Witness the outcry over the recent ISA arrests. There was a time when people simply accepted the Government’s word at face value, kept their reservations to themselves, and went about their own business. No more.
The public is simply in no mood to believe assurances anymore and they balk at the detentions. A minister resigns. The foreign minister calls for a review. The home minister says he wasn’t consulted. The police back down and two of the three are released in a matter of days. Amazing!
Such is the change that has come upon our nation since the tsunami elections of March.
It is well to remember that the March elections were not just an indictment of the years of corruption, malfeasance and mismanagement; it was a demand for greater democracy and transparency, a cry for an end to the politics of division and disunity, and a plea for a fairer distribution of the nation’s wealth.
In the rush of all that has happened since March, our focus has been drawn to the riveting power struggle now playing out in our country, and particularly the dance between Anwar Ibrahim and Abdullah Badawi with Dr. Mahathir Mohammed threatening a comeback.
I have always admired Abdullah Badawi as a decent and honorable man and it pains me to see what has become of our nation under his leadership. Anwar has said a lot of impressive things; has he experienced an epiphany after his blatantly unfair trial and detention? Only time will tell.
In any case, why is he writing to the Prime Minister demanding a handover of power? Doesn’t he know that in a parliamentary democracy these things are settled by a vote in parliament, if not in general elections?
Dr. Mahathir Mohammed, was a great visionary with a messianic desire to make Malaysia great but during his administration our once admired judiciary was emasculated, our once proud bureaucracy was weakened and corruption and cronyism flourished like never before.
And now we are fixated on whether Anwar or Najib or someone else, will be the next occupant of Seri Perdana.
A more fundamental question is when are we going to stop putting our faith in fallible leaders and instead start building credible institutions? Surely that must be the first order of the day if this is not to be merely political musical chairs. Let’s not assume that the boys from Pakatan will be immune to the temptations of power. Power corrupts, remember?
For a start, lets look at how we can improve the independence and credibility of the judiciary. We had one of the finest before and brave judges took a bold, if ultimately unsuccessful, stand against the abuse of power. Its time that our nation has a judiciary that we can all be proud of. Lets throw out those who have been tainted and discredited and bring in the men and women of integrity that are still to be found in the judicial service. The judiciary must also begin to play its role as the final arbitrator of the Constitution. In a truly democratic country, parliament may not pass legislation that is contrary to the fundamental principles of the constitution.
Surely there is no better time to abolish anti-democratic legislation such as the ISA and the Sedition Act than now. It is so exciting to see so many of our fellow citizens calling for the abolition of the ISA in particular. No government should be given that much power to deprive citizens of their liberty in such an arbitrary manner. The ISA is a national disgrace, a blot upon our nation. Too many brave people whose only crime was to love their country too much to keep silent have been jailed already. Let’s keep up the pressure for the immediate and unconditional release of Raja Petra Kamaruddin. He must be the last prisoner under this odious piece of legislation.
And then there is press freedom. A free press is an essential part of democracy. Let ideas and views be aired and debated. Let corruption and iniquity be uncovered. Let public officials give an account of their actions. I believe that our people are now mature enough to debate the issues with tact and sensitivity for one another. It is the politicians, after all, who do most to stoke racial and religious tension for their own benefit.
And isn’t it time we have a decent police force, one that is truly the servant of the people rather than of the Government? Too many people are also dying in police custody and too many reports of torture and abuse go unpunished. And all the while, the law and order situation in the country continues to deteriorate and people feel more unsafe than ever before. The report of the Royal Commission on police reform should be implemented without further delay.
Corruption is another threat to our democracy. Let those who want the privilege of being our leaders lead, first of all, in the fight against corruption and malfeasance. Our anti-corruption efforts thus far are a joke. If we genuinely want to eradicate corruption all we need to do is establish an independent agency, perhaps modelled after Hong Kong’s famous Independent Commission Against Corruption, with someone of the caliber of Tun Salleh Abas as its head! Give him carte blanche to go after the cronies and crooks who have had a free run of the contracts and connections for so long and we’ll be a different country within a year. Only MPs that are ready to commit to voting for strong and genuine anti-corruption legislation should be given our vote so that the plundering of the nation’s wealth can be ended.
Nations sometimes have a tryst with destiny where in a single moment startling change happens. Czechoslovakia had its velvet revolution, Ukraine its orange revolution, Georgia its rose revolution. They are talking about a yellow revolution in Thailand now. What colour will they give to Malaysia?
Whatever the colour, something profound has taken place in Malaysia. We now have a unique opportunity to set our country on a course towards real democracy. Let’s not get so mesmerized by the personalities that we forget to build the real pillars of democracy – our national institutions. Leaders will come and go; some will be good while others will be bad. That’s the nature of politics. Sound institutions will help us weather bad leaders and keep good leaders honest.