Parents actually have a duty to children to teach them about democracy and the exercise of democracy, says Angeline Loh.
The right to vote is a highly prized right in many democratic countries.
A New Zealander friend of mine told me how he had been preparing his teenage son who turned 18 this year on how to exercise this right. In training the youthful first time voter, he made sure he allowed the young man to make his own political choices. This meant that the father was prepared to accept a dissenting opinion from his son should the son choose to hold a different political view and vote for a different political party.
No doubt, heated political debate could break out within the family circle on particular issues, but this is democracy, and doesn’t mean that the son and the father love each other less for holding different views. Healthy debate would spice up family conversations as long as one understood that it was merely a debate to exercise one’s intellectual capacity and sharpen the ability to think logically and critically about the government of the day and how it was managing the country.
On the day of the general election, father and son were rearing to participate in the polling, well prepared and fully aware of the reasons each had for casting his vote for the political party of his choice. They went together to the polling centre that morning, the father camera in hand to treasure the memory of his son’s debut onto the electoral roll. Father and son then went in to cast their votes, after taking a photo of his son outside the polling station.
Tom told me this with a sense of achievement, satisfaction and pride, that his son had reached adulthood and was now a responsible citizen of his country. His efforts at nurturing the boy to understand the importance of his right to vote and upholding that right turned out a success.
This was the first time I learned that parents actually have a duty to children to teach them about democracy and the exercise of democracy. Democracy does not mean lawlessness. To hold a different opinion from others is not anti-social; it is a right and a claim to basic freedom of expression, as long as the fundamental principle of non-violence and respect for the human rights of others underlies it. Moreover, the rule of law always applies in a democratic state and basic human rights and freedoms have become the norm, instead of a privilege.
The exercise and claim to basic human rights and freedoms should apply across the board to citizens as well as non-citizens within state borders. There may be certain conditions on the exercise of certain rights of non-citizens such as immigration controls, rights to purchase landed properties and jobs that can be held by non-citizens. This does not mean that non-citizens should be denied basic rights to healthcare, education and legitimate employment to survive in a foreign country, although obtaining employment requires work-permits even if they may be resident in the country. Still, it must be stressed that the rule of law always applies.
In Tom’s country, laws always apply to each and every citizen and non-citizen resident there. There are official channels to make complaints and challenge any private or government action formally through the legal system. When dealing with private enterprises as well as government departments, I realised that transparency is the order of the day. Tom warns me that his country is not heaven, as there is criminal activity and racism, by a minority of the population. However, overall, basic human rights are protected and racism is certainly not supported or tolerated in New Zealand. These are things every state has to deal with, as none is perfect.
Looking at Malaysia and the way things are now, I wonder if we are aware of the implications of responsible democracy. Will the next government have sufficient political will to make an authentic transition towards true democracy, peaceful order under the rule of law, and good, clean, transparent governance? As it is, accountability in government virtually doesn’t exist, which seems to indicate that citizens and the private sector have carte blanche to behave the in same way. Will we ever eliminate corruption without double-standards?
Finally, it occurred to me, that each and every member of the electorate has an obligation to consider the implications of the democracy they want and the management of that democracy. The responsibility is a heavy one, as how the government operates is in the hands of the Rakyat who qualify to have a say in decision-making in our country.
The bottom-line is that we must be responsible voters and exercise our voting right for the good of all in this country, not according to the spins and payouts of any who claim to have the mandate to govern us. We must also pass on that responsibility and educate our children in democracy and respect for others, nurturing them to become responsible Malaysian citizens.
Angeline Loh is an Aliran exco member