During the colonial years, the colonialists were given different treatments from the colonised subjects. The society was one of two distinctive classes (dua darjat), where the majority of the population were denied the same rights and dignity before the law as enjoyed by the ruling elites.
Independence in that sense means the rule of law. Independence is not replacing one set of ruling elites who were above the law with another set of ruling elites who are above the law.
Unfortunately, this true sense of independence remained in theory for six decades. We have seen so many law-breaking VVIPs walk free shamelessly while ordinary citizens were put behind bars for committing smaller offences, or worse, for simply disagreeing with or criticising the Government.
In celebrating the independence of 65 years for Malaya and of 59 years for Sabah, and soon the formation of Malaysia for 59 years, we must remember, independence is never a finished business, but rather a treasure to be defended and maintained all the time.
Independence is about having laws made by democratically elected lawmakers and applied to all regardless of political, social or economic status, and gender, ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural, lifestyle or physical background.
When we allow rule of law to be eroded, we allow our independence to be eroded, to be cynically hollowed out – we restore colonialism in our midst, except this time, with our ‘own people’ as the colonial master.
While we are saddened that our political system was so broken that a Prime Minister could steal billions of Ringgit and feel no shame, the fact that Najib Razak could eventually be sent to jail, proves that rule of law still exists in Malaysia, and Malaysia is independent.
We register our utmost gratitude to the prosecution team and the judges who presided in the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Federal Court for carrying out their duty faithfully and rigorously in the SRC trial. They are our Merdeka heroes.
However, the greatest heroes are none-other-than the 12,246,483 voters who cast their votes in the 14th General Election (GE14). Regardless which parties they individually supported, collectively they voted in the 14th Parliament which ended the Najib Razak Government. It is this demonstration of political will by Malaysian voters that allowed the Prosecution and the Judiciary to carry out their duties on the SRC case without political interference under three successive Governments.
In the months, if not weeks, to come, Malaysia needs every one of her 21.5 million voters to be her Merdeka defenders when the 15th General Election (GE15) is held.
Supporters of kleptocracy are openly calling for an early GE15 in the hope that low turnout like what we saw in Johor, would give them victory. In Johor, less than 55% voted in March and the largest coalition won 71% of legislative seats with only 23% of registered voters.
If we truly appreciate Merdeka, we must vote for only parties that are committed to the rule of law. Any party or coalition that hopes to win GE15 so that they can appoint a new Attorney General to drop all remaining corruption cases against Najib or anyone else, must be stopped by a huge voters’ turnout. Acquittals such as those of Lim Guan Eng, Musa Aman, Tengku Adnan, Ahmad Maslan, Riza Aziz and Hasanah Abd Hamid due to the AGC dropping charges must end.
Malaysia deserves better. Malaysia deserves the following ten reforms:
1. An independent Public Prosecution Office that is separated from the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) which should function mainly as the Government’s legal advisor.
2. Expansion of absentee voting facilities for out-of-region (Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsula) voters and simplified postal voting for overseas voters, to increase turnout.
3. A ten-year tenure limit to Prime Minister, to reduce corruption and political instability due to concentration of power;
4. A Parliamentary Services Act, to enable Parliament’s administrative and financial autonomy to do better in law-making and oversight of government;
5. A Political Finance Act, with public funding for political parties, to curb corruption and money politics;
6. An Equitable Constituency Development Fund (CDF) Act, to ensure all parliamentarians receive equitable allocation for their constituencies;
7. An independent Election Commission (EC), answerable to Parliament and not controlled by Prime Minister;
8. A reformed Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), answerable to Parliament and not controlled by Prime Minister;
9. Establishment of “Private Members’ Business” timeslot in parliamentary sittings and making “Private Members’ Bills” viable to empower both Opposition Members and Government Backbenchers.
10. A new constitutional convention of “Fixed Term Parliament”, that a Prime Minister will seek early dissolution in only two circumstances, first, having lost the confidence of Parliament, or, second, two-third of parliamentarians support an early election.
Malaysia deserves better. All the above are possible to be done before GE15 if the 14th Parliament gets to complete its full term until 15 July 2023.
Malaysia deserves better. Malaysia deserves you as her Merdeka defender, to demand and support these vital institutional reforms.
Malaysia deserves better. Malaysia deserves your vote in GE15 with the rule of law and democracy in mind.
Statement issued by:
The Steering Committee of BERSIH