Living in exciting times of an awakening!

29 Nov 2007
Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad
Director PAS Research Centre
A Member of the BERSIH Steering Committee

Call it what you may, but I insist that we are living in an ‘exciting’ moment in our political history! Arguably, ‘challenging moment’ may be more appropriate. The relentless and realistic optimist in me chooses this term despite knowing full well that we are in the worst of our times where every critical institutions of the state, including the judiciary, are severely compromised. Could we degenerate further? Yes. So what is so exciting? The prospect of reform and change should we wish to pursue.

Doubtless, if the majority of us insist to remain docile and submissive, in a nation that patronizes ‘Spectator Democracy’, (borrowing from Noam Chomsky), we will all be doomed to the abyss of decadency. But what about the reform? Well, it comes with a price. It will not be on a silver platter.
Never mind the 2 mammoth gatherings of BERSIH and then HINDRAF, happening in quick succession in a course of a month in November. If you’re one of those still perplexed, now wondering and insisting that you should know what has become of this distressed nation then you’re not alone. You are part of the ground-swell for change and reform. It is increasing slowly yet surely. It is this ‘awakening’ that is most exciting.
That was precisely the reason why, the organizers of both events insisted that they be given their democratic rights to a peaceful assembly as enshrined in the Federal Constitution (Article 10), so as to inform the public, nay the entire world, of their endless quandary and now their demands. The street is the ‘people assembly’ where they will be seen and heard albeit not without its risks. That’s the price.
These 2 ‘watershed’ events, though seemingly unrelated, bore major similarities on closer examination. They are both offshoots of a regime that has long been in denial. Bottom-line they met with the same fate i.e. in the manner it’s been strongly suppressed by the powers-that-be. While BERSIH is all out pressing for electoral reforms before the next 12th General Election (GE), HINDRAF, a Hindu Rights Action Force, calls for empowering the Indian Hindus community by ending both the racial and religious discrimination, perceived against their community.
Under the rubric of national peace and security, coupled with the alleged fear of investors for ‘gatherings’, participants of both events were greeted with wanton use of force, tear-gas and chemical-laced water. The ‘victims’ were diabolically demonized as the ‘perpetrators’, while their predicaments and grouses never saw the light of the day in the mainstream media.
This piece may not be able to champion the cause of HINDRAF as the writer is neither a Hindu nor an Indian. But it doesn’t absolve him of the duty and obligation to standup for the rights of his countrymen to express their claims of being victims of injustices, marginalisation and discrimination, through democratic of ways.
That said, the writer, a member of the BERSIH’s Steering Committee, is nonetheless going to say his piece on the continued suppression of democracy in this nation, now on the brink of another GE. Should the EC, working hand in glove with the government, choose to be again in denial, the BERSIH’s hope for a reform will surely suffer a stillbirth. That shall be a very sad day for Malaysia and Malaysians.
Judging by the Al-Jazeera 30 minute 101 East forum moderated by Teymoor Nabili, one shudders at the thought of democracy be inherited to the heirs of Umnopower. As if admitting what transpired from the earlier interview with the ‘semi-literate’ Minister of Information was too humiliating for Umno, she wanted an immediate replay, this time with the supposedly younger-brighter brand of Umnopower.
Quite unfortunately, both Khairy and Nazri got it all wrong from the start. The repeat wasn’t about who could string proper sentences in English and who couldn’t. It is entirely about professing understanding of what constitute ‘Electoral Democracy’ as opposed to ‘Electoral Authoritarianism’. Despite Khairy’s overly showy exhibit of his Oxford accent, his acumen wasn’t far off from the ‘much-to-be-desired’ de facto Minister of Law insofar as understanding Democracy 101 is concerned.
This scares many a well-wisher of Democracy including this writer, about what is to become of this nation when power actually changes hands. In stark contrast, the solitary voice of sanity and reason from Malik Imtiaz, the Human Right Lawyer, effortlessly saved the day. That was exciting as it was consoling for the rest of us.
This brings me to the crux of this piece ie that electorates in an electoral process, be whatever system have you, must decide base upon an informed decision. Access to information is so critical and cardinal to democracy. Voters’ access to information must not be stifled much as candidates need to have a fair and equitable access to media as to enable him to communicate his policies and conviction to a wider cross section of the electorates.
Anything that compromises the access of voters to information and the contending parties to media has indeed turned the electoral system and the entire election process into a sham democracy. Isn’t the media covering opposition activism? Yes, but only for the wrong reasons like featuring them ‘rioting’ in an ‘illegal’ and ‘outlawed’ demonstration.
A truly free and fair press in a democracy informs the public, holds leaders accountable, engenders integrity, stifles corruption and amply provides for a forum to debate on issues of local, national or global concerns by both the government and their critiques or detractors. Are our media assuming that role in anywhere? An emphatic No! It’s only keen to ‘Manufacture Consent’ (borrowing Noam Chomsky’s again) to placate grouses and hoodwink the electorates despite their many ‘sins of omission and commission’ now exposed.
This is the greatest failure and now the debilitating ‘Blindspot’ of the government. This regime has turned to be their own greatest enemy by shrewdly and ‘illegally’ overstaying their welcome through fraudulent practices of democracy.
The writer could recall that amongst the 6 demands, strangely by none other than the Chairman of the Election Commission (EC), (now desperately hoping for an extension), was the need for the EC to be “given power to ensure that justice and freedom be accessible to all (contending parties) in both the electronic and print media. He also strongly opined that ‘the election laws and regulations are 50 years old and no longer capable of delivering justice to all’ (Bernama, Jan 8, 2007).
Many are also unaware that the EC admitted deleting 180,000 voters from the Electoral List following BERSIH’s call for Cleansing of the Electoral Roll early this year. In July the EC again admitted 22,433 voters were dropped from the Electoral Roll when the National Registration Department didn’t have their names as bona-fide citizens of this country.
The latest admission of the Secretary of the EC that their assistant officers for registration of voters were found to have transferred voters without their consent before July 2002 again largely vindicated opposition claims of massive fraudulent practice in the last GE of 2004. Scary? Scandalous? How many actually voted and put this government in office? God knows. Will we, the entire citizenry, take these punishing and humiliation lying-down again in the next GE?
BERSIH has enumerated 4 short term urgent reforms and a longer-term systemic change that is worthy of this nation. We call upon all Malaysians to standup to the task and challenge of reforming the electoral system so that we could proudly bestow it upon our grand-children a democracy worthy of Malaysia! If we insist to remain pathetically apathetic and remorseless, it wouldn’t be too long before our grandchildren inherit a nation with hardly any semblance of a functional democracy and a thread of integrity anymore.
We may be turning in our graves every time they ‘curse’ at us. God forbids!
Are we ready to do it? Stand-up and be counted! Be an activist of BERSIH!
You surely wouldn’t want to miss being part of this exciting political history!