Returning to democratic foundations should be the top priority — Ahmad Mustapha Hassan
JAN 17 — Malaysia is considered by the present leaders as being a democratic country. It goes to the polls every five years or whenever the ruling coalition feels the time is right. It allows its citizens to practise whatever religion they choose, with some major exceptions. It allows the media, electronic and print to exist, with again very major restrictions. But, of course, the rationale behind all these restrictions is to maintain peace and order. This is the common cliché used to justify the existence of all the preventive and restrictive laws. Of course, the real reasons are to maintain power.
Looking back on how Malaya then was formed, there was every reason to believe that our model of democracy would be a shining example to all the newly independent countries that were once colonies of Britain. Malaya followed the Westminster model. Malaya had all the trappings that would make all other countries envious of it.
It had a bicameral legislature just like Britain. Instead of the House of Lords, it created a nominated House known as the Senate. Members of Parliament were to be elected through a general election. It separated the functions of the Executive and that of Parliament. Each had a definite power of its own. The Judiciary was independent of the Executive. The separation of power was put in place to allow democracy to flourish. The media was to act as the fourth estate.
To top it all, Malaya created a unique constitutional monarchy to be rotated every five years by the nine Sultans in the country.
And the civil service was to remain neutral.
It was beautifully conceived by the founding fathers. The country was to be secular in nature although Islam was made the official religion with all other religions allowed to be practised. There was, in other words, religious freedom.
But like all other cases with newly independent countries, the path towards practising true democracy came to a sudden halt. None of the former British colonies except India ever progressed politically towards true democracy. Some even moved towards anarchy, dictatorship and autocracy. Malaya achieved its independence on a platter but power corrupts the leadership and thus currently Malaysia too is affected. It lost its way and the people are merely fed with slogans, one after another. They are catchy but bereft of any meaningful content.
To struggle and fight for independence was morally right and an obligation but to know how to govern justly and efficiently was another matter. Most had completely discarded the goals, motives and the inspirations in achieving independence. In Africa, the fight had caused thousands to die. With independence, another evil had surfaced — ethnic cleansing. Killings had gone on unabated. Corruption became the order of the day. The nations’ wealth was treated as being the personal wealth of the leaders.
Slums and shanty towns mushroomed as no plans were formulated to give the people their basic needs — education, food and shelter. The leaders were too busy enriching themselves.
But in Malaysia, the ideals as espoused by the founding fathers were cast aside soon after the second prime minister, Tun Razak. True democrats knew what separation of powers meant and what it was meant to foster. It was to stop the rise of any megalomaniac.
Pseudo democrats felt that this arrangement was an impediment to what they wanted to achieve. They felt that all the organs in the separation of power should be subservient to the Executive. This was especially so with the Judiciary. The Judiciary was to be just an appendage of the Executive. It should not be independent of the Executive. Thus the Judiciary was mauled and made to be an institution without honour or respect.
Parliament and the Senate simply acted as rubber stamps to the whims and fancy of the Executive. The media was compelled to support the Executive and had no business to report truthfully and fairly. They were made the tools for propaganda to shape the thinking of the populace to support the government.
All other instruments of government were politicised and became impotent. They lost the power that was originally bestowed and power was transferred to the politicians. The politicians thus became the policy makers and also the implementers. All semblance of checks and balances was thrown to the winds.
A new prime minister has come into office with full of promises to transform the nation, But there has been no effort so far to again remodel the country as was enshrined by the founding fathers. Will Datuk Seri Najib Razak be a saviour and clear the mess that has befallen Malaysia? The task is herculean in nature but will Najib be brave enough to institute the changes that will bring the country back to its original sovereign status, respected and admired by others?
If he truly wants to transform the nation into a united, prosperous and a high-income nation this should be his first priority.
* Ahmad Mustapha Hassan is the author of “The Unmaking of Malaysia” and a former general manager of state news agency Bernama. He was also the press secretary to Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and the then-Deputy Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.