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As the Leader of the Opposition, I would like to welcome the attendance of President Barack Obama to the Asean Summit hosted by Malaysia.

The visit aims to strengthen cooperation between the United States and Asean, particularly in promoting trade and regional security.

While we appreciate the importance of the US-Asean relationship, the role of the US cannot be confined to economic and security alone without looking into a broader spectrum of issues; closer ties of cooperation with the US must also enhance democratisation and human rights in this region.

Asean is a regional organisation which promotes peace and economic growth. It has been proven that economic progress cannot be isolated from all aspects of political and social reforms. On the contrary, economic growth is spurred by institutional reforms that entrench transparency, good governance, democratic values and human rights.

Malaysia is the chair of Asean for 2015 and Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the direction of the Asean economic development should be people-centric. However, domestically, the prime minister has in recent years reneged on his pledges for reforms and moderation.

Instead we have witnessed an escalation of corruption scandals, unchecked incidences of racial and religious extremism, and political crackdowns.

Tainted with controversies

In the last few months, Najib has been embroiled in an unprecedented multi-billion dollar scandal. The prime minister's brainchild 1MDB is presently tainted with controversies involving huge debt and allegations of misappropriation of funds. Najib has also admitted to have collected hundreds of millions of dollars in political funds which were scandalously deposited into his personal bank account.

Instead of answering queries from the public and clearing the air, the prime minister proceeded with the removal of the deputy prime minister, the attorney general, several Anti-Corruption Commission officers, police investigators and public prosecutors who were investigating the corruption allegations. The government also applied strong-arm tactics to intimidate the central bank governor.

The prime minister's behaviour is unacceptable by all standards of accountability and certainly has violated the principles of good governance and transparency, which has resulted in the erosion of public trust.

Malaysia under Najib has also failed to live up to the people's aspiration for a free and equitable society. Many critics of the Najib administration - including legislators, a prominent cartoonist, journalists, lawyers as well as dissidents within the ruling parties - are frequently harassed or threatened.

No less than 100 activists and political leaders have been charged with sedition, illegal assembly or detained under various draconian laws.

Last February, parliamentary opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sentenced to five years in prison on clearly trumped-up charges which were recently condemned by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Intolerant autocracy

Malaysia is now at risk of moving towards an intolerant autocracy. Despite decades of economic growth and political stability, Malaysia is no longer a model moderate, progressive Muslim nation in the Southeast Asia region.

We call upon President Obama to use the opportunity of his tour in this region to reiterate the necessity for democratic reforms.

He needs to remind Najib that trade and economic development must go hand in hand with advancing human rights and good governance.

We hope the historical visit by the US president will leave a mark on the Malaysian people. Obama must not allow trade interests to undermine our inalienable struggle for justice and basic rights.

He ought to stand with the Malaysian democratic movement and urge Najib’s government to put a stop to the persecution of dissidents and to restore freedom and dignity to the people.

DR WAN AZIZAH WAN ISMAIL is Opposition Leader and president of PKR.

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