Who shall bell the cat? — U-En Ng
APRIL 30 — Apropos of Seth Tun-Ismail’s impassioned plea for the return of reasoned debate to political practice, it appears to me that some readers have seized the wrong end of his stick: I don’t think he asserts, as his grandfather did, that democracy is dead in Malaysia.
Rather, he says that it is dying and that we shall have nailed its coffin shut should we keep failing to bear the burden of our democratic responsibilities as citizens. This we continue to do by asking others — our “leaders” — for solutions without troubling to form and enunciate our own reasoned opinions.
One of your readers points out quite correctly in the comments that “governments whether in opposition or ruling must realise that they were voted in to work for the people and not otherwise.” Indeed; but for this to work, as it must in any democracy, the people must first know what it is they want their Governments to do.
It is of no use appealing to leaders to keep the people “in their hearts and minds” for that is to place far too much trust in one’s leaders. To desire “good” leaders, or the “best”, or the “wisest” — in fact, merely desiring any “leader” at all — is scarcely different from desiring tyranny if that is the extent of one’s democratic participation.
The politician is either a leader or servant of the people. If a leader, one must ask how he or she can “work for the people” if the people are under an obligation of loyalty. If a servant, one must necessarily give that servant instruction or risk a below-stairs coup.
But both we and our leaders make mistakes. That we are all imperfect is why we have institutions and these exist not to “enshrine the Constitution” or to “defend democracy” or “uphold our rights” but to mitigate the worst excesses of whichever leaders we, in a fit of absence of mind, have the misfortune of electing.
We have allowed these institutions to fail.
I differ from my Seth in that I am of his grandfather’s party as it was before 1969. Democracy, such as we imagine it to be, died with the Merdeka Constitution. We have since resurrected a poorly interpreted shadow of it, which we proceeded to bastardise further over the next four decades with the overwhelming support of the majority.
Who were our leaders then? Why did we not protest? What kept us in the thrall of that great Pharoah Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who at no time governed without national consent? And by the same token, what makes us so utterly convinced of and unyielding in our cause now?
I believe the path to change first requires of us an honest admission of our own flawed history. We have screwed up badly. As a citizenry we have failed our parliamentary democracy so often that it is difficult today to recognise a genuine threat even to the pitiful vestige of the real thing.
And the worst threat that I have seen this month is that posed by a (presumably) freely and fairly elected government: the Kedah State Assembly has effectively spat on the Federal Constitution, particularly Article 4 and the doctrine of ultra vires, by amending S. 22A of the Mufti and Fatwa Committee (Kedah Darul Aman) Enactment 2008 to give it its present effect.
Others here have already spelt out the danger of the Amendment's giving a fatwa the force of law — a force beyond law — with no avenue of appeal other than to the same State Fatwa Committee that issued the fatwa in the first place — but who shall bell the constitutional cat in the Federal Court?
Who shall move in Parliament to compel action on the part of the Federal Government? Do the court and Parliament even matter since both have shown reluctance to rule or legislate, respectively, on any matter pertaining to Islam?
And what, pray, shall the “right-thinking” rakyat do about it?
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.