It’s that time of the year again when I listen to 31 Ogos, the memorable song by our beloved Sudirman Arshad:
Bulan lapan, 57
Ia pasti menjadi sejarah
Bulan lapan, 57
Hari yang mulia
Sambut dengan jiwa yang merdeka
I am also reminded, at this time of the year, of an incident many years ago, when some activist friends of mine refused to fly the flag during the Merdeka month because of Malaysia’s “poor human rights record”.
That left me baffled. I love my motherland and am always proud to be a Malaysian, even though I am not always proud of the prime minister or the government of my motherland. In fact, I proudly fly the flag every day on my front porch.
In the same vein, there are now many people who question the efficacy of voting in the coming general election. The low voter turnouts in the recent state elections suggest a reluctance among voters to take part in the democratic process.
Many see this as a consequence of the “Sheraton move” and the subsequent shifting of political allegiances.
How do we pull ourselves out of this political quagmire when there seems to be a pervading atmosphere of ‘electile dysfunction’? Many ordinary people just don’t seem to be aroused by any political candidate, political party or election manifesto. How can we overcome the sense of political hopelessness and impotence many Malaysians feel today?
How do we end the distrust of and disillusionment with the electoral process, especially when our elected representatives betray us and sell out our mandate, ‘hopping’ in search of the gravy train?
How do we arrest the political fatigue and the expected drop in voter turnout in the coming general election?
Yes, there are too many unprincipled, incompetent and bungling buffoons masquerading as political leaders and decision-makers in government – all at the public expense!
It pains me that our beloved country has already been labelled a kleptocracy, due mostly to the misdeeds of a convicted former prime minister, who continues to plead innocence and ignorance!
To echo the sentiments of opposition MP Lim Kit Siang, do we wait until we spiral further down into a kakistocracy?
While it is understandable that we feel outraged and disappointed with the present political scenario, withdrawing from politics and boycotting the general election will not make things better.
Even spoiling our vote to register our protest, as espoused in the last general election by the Undi Rosak campaigners, is dangerous and ill-conceived.
However slow and disappointing the process is, we cannot bring about change if we withdraw from the process and the many avenues available today to bring about change. These range from casting our votes during the general elections once every five years, to joining millions of Malaysians for a peaceful street protest, that being our legitimate right as well.
We need to acknowledge that democracies are imperfect. To quote Father Richard Rohr: “There are no perfect structures or perfect people. There is only the struggle to get there.”
Much as we associate democracy with the will of the majority, the true test of a democracy is in how it protects and respects the rights of its minorities and vulnerable groups within society.
Democracy is also the power to reject those we do not want.
Over the last few years of shifting alliances and fragile coalitions with razor-thin majorities, we need to ask if ‘majority rule’ is possible or even desirable within a heterogeneous and diverse society, especially if it is also a divided society.
Coalition-building and the politics of accommodation are not unique to Malaysia. We have seen it since the early years of our nationhood, even before Merdeka, when political groups on both sides of the divide joined hands in ‘marriages of convenience’ when it was strategic in furthering their political objectives. They later broke up and went their separate ways, when political conditions and priorities changed.
Isn’t it high time we move away from adversarial politics and try to forge a form of consensual democracy anchored by fundamental rights, accountability and competence? This would require some major reforms in key institutions of governance to ensure checks and balances, transparency and accountability.
A prerequisite for that to happen is some form of mutual trust and acceptance among the main political actors.
It is encouraging to see some semblance of much-needed reforms taking shape through the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed last year between the Perikatan Nasional-led federal government and the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition.
Though the MoU has been mocked and criticised by many, it has resulted in the much-awaited anti-‘party hopping’ bill finally seeing the light of day. The bill was passed in the Lower House on 28 July.
This bill was the result of engagement with all sides of the political divide – a truly historic day for parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.
There is also the “Caucus for Multi-Party Democracy”, comprising 12 MPs from across the political spectrum “to encourage dialogue, engagement and cross-party participation in Parliament on institutional reforms to enable the public to better join in the parliamentary process”.
Here, credit must be given to the civil society groups and think tanks that carried out the much-needed research and engagement with stakeholders to flesh out the reforms.
Alas, institutional reforms by themselves will not work if we do not have reform-minded, ethical people within the system.
We need political leaders who prioritise the wellbeing of ordinary people – leaders who are able to identify the root causes of the malaise our country suffers from and who can put in place the systemic and structural changes required to lift our country out of the depressing state we are in now.
For too long, we have had a government that makes only cosmetic and incremental changes – and even that, at a snail’s pace! We must support and vote for political leaders who put the people’s agenda before their personal political agenda.
I concur wholeheartedly with Aliran’s Henry Loh that we cannot have Najib and his ilk back in power – and I am sure many others will agree.
We need to reclaim our beloved motherland from the clutches of kleptocrats, racists and religious bigots.
We must reject politicians who have pulled the wool over our eyes for years on end, the wolves in sheep’s clothing, who have betrayed our trust and corrupted our nation with their money politics and “cash is king” mantra, however they spin it.
To do this, our participation in politics must go beyond just voting once in five years, crucial though that is for the future we want to see.
We need to identify, promote and entrench values that reflect the common good and wellbeing of ordinary people – as is being done collectively by civil society groups now through initiatives like the People’s Agenda and the People’s Manifesto.
To reclaim our nation, we need to play our part in whatever way we can, wherever we are, every day.
I always feel inspired whenever I come across a viral video clip or news report that shows ordinary Malaysians standing up against the abuse of power by ‘people in authority’, ranging from hypocritical cabinet ministers flouting Covid rules to rude staff in government departments.
Aliran has also highlighted such issues, including instances of dua darjat (double standards). We have also made clear our position regarding double standards, especially with regard to the application of the laws of the land.
This is also what we demand of all who seek to represent us in Parliament, as stated in the People’s Agenda – that they uphold democracy and the rule of law to ensure that all legislation protects human rights, due process and basic freedoms.
We have come a long way from the early years of authoritarian rule, imposed after the 1969 political thuggery. Back then, the culture of fear was palpable as the powers that be freely and arbitrarily wielded the Internal Security Act and the Sedition Act, which hung over our heads like the sword of Damocles.
Many are losing the fear of fear and have become bolder and even creative in exercising their right to express their views on a myriad of issues that are the consequence of ineffective or simply bad public policies.
There is no shortage of people out there sowing seeds of despair and peddling doom and gloom, as if we are hurtling towards dystopia. But we must endeavour to shine our brightest light. We need to channel our outrage and righteous indignation into more constructive avenues.
This is how we reclaim our nation and our independence. We must not allow ourselves to be colonised and controlled by anyone who does not respect our basic rights.
We must liberate and decolonise our minds. We must work together to liberate our beloved country from all that ails it so that we can celebrate with a liberated spirit. We must fix this electile dysfunction now!Mary Magdaline Pereira
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
11 August 2022