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Democracy is not about mob rule or supremacy of the majority

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It is about giving everyone – including those who do not have a voice in society – a voice, Ch’ng Chin Yeow writes.

Many regimes around the world give lame excuses for their human rights infringements.

We too are at fault because we view issues through our values, culture and prejudices. We need cool heads and objectivity, and we should not be blind to inconvenient truths.

“The West imposes its cultural views and values on others constantly…. The West committed atrocities around the world when they were the colonial masters in other countries…. The West was colonising other countries…. They do not have the right to lecture us….”

These are the constant justifications by regimes around the world to justify their human rights abuses and to silence their critics.

Do we ourselves not always impose our values on others all the time? We do it at all levels but we do not care to admit it. Or maybe it is easier and convenient to just pretend to ignore the fact that we actually do it. Apparently, it is always an issue when others are imposing their values on us – and not when we are imposing our value judgements on others.

In Malaysia, when a Muslim religious-looking person gives out free food to poor Chinese, the Chinese view his intention with suspicion. A couple of common comments: “Is he getting ready to get the Chinese votes in the coming GE?” and “Is he is trying to convert the non-Malays?”

The reverse also happens when a non-Muslim religious person or organisation gives free food to the Malays. Some Malays too may react with suspicion.

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This no doubt has been fuelled by decades of racial and religious politics being played by politicians in Malaysia. The reality is Fear, a human survival instinct, means we cannot avoid seeing issues around the world through our values and culture and prejudices. Objectivity and cool heads are keys.

The $15bn (RM60bn) East Coast Rail Link in Malaysia negotiated by the Chinese government during the Najib Razak administration, was allegedly inflated by 50%. This was allegedly designed to defraud the country, to the detriment of the rakyat and Malaysian taxpayers.

How did Chinese Malaysians view the Chinese government’s alleged involvement here? Najib was definitely viewed as the perpetrator. But there were two sides to the equation here. If the allegation was true, then the Chinese government was equally guilty. (China denied the allegations.) Don’t forget, in China a minor criminal can be executed for a crime much smaller than this alleged fraud involving billions of US dollars.

Human rights and crimes are colour blind, the victims (Malaysians) and alleged perpetrators (the Najib administation and the Chinese government) should be viewed with equal severity and standards. No exemptions. No ifs or buts. Chinese Malaysians should be objective and not blind to theinconvenient truth.

If people are using infringements of human rights in the West as a justification or excuse for their own rights violations, then that excuse is lame. This is akin to saying, “Well, my neighbour steals, therefore I am also allowed to steal.” There is no end to such back-and-forth mutual justification.

The rise of China has clouded many ethnic Chinese people’s objectivity towards China. This is because there is prestige in being associated with the rise of China on the world stage. To them, China’s human rights record takes a back seat. The common justification is that, as China is a big country with diverse ethnic groups, a strong grip on power is the only option.

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My argument is Trust. Without trust, there will always be suspicion. Furthermore, with 91.5% of the population being Han Chinese, the country is really a monocultural nation. There is no threat from any big minority within China, unlike many other countries around the world.

The only way, I argue, that China is getting away with this strong grip on power over its people is precisely just that – it is a monocultural country. The Han people tend to be complacent. They are not complaining. They do not see the grievances of the minorities. If a policy is implemented to placate and please the Han Chinese, this itself is a human rights infringement against others. This is no different from the “ketuanan” attitude in Malaysia.

The Rakyat need to be objective and have cool heads. Jumping to conclusions based on our pre-existing values, cultural backgrounds and prejudices is dangerous and inequitable. Being a Malay, a Chinese, an Indian, a Dayak or lain-lain (others) can at times cloud our objective assessment of issues of utmost importance. Not to be blind to inconvenient truth is important.

Democracy is not about mob rule. It is not about the majority having the loudest or the only voice. Democracy is about giving everyone – including those who do not have a voice in society – a voice.

Ch’ng Chin Yeow has an interest in many issues and subjects, including history, mineralogy and human behaviour. Based in Penang, he truly likes to be a busybody

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