We need to create a democracy that allows dissent

We need to create a democracy that allows dissent
By Zan Azlee

Malaysia has never seen any other government than a BN government since independence in 1957. Not many democratic countries in the world have ever been in a situation like this, aside from maybe Singapore.

We can’t really count countries that are ruled by monarchs such as the Gulf nations (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, et cetera) and Brunei. I wouldn’t really consider these countries as practicing democracies since they don’t have elections.

Having the same incumbent government for more than half a century is not a good thing. It builds a superiority complex for the political party that governs, and it also helps to create an environment that allows them to manifest their power and authority.

What does this mean for Malaysia, and how does it define Malaysians?

Many would say that we are so set in our ways that we refuse to leave our comfort zone. Others would say that we don’t know any better, and that we would rather choose the devil we know than the one we don’t.

A desire for change

But the fact of the matter is that Malaysians do not want an incumbent government to be in power for so long. There have been at least two general elections in the past ten years in which Malaysians have expressed this desire.

The first was in 2008. Many would have considered this a major time in history when Malaysians were at the height of their political awareness. People were realising that there were other better options than BN and this was proven in the spirit, and also in the vote.

It was the first time when four normally BN states fell to Pakatan Rakyat – Penang, Selangor, Kedah and Perak. Kelantan doesn’t count because at that time, the opposition had already held the state for some time and they continued to so after the 2008 general election.

As for the federal government, although BN still didn’t lose their two-thirds majority in Parliament, it was significantly reduced. The results of the general election that year definitely showed that the people wanted a change of government.

BN saw this as a threat, and after five years, the next general election surfaced in 2013. Malaysians saw this as a natural progression, and picked up from where they left off in 2008 as far as their support was concerned.

The election was a heated and excited one. It was the first general election in which people actually saw a glimmer of hope of finally, actually, electing a strong democratic government. Not only were they hopeful of creating a strong opposition, but a change of government looked possible.

When the results came out, it was proven that a majority of Malaysians wanted a change in government. They didn’t want BN to govern and more than 50 percent of voters had voted for Pakatan Rakyat. BN had lost the popular vote.

Unfortunately, because of gerrymandering and the way parliamentary constituencies in the country were designed, the first-past-the-post electoral system meant that BN had enough seats in Parliament to form the government.

Of course, the majority of Malaysians were disappointed. But on the bright side, they had managed to deny BN a two-thirds majority which they had always obtained every general election.

This is definitely a good thing because it meant that there would be a much better process for checks and balances. They wouldn’t be able to have a run of the bullpen and just do whatever they want. It would be tougher to bulldoze through laws and such.

But the disappointment was obvious. A day after the election results came out, Malaysians had gathered to protest in what is now known as the Blackout 505 rally. They protested against a corrupt government and for clean, fair and transparent elections.

Checks and balances

Now, another five years have gone by and we will hopefully be seeing another general election in the next few months. The mood among Malaysians isn’t good. Both BN, and this time even Harapan, are not garnering the confidence of the people.

But here’s the thing. The only reason I think we need to support the opposition is that we need to first put in place a strong democratic system where there is an opportunity for checks and balances. We cannot have a government that has been set in their ways for too long.

We also cannot allow any government, BN or Pakatan Harapan, to have a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Any absolute rule would not be good for democracy in the country. So let’s continue our efforts to create a more democratic environment in Malaysia.

And with that being said, even if Harapan were to win the election and form the federal government, we will still have to oppose them. Like I said, any absolute rule is never good and we need a check-and-balance system.

We need to always have an avenue for dissent and anti-establishment efforts, because only then will we be able to exercise our rights to ensure that the government of the day will always be responsible and held accountable for its actions.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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