PETALING JAYA: Muhyiddin Yassin contends that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim should not take offence at legitimate criticisms and queries posed by him during political speeches.
The former prime minister said that as the head of the unity government, the leader of Pakatan Harapan and the current prime minister, Anwar ought to have openly and wholeheartedly responded to the queries posed and to deny any allegations which he asserts as false.
“Given that both of them (Muhyiddin and Anwar) are public figures and leaders of their respective parties, it is incumbent that they were frequently confronted with allegations which may have been misstated, misquoted or taken out of context by the media,” he said in his defence to the defamation suit filed by Anwar against him.
“The statement was made as part of an election speech and was a privileged occasion. It was not calculated to gain at the expense of the plaintiff.”
Last month, Anwar filed a defamation suit against the Bersatu president over his allegation during the Padang Serai by-election that Anwar received RM15 million from the Selangor government while serving as its economic adviser.
He is also seeking an injunction to restrain Muhyiddin from further uttering, writing, publishing or distributing the impugned libellous words, or words of the same or similar effect.
Citing qualified privilege and fair comment, Muhyiddin denied that the impugned slanderous or libellous words were defamatory, adding that they consisted of expressions of opinion, which were fair comments on a matter of public interest.
He said he was provided with the information that Anwar was paid RM15 million by an unnamed officer in the Selangor government.
“Based on this and the plaintiff’s (Anwar’s) claim of rejecting a salary as the prime minister, it was fair comment on a matter of public interest as it goes to the heart of the campaign promises made by the plaintiff,” he said in his defence filed on Tuesday sighted by FMT.
Muhyiddin said that as a politician and the chairman of Perikatan Nasional, there was an existing and established relationship between himself and the electorate in the Padang Serai constituency.
In view of this, he said, he had a legitimate duty to provide information to the party members and voters to express his opinion on the qualifications of those who hold public office.
“The party members and voters have a corresponding and legitimate social and moral interest in receiving these information and opinions,” he said. “In the circumstances, the defendant has a legitimate duty and/or interest to communicate the impugned slanderous words to them.
“For the welfare of society, there should be a frank exchange of information and opinions of those who hold public office and curtailing the same would be a breach of freedom of expression under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution.”