Tommy Thomas, the new Attorney General, and had discussed with him the planned constitutional reforms. She was impressed that he was considering a Great Repeal Bill to rid a package of bad laws, instead of piecemeal reform.
She was also impressed by the pace of the development as demonstrated by the speedy release of Anwar, She singled out Zunar, the Malaysian cartoonist who was also present at the gathering for mention.
” The lifting of Zunar’s travel ban”, she said, “ and discontinuation of charges against others, are cause for optimism.
At the meeting, she offered assistance for the training of Members of Parliament through the Westminister Foundation for Democracy. At the time of the meeting, there were 30 officers from the anti-corruption agency, MACC in London undergoing training. Although it was arranged pre-GE14, it should now benefit the new government.
On the recovery of illegally obtained assets belonging to Malaysian taxpayers which might be in London, Vicki Treadell said she had told Tommy Thomas “send the formal request, and the clues of where to look”.
Post-Brexit, the. British Foreign Office is going its part to strengthen its trade links with Malaysia. Since yesterday’s marginalised human rights advocates are today’s heroes, there is no harm flaunting some of Britain’s human rights credentials to impress today’s politicians.
In this instance, if an ethical foreign policy helps sell British goods, why not if the price is right.