Beth Yahp (Malaysiakini)
Yesterday I was hoping against hope that everything I know about the current political culture in Malaysia would today be proved wrong.
I’d hoped that democratic ‘due process’ would indeed take place in the Perak state assembly—and its environs—and that it would be upheld by lawmakers, police, civil servants, and the courts of justice who purportedly serve the Malaysian people who put them in office and, directly or indirectly, continue to pay their salaries.
Instead, what I’ve watched unfolding today is a scene directly from a police state: barbed wire cordoning off a democratic house of assembly; activists, lawmakers and ordinary rakyat being intimidated and arrested like criminals, because apparently it’s now a crime to wear black and have breakfast in the vicinity of the one place where your voice as a citizen is supposed to be heard. Fairly and freely.
I’ve seen the Perak state assembly descending into chaos in a naked power grab that makes a mockery of every claim to fairness, justice and democracy that the new regime of our newly-minted prime minister, who apparently orchestrated the whole debacle, may make.
It’s not a pretty sight. Naked ambition never is. Maybe both sides are to blame, neither willing to relinquish power. If so, surely it’s the democratic right of the people of Perak to decide who should go and who should stay. It is not the right of lawyers, civil servants or the Special Branch to do so.
What happened today is a sight that fills me with grief, because it shows clearly what ‘lessons’ the ruling coalition has learned since the rakyat conveyed their unhappiness in the ‘tsunami of change’ on March 8 last year. That is, this new regime believes, like its predecessors, that the old way still prevail, and that every trick in the book is permissible in order to grab and wield power in Malaysia while denying the rakyat their legitimate voice in free and fair polls.
From the weaknesses of ‘froggy’ lawmakers to the impartiality of the royalty, police, civil service, mainstream media and judges—this list is not exhaustible—all can be exploited, coerced, bought, intimidated or seduced over to your side by whatever means necessary. We don’t know what means are used, but we see the results.
House standing orders can be thrown out the window. The speaker can be carted away like a sack of potatos. The ordinary citizen in the street can be scared away or cordoned off like sheep. Bloggers and other commentators, if not already on-side, can be arrested, charged and perhaps fined far beyond their income-brackets. Those on-side can and usually are richly rewarded.
What this new regime is teaching us is the assumption that every Malaysian man and woman, every civil servant, every law enforcer, lawmaker and interpreter of the law in this country—perhaps even the law itself, even the Constitution—has a price, whether in the form of ringgit, or personal interest, or a bludgeon.
Every one of these can be bought and sold, applied as-you-please, adjusted here-and-there, or threatened into submission, while the principle of cakap tak serupa bikin fills our ears with platitudes, and our civil institutions—shaped by 51 years of systemic abuse of power—continue white-anting every effort at true democratic change.
A coup in Perak
Four key civil servants, supposedly impartial, have played an enormous part in the efforts to oust the democratically elected menteri besar and speaker of the Perak state assembly. I would go so far as to say it couldn’t have been done without them: the legal officer, the state assembly secretary, the sergeant-at-arms and the faceless person who turned off the speaker’s microphone in the Dewan.
Somewhere along the way, these unelected and unaccountable individuals have decided to renounce their service to the rakyat and instead of fulfilling their brief as public servants have chosen to become masters of the public. When public servants lose impartiality to the extent of openly attempting to bring down governments, it’s a black day indeed for democracy. What has taken place in Perak is a coup.
Since February, we’ve been watching—painfully, incredulously—while all these lessons unfolded in Perak and the courts, especially the Federal Court in Kuala Lumpur. Are these the lessons we want our children to learn? Is the undignified scuffle in the Perak state assembly the kind of democracy we’ll bequeath to them?
I’m wearing black today, as arrested activist and lecturer Wong Chin Huat asked before he was whisked away in the night, denied access to his lawyers. ‘Let us be united in one black colour and let’s show the world that the 1Malaysia under Najib is 1BlackMalaysia living in darkness.’
This darkness didn’t happen overnight. And it won’t dissipate overnight. We have all contributed to it, by our silence, our apathy, our self-interest, and our fear. These qualities have been so indoctrinated in us that, like it or not, they are part of what makes us Truly Malaysian. We are so used to people telling us what we’re allowed to say and do. Why not also what to wear? What to think? What to be?
I guess all we can do at this juncture is take a good look at Perak, and then take a good look at ourselves, and ask: Is this how we Malaysians really want to be?
BETH YAHP is author of prize-winning novel, ‘The Crocodile Fury’, which has been translated and published in several languages.
A number 1BlackMalaysia day indeed
Beth Yahp (Malaysiakini)