Democracy? What Democracy?
Saturday, September 15, 2007

We are not a democracy just because the Government says so. The Military Dictators ‘East of the Iron Curtain’ called themselves democrats (Betrand Russell, What Is Democracy?). Yet, more and more, the Government expects us to believes its assertions. Blindly, and some might say, deafly.

Think about it. How can the Government of the day claim that we have a democracy when:
* The electoral process is questionable. From concept – the first past the post system is archaic and not necessarily reflective of the aspirations of the rakyat – to implementation – consider the concerns raised by BERSIH. The BERSIH initiative appears to have touched a nerve. How else can we explain the rejection/withdrawal of the permit for the Pantai Batu Buruk ceramah?
* Malaysians are not given vital information which would be relevant to the exercise of their right to choose. The Government takes the position that there is no freedom of and to information.

  1. The Official Secrets Act, in its present form – a version that is the product of amendments pushed through by the Mahathir Administration – shields from scrutiny almost all, if not all, matters of State deliberated by Cabinet or the State Exco.
  2. Newspapers cannot be published without permits. Permits are issued at the ‘absolute discretion’ of the Government. Permits are not issued with ease. Keadilan’s application for a permit for a party news periodical has been kept on ice for a long while now. PAS got a permit for HARAKAH but was allowed only to circulate the periodical to its members. The mainstream newspapers are selective in their reporting, with minimal to negligible coverage of crucial matters. Such limited journalistic freedom as exists is tightly regulated through threats of closure and action so as to have caused a policy of self-censorship.
  3. Blogs and bloggers have come under attack.
  4. The freedom of assembly is non-existent. Permits are required for gatherings of 5 or more individuals in public. Forums, ceramahs and the like are regulated in a way which suggests an arbitrariness on the part of the administration. This impacts on the ability to communicate information.
  5. Private gatherings can be broken up on the basis that the event causes a disturbance of the peace even if this is not the fault of the organizers of the event. The Article 11 events in Penang and Johor Baru, and the arrests of participants at and organizers of the 2nd Asia Pacific Conference on East Timor (APCET) in 1996 illustrate this.
  6. The Internal Security Act is used like a very big stick. This Government is no stranger to the detention of political and civil society activists. Detentions are not reviewable. This and selective prosecutions over dissemination of information through anti-expression laws – the convictions of Lim Guan Eng and Irene Fernandez are testament to this – have a chilling effect on the expression of views and information.
  7. Parliamentary debate is tightly regulated by the Speaker in a manner which restricts free discussion of matters crucial to the national interest. The current Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat is appointed by the Government.

* Parliament is controlled by the Government, the election of Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament having been achieved, in part, through the matters set out above and election tactics that have been criticized (see BERSIH).
* The Judiciary. Enough has been said about this institution. It has been quite happy through the validating of legal provisions that bar judicial scrutiny and review and the fiction of parliamentary supremacy (we have a written constitution which declares itself the supreme law; that means constitutional supremacy) to wash its hands of a number of matters of crucial significance.
* The Police lends itself to Executive will and direction. Police brutality continues, despite 2 commission of enquiry and various SUHAKAM reports. Special Branch continues its operations, though there does not appear to be any publicly available information as to what this section of the Police does, officially or otherwise
Democracy? What democracy?
The curious thing is that most of the above could not be achieved without the law to allow for it. Individuals we elected into parliament made the laws that are now being used against us. What does that say about us and our choices?
Laws that are made can be unmade. They can be repealed, or amended. Governments can be changed and called to account.
Everything starts with you.