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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Answering the people’s call is the way to winning the next GE

By N H Chan

The call of the people is accountability which is the ultimate checks and balances of democracy

There is an excellent article by an astute young lady in the Sun, March 3, 2011:

Checks and balances imperative
By Yap Mun Ching

When former transport minister Chan Kong Choy was charged with … cheating amounting to RM1.9 billion … it was as though the winds of accountability sweeping across the Middle East had finally gusted over. …the former minister looks set to join his predecessor Dr Ling Liong Sik on a list of former cabinet ministers accused of less than hounourable activities while in office.

Viewing these developments against the backdrop of the events in the Middle East, several important lessons stand out. Firstly, it is never healthy to have leaders hold on to power for too long a period without proper checks and balances. It is not by coincidence that the heads of government facing the strongest opposition in the Middle East now are those who have hung on for decades by crushing all opposition. Tunisia’s deposed Ben Ali ruled for 23 years while Egypt’s Mubarak sat at the helm … for 29 years. Embattled Libyan leader Gaddafi is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders at 42 years, while … Yemen and Bahrain, the incumbents have been in power for 30 and 40 years respectively.

While Ling and Chan did not manage tenures of comparable length, both were members of a government that has ruled for 54 years … a two-thirds majority enjoyed by the ruling government in Parliament [until the 2008 general election] has resulted in a blurring of the separation of powers so important to maintaining the integrity of a democratic form of government. Without independent institutions, the ability of our system to hold leaders to account has been severely compromised.

What a superb piece of writing. She is so good at making an accurate assessment of the situation in the Middle East and about the aspirations of the people there for wanting accountability in government which is also a universal wish of all freedom loving peoples the world over. To paraphrase, the people’s wish is democracy not a dictatorship in any shape or form. It is only in a democracy could there be accountability of those who hold positions of power. It is only with a government of the people, by the people and for the people – for that is what a true democracy is – that the people’s representatives, who hold positions of power in order to govern, could be made accountable to the people who had elected them to office in government. The integrity of a democratic form of government relies on the system’s ability to hold leaders to account. And this can only be possible if our institutions of government – such as the judiciary, the civil and legal services, the police and the armed forces – are independent bodies, not minions who are always at the beck and call of an autocratic master.

In a democracy there is no such thing as the hijacking of an elected government and supplanting it with an appointed one that was made possible by the intervention of a third party in the form of a ruler or king. In the case of Perak, the sultan resorted to some vague imaginary power which some local legal experts have described as a “residual power” – as if a monarch had it before he became a powerless constitutional monarch, unless these experts are naive enough to think that there is such a thing as the divine right of kings. If you can still remember your English history you would know that King Charles the First lost his head and crown to the executioner’s axe for the belief that kings had divine powers. Indeed any form of external intervention, because such is not the choice of the people, destroys the very concept of democracy; such intervention defeats the effectiveness of accountability to the people.

But supplanting King Charles the First with another dictator – Oliver Cromwell – was just as bad because it became a case of replacing one despot for another despot. That was why Cromwell’s dictatorship died with him and upon his death England reverted back to autocratic rule by despotic kings. It was only after the last Stuart king – James II – had fled his realm that democracy started to take root in England and the monarchy became a toothless tiger as we understand it today; a constitutional monarchy without any power to interfere with the democratic process. The Perak takeover was, therefore, unconstitutional because no residual or any power was given to our rulers in our written Constitution. However, had there been such a power given to the monarchs in our written constitution then, in which case, Malaysia would not be called a democracy. It would have become a dictatorship. The English peoples took some 700 years to get rid of their tyrannical kings. It took them that long a time because they did not have a written constitution.

When a system of government had taken hold for too long a period, to use the words of Yap Mun Ching, ‘it resulted in the blurring of the separation of powers so important to maintaining the integrity of a democratic form of government. Without independent institutions, the ability of our system to hold leaders to account has been severely compromised’.

The antithesis of democracy is dictatorship. Any ruler or leader or a government, as in Malaysia, that had held on to power for too long a period – for power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely – would have inexorably transformed himself or itself into a tyrannical autocracy or regime with an animal farm syndrome; the adage is ‘all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’. These individuals think they are more equal than others because they think they are invincible and, therefore, not accountable to the people who had elected them to office. They can feel safe from accountability because the so-called independent institutions, like the judiciary, the civil service, the police and the armed forces have been compromised. These institutions would no longer be perceived by the people to be independent because they have been serving the same master for such a long period – in this country for 53 years. Only the unfortunate ones, like Ling and Chan – we should also not forget the late Eric Chia – were made the fall guys to assuage the disgruntled masses because they were expandable.

The difference between the Middle East and Malaysia is their totally diverse system of government from ours; the difference between them and us is the difference between totalitarianism and democracy.

In the Middle East they have kings and presidents who actually rule and who had ruled their country before change was brought about through revolution by people’s power. The people there could not do otherwise because despots who have ruled for many years would not give up their power unless they are forced to do so. Hence, change could only be achieved through revolution. But, in this country we can always vote the ruling party out of office in an election.

But, if there is going to be a regime change, like what is happening in the Middle East, things could well be different as the change that was brought about by the power of the people would enable the people to demand accountability from their leaders. In this country we too can achieve change, though not by revolution as we have seen it happening in the Middle East, but by the power of the vote in a general election. This is how Yap Mun Ching puts it in her own inimitable but subtle style:
Protesters in the Middle East, while focusing their anger on a despised figurehead, also demanded the removal of the majority of members of their besieged governments. The prosecution of former cabinet ministers are welcome, but these actions cannot be considered sufficient to close the file on corrupt leaders. Active investigations must be undertaken against other leaders, former and current, to ensure accountability and to deter others from abusing their positions of power.

Important as it is to remove unwanted leaders, these actions must be taken with a view to restoring justice and reparation. Too often in the past, corrupt dictators have evaded punishment by escaping abroad and living the rest of their lives in luxury with their ill-gotten gains.

In my article The People’s call for Change I wrote:
One should be in politics to serve the people, not to get rich. That is why democracy requires the representatives of the people to be accountable to the people. Look at Mr Lim Kit Siang, he has been in politics for as long as I can remember and his son is currently the Chief Minister of Penang. Another was the late Dr Lim Chong Eu. The Perakians and the Penangites know that they are not rich. It is a good thing if every member of the Cabinet and every member of the Exco are investigated as to their financial status and assets before they can assume office. And when they leave office they are to be investigated again. They are to be accountable if they are found to be richer than what they could have earned while in office when they leave.

Restoring public confidence in our institutions

Miss Yap concluded her gem of an article with this suggestion:
Therefore, when it comes to the prosecution of allegedly corrupt leaders, investigators would do well to remember that other than justice, the public would also look to see stolen money restored. RM1.9 billion may not be a large sum in the [scale] of the swindling that has been exposed in the Middle East, but it is nonetheless a sum that would go a long way to restoring public confidence in our institutions.

And I am sure all of us will agree with her unless you are one of those sycophants currying the favour of dishonest politicians.

How to answer the call for change

Now, I trust you will realize that we Malaysians are in dire straits. Don’t you think it is time for us to move on to a better Malaysia. Like the peoples of the Middle East we can use the power of the people to change from tyranny to a true democracy. Use the power of your vote to unseat the oppressors. We have been under their yoke for 53 long years. Enough is enough. Use facebook and twitter. Use your email and if every reader of this article emails it to his friends we will be able to persuade a whole generation of young people to vote out the BN and replace them with a new government. It doesn’t matter that the new is inexperienced but at least we have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. It took the English peoples 700 years to get rid of their tyrannical kings. The American peoples to what they have become today in 250 years. I don’t think we will take that long because we are resilient and we have the benefit of hindsight. And above all we have our young people whose young minds will be able to meet the challenges ahead.

But before you vote for the opposition, I think, you should demand that they should promise to repeal all oppressive laws if ever they do come to power. We do not need the Sedition Act, or any emergency law like the ISA or any legislation that would suppress freedom of speech and our fundamental liberties. Above all, demand that they will enforce accountability to all our leaders, past and current.

If you are 21 and above, register yourself as a voter now and when election time comes do your duty and exercise your right to vote out the BN for a better Malaysia without oppressive laws and accountability from all those who hold or have held positions of power or trust on behalf of the people. I think the phrase is wide enough to encompass all politicians, judges, the civil service, police and the armed forces for any misuse of power.

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