Shouldn’t democracy continue during a pandemic?


Shouldn’t democracy continue during a pandemic?
By Zan Azlee

We were assured that the emergency declaration by the government would be focused solely on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. We were told that it would be easier to create ordinances to help curb the infection rate. We were told that it would help to cool down the political tension that was happening in the country so more focus could be given to battling the virus.

Okay, many Malaysians bought it. Heck, even I bought it to a certain degree. But has the emergency really been necessary? Is there anything that the emergency can really help out with when it comes to the pandemic that any other actions, like, for example, the movement control order (MCO), couldn’t do?

When the first MCO was declared back in March 2020, there were many rules and regulations that were put in place. Industries were shut down, curfew was implemented and people were not allowed to travel outside of a 10km radius from where they lived. The authorities were out enforcing these rules and fining people as well.

Everyone supported the move and complied with it all. Even the opposition in Parliament had no big objections, aside from the concern they had about the economy and people’s livelihoods. Malaysians stuck with the MCO and aside from a few irresponsible members of the public and several more politicians who flouted quarantine rules, everyone did well.

The result of it was that we managed to bring the numbers down so much that we were even in the single digits. Then what happened? The Sabah elections happened and the numbers spiked again. Was it because of the elections? Did people not follow the right SOPs of social distancing and wearing masks? Who knows. The fact of the matter is, after that, everything went downhill.

Right now, I don’t see how the emergency is contributing to anything other than freezing all politics from happening. And because of that, democracy seems to have been stalled. Parliament has been suspended and will not have any sessions until the emergency is lifted. That is very worrying because then the people won’t have any representation.

I don’t think that ordinances created to compel private medical facilities to open their services to help with the pandemic needed an emergency. It could have just been discussions between the government and the private sector to negotiate how to work together. From the first MCO, we could already see that Malaysians were all united in trying to fight Covid-19.

Many private hotels were also already being used as quarantine centres from the first MCO. So there was no need for an emergency to compel them either. Look at the how charity organisations and just normal Malaysians in general were also coming out to aid each other. Everyone is in the same boat and everyone of us want to beat the pandemic.

Could political instability be the sole reason then for the emergency? Is the government being distracted by politics so much so that it can’t focus on handling the pandemic? If so, then wouldn’t the government actually be quite inefficient and ineffective? I mean, if they were doing their jobs properly, why would they feel threatened that they would be voted out of power? Right?

Don’t the people have a right to determine if their government is doing the right thing for them and their country in any situation, including a pandemic? By declaring an emergency and suspending Parliament, the people have basically been denied their right to democracy and to choose how they want to be governed.

If they want to use the reason of general elections being too risky during a pandemic, then I have to say that is an invalid excuse. We don’t need a general election to change the government. We just need a vote of no confidence from our elected Members of Parliament. Then there would be no need for mass gatherings during campaigning and at voting centres.

In fact, there was a lot of talk of how Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government was already quite shaky. No one could really determine how many MPs were in support of him as prime minister. So now, with no parliamentary sessions, we can probably never officially find out and he can remain the prime minister for now.

In the last week, we have seen several lawsuits being made against Muhyiddin for his advice to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the current emergency. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim did so. Khairuddin Abu Hassan, the Jasin Amanah parliamentary coordinator, has also filed a similar suit. Members of the public like lawyers and political commentators have also expressed their concern with the emergency.

 

They are not challenging the proclamation of emergency “but the decision of the prime minister (through cabinet) to advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to assent to the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 2021 which suspended Parliament during the emergency period. It is the prime minister’s advice that is regarded to be in violation of the law,” according to Anwar’s lawyer, Ramkarpal Singh in a statement.

I don’t think anyone wants to undermine efforts to manage and curb the Covid-19 pandemic. Like I said before, we are all in the same boat and we just want things to get better. The concern of the people today is that there is a risk that democracy is being sacrificed with the pandemic being used as an excuse.

No other country in the world has declared an emergency due to the pandemic. The US just had a presidential election and one of the main campaigning points was what the best way to manage the pandemic was supposed to be. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has resigned because he lost support with his handling of the pandemic as one of the reasons for it.

These are all examples of how democracy is working in order to find the best way for countries to handle the pandemic that is affecting the whole world. It is important that the people are represented and their voices heard officially, especially in times of crisis. What does the government have to worry about?

If they are doing the right job, people will comply and agree. If they are not doing the right job, people will disagree and want it to be done better. There needs to be discussion, consultation and representation. By suspending Parliament, we are also suspending discussion, consultation and representation.

As a reminder, Malaysia was officially under emergency from 1969 until 2013. It was declared in 1969 because of the May 13 racial riots of that year and it was only officially revoked in 2013. Parliament was suspended but reconvened in 1971. The country continued to have regular elections throughout the decades under emergency. So it is possible for Parliament to sit.

I stress that we are all in the same boat and we all want to see the pandemic squashed and for our lives to go back to normal. Let us all work together and contribute towards this. It shouldn’t just be on the government (or the prime minister and cabinet) to make this point. There is no other time to work best as a democracy than it is now.

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

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