Side Views

Counterfeit democracy — Angeline Loh

May 24, 2013

MAY 24 — Sixth of May was a black day for Malaysia.

We, the ordinary rakyat, had worked hard for a genuine democracy. We sincerely wanted change, we sincerely wanted to move on, to progress, to develop our thinking on par with what seemed our advanced economic development. To liberate our minds, expand our perceptions, most of all achieve the justice that seems increasingly elusive.

In the 50 years after Merdeka (independence) the concept of democracy was one that was surreal, it seemed rejected as something originating from Europe. It didn’t apply to this land, to our nation, our unique communal lifestyles and cultures. We just wanted to be left in peace, to carry on our daily lives in the traditional ways that we had for hundreds, may be thousands of years.

We saw unity through the eyes of the ruling Alliance Party which became Barisan Nasional — that to keep the country cohesive, the balance of power among the three main races in Peninsular Malaysia could only be maintained through communal politics, tied in with constitutional provisions to ensure the status quo.

But we had once attempted change in 1969, 12 years after becoming a sovereign nation, but were beaten down by the ruling party that has since taken advantage of our peace-loving nature to justify being in power for almost 56 years.

Now, this same ruling party, Barisan Nasional, still seeks to preserve its hold on the country, although, in our understanding and experience has lost the mandate that we, the rakyat only, can give. We believe in our authority to refuse or grant such a mandate to govern.

We realised since March 8, 2008 that democracy wasn’t an alien concept and that multiracialism could unify us even more than the divisive communal politics practised by Barisan Nasional.

Our true transformation

In the four years following our partial success in creating a different Malaysian political landscape — in which the main contention was communal and religious politics versus a multiracial Malaysia and religious freedom — we became more convinced of our need for genuine democracy, equality and exercise of our basic human rights.

Since the tragedy of May 13, 1969, we had been cowed and kept in ignorance of these principles and possibilities, believing and trusting in those who governed us.

Perhaps, it was our luck that BN welcomed new information technology, embracing it wholeheartedly. It is the one good thing, we should be grateful for, under this dubious government which still insists it has the mandate to rule, despite the majority apparently being, not on their side.

What also convinced us of the need for change to allow the opposition the chance to prove themselves as an effective government was the proliferation of corruption, the heightening of autocracy and cronyism in the BN, and the widening gap between the minority rich elite and the expanding lower-middle- and low-income strata.

The economic squeezing of the middle- and low-income earners in taxes, withdrawal of subsidies for basic necessities, global climate disasters and fuel price hikes were the initial catalysts of dissatisfaction.

Yet, the rich elite BN ruling class closed its eyes and ears to the situation of the common citizen, even suppressing those who championed the cause for economic equality, justice and exercise of basic human rights.

Worse, whistleblowers and persons viewed as threats to the ruling elite were either bought off (PI Bala) or, more horrifyingly, found dead (Altantuya Shaariibuu, Teoh Beng Hock, Ahmad Sarbani), incidences of deaths in custody (A. Kugan, Gunasegeran, Sugumaran), police brutality, shootings instead of arrests of suspected offenders (Aminulrasyid, migrant suspects, etc.) alarmingly multiplied.

Crime rates seem high, despite claims by the police of their reduction. People feel less safe now than they did about 20-30 years ago.

These and the breakdown of integrity, allowing rampant corruption at all levels of society, pushed us to the brink of realisation of the need to change the ruling administration. So, we worked hard with our grassroots leaders, opposition leaders, and all who shared our vision of a “new Malaysian order”. A clean, just and open government which would act responsibly and accountably.

We had high hopes that Pakatan Rakyat would eventually fulfil this role despite its obvious inexperience in governing a country. There is currently no other alternative to BN and its failed governing methods, except PR.

We decided to break away from that old order; in our struggle for clean government, justice, integrity and a more workable, honourable system, we found harmony in mutual respect for each other as human beings. We all belong to a human race irrespective of ethnic, cultural, social, gender, and religious differences.

Malaysia’s most significant polls

So, we, the rakyat, went to the long postponed polls on May 5, 2013 with hope, purpose and determination to re-create our independence as a nation — a new two-sided political order — a New Malaysia!

We did our best to defend our vision despite the foul tactics, ambiguity, threats, bribes and blatant vote-buying by BN. Many wanted a secure future for the next generation and many more to come.

All want unity, harmony and solidarity among the peoples of our beloved country. Unity is not achieved by neo-colonial divide-and-rule tactics, not by “riding” on the backs of others or taking credit for the toil and achievements of others. This “lembu punya susu, sapi punya nama” attitude must be completely rejected, if self-worth is valued.

Belief that Najib’s administration has any shred of honesty or fairness left is fast dissipating. Our hopes were dashed on May 6, 2013, in the aftermath of the election “battle” by Umno-BN’s perverted desire to cling to power at apparently any costs.

The rakyat had won, but were not acknowledged. In fact, our decision to give the mandate to rule to the opposition PR was ignored as if our votes were merely an unnecessary formality to exhibit our “democracy” to the world but didn’t matter to Najib and BN, one way or another.

Najib and his cronies shamelessly swore themselves into federal government almost immediately on May 6, 2013 despite the dispute raised about the legitimacy of the election results. Najib and BN continue to treat the people like illiterate serfs, who must be grateful for the crumbs of democracy thrown to us as a show of their generosity and magnanimity.

As in the past, no promise has been genuine and Najib’s favourite slogan, “Janji Ditepati”, rings hollow and false.

Questionable legitimate government

In view of the allegedly “stolen” election victory that thwarted our aspirations for corruption free, transparent, accountable and just government, Umno-BN’s pyrrhic win is disputed. Yet, Najib, who proudly clutches the reins of power in the country, claiming to be the head of a democratic government, has not acted like one. The rakyat and the opposition are asked to accept the outcome of this tainted 13th general election despite the allegations of fraud, corruption and blatant money politics before, during and after the polls.

The task of doing what a real government should do has again fallen on ordinary citizens of this land to resolve the nation’s problems — to determine the legitimacy of the government, verifying the complaints of fraud on all the evidence that may be brought by citizens themselves to a People’s Tribunal. Bersih will again lead the rakyat in the fight for clean, free and fair elections. Our struggle for the one important basic right, and for justice is not yet over.

What Najib’s rule has presented to us is only a counterfeit democracy, which may seem real from the outside, but lacks the genuine quality of true democracy. Yet, we went through the motions of this false democracy and have been “rewarded” with a less than genuine government whom we know will, in time, exploit the rakyat again, especially marginalised Malaysians who have known nothing but exploitation, neglect, and poverty for decades.

If Najib and BN want to claim the crown, they should begin by being fair; but this seems one of the hardest things for this BN government to do. Defeat, when it happens, would be a sickeningly bitter pill to swallow.

Yet, for the rakyat, the day is not over, and there is much in this learning process that will go to educate us further on the ups and downs of politics and the changes that real democracy may bring. All change may not be for the better and our hopes and dreams may have to be fought for, but we must continue to strive for the ideal we seek.

If not, we will continue to be enslaved by power brokers who will only give us imitations of democracy, denying the rakyat genuine democracy, justice and the rights and freedoms that should be our inheritance, without discrimination. — aliran.com

* Angeline Loh is Aliran executive committee member.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.