Is democracy taking a back seat due to the pandemic?


Is democracy taking a back seat due to the pandemic?
By Zan Azlee

I was looking forward to writing something that would probably not revolve around Covid-19. It looked that it would slowly become a reality seeing that our normal but weird Malaysian politics started to dominate the news headlines again.

It would have also meant that we are probably starting to get the pandemic under control as the curve flattens.

We saw how our politicians started fighting again about who has the legitimate right to govern the country and the different states. They even revisited the motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Ahh! Malaysia as how it has always been. We can finally put all the talk about the apocalypse behind us.

But I was wrong. It seems that Covid-19 is just too strong and powerful and it would rear its ugly head back up again because that is the very reason (or excuse!) the government of the day is using to fight back politically.

As it is, the movement control order (MCO) that was declared a few days after the Sheraton Move, happened to have stopped Pakatan Harapan politicians from doing anything.

Well, I guess that is just the right thing to do because the country had a bigger problem it needed to deal with at the time. So, there wasn’t just a financial moratorium, but more or less a political one too.

It also meant that the government could continue to push back the scheduled parliamentary sitting even later because of the MCO. But as the economic situation of the country worsen, and the government had to make important decisions, there were calls for Parliament to go into session because these decisions had to be debated.

The government then declared that Parliament would, indeed, sit on May 18. Standard operating procedures were drawn up for the members of Parliament to adhere to social distancing. No protests there. The government should be considered an essential service anyway, so its operations should be allowed to continue through the MCO.

That was the cue for the Harapan leaders. If Parliament went into session, they could also table a motion of no-confidence against Muhyiddin. It was put forward and accepted by the Dewan Rakyat speaker. But the government didn’t like the idea, so they came up with all kinds of excuses to curb the motion. Actually, it was only one excuse – Covid-19.

First, they said that the sitting would only be one day. Then, they said only “important” matters would be discussed and they did not consider the motion of no-confidence against the prime minister as important. Eventually, they just declared that nothing will be discussed and the sitting would only be organised to listen to the opening remarks of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

It’s funny to me that the government can decide to relax the MCO by implementing the conditional MCO where people can start going back to work, take public transportation, dine in restaurants, visit family during Hari Raya (with a maximum twenty people) and go to shopping malls, yet having a proper Parliamentary session was not allowed.

And to make matters worse, no journalists were permitted in enter Parliament to cover proceedings except the state-sanctioned ones like Bernama and RTM. Of course, the excuse given (oh sorry… reason given) is that they needed to maintain social distancing and allowing reporters in would just make it too crowded and difficult to manage.

Sure! It seems that the government is now too conveniently falling back on the pandemic and the conditional MCO to get out of anything that could threaten their position (such as democracy!).

And seeing that the National Security Council (NSC) is calling the shots, it is quite worrying, to be honest. Is human rights taking a back seat just because a pandemic is happening?

Remember when the NSC Act was tabled several years ago by the BN government? Many critics voiced their concerns about it. I understand that we need some form of control to curb the pandemic (or in any emergency), but we also need to tread carefully and not do anything that could be a negative precedence.

As society continues even in a pandemic, we have to make sure we progress rather than regress.

There are other examples that are contributing to a subtle but worrying trend. The Covid-19 fake news guideline issued by the Information Department seems to address news critical to the authorities rather than actual pandemic fake news.

There is also the reminder by Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin that the government will not hesitate to use the Sedition Act on those who create and spread fake news.

I’m just feeling a little bit anxious and nervous about some of these developments. I hope that Malaysia doesn’t slip and that we will all collectively make the right decision when the time comes no matter who the government is.

We were doing fairly well before this. Let us continue to move forward and develop as a society and still kick the pandemic in its behind!

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

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