Is it so hard to ask for a proper democracy?


Is it so hard to ask for a proper democracy?
By Zan Azlee

I think the days of politicians giving the rakyat advice and telling us what to do, which is supposedly in our best interest, are gone. Also gone is the overwhelming dominance of any particular political party in the government. All these are good things and are signs that Malaysia is progressing towards being a mature democracy.

The mark or tipping point for this progression is the May 9, 2018, general election when the country managed to oust Barisan Nasional which had been the government forever (up to that point) since the country’s independence. This is a party that was so dominant that it had two- thirds majority for most of its ruling years.

It isn’t important who took over the government then. What is important is that it happened. The significance of that is that Malaysians will now realise they can actually have a say in determining how the country is administered and governed. There is more balance in Parliament and no one party has enough majority to change and create laws without opposition.

It means that any law that is to be abolished, amended, or enacted will have to gain support from all sides, meaning from the government and also the opposition. When a situation like that exists, it means everything will be properly and comprehensively debated in order to get the buy-in from everyone. Basically, everyone wins.

Take, for example, the Undi18 Act. The government of the day then, which was Pakatan Harapan, proposed it. The opposition then, which was BN, bought into it and hence it went through. Let’s forget about what is currently happening with that Act. The point is that it is possible, even better, for laws to be passed when there is no two-thirds majority.

Of course, the Sheraton Move happened about two years after that general election. Even then, with all the accusations that it is a backdoor government and the unethical jumping of ship from politicians, technically, it was still quite democratic. The change in coalitions, prime ministers and cabinets happens all the time in many democratic countries.

Truth be told, the risk, or should I say, opportunity for that change to happen, is a natural and normal element of democracy. It represents the removal of any key power figure or party and spreads it out more equally. It means that prime ministers and ministers are not emperors or dictators. It means that power is distributed equally.

It has happened in the United Kingdom when David Cameron, failing to garner support for the country to remain in the European Union, resigned as prime minister. It has happened in Australia several times, most recently with former prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd who were in a power struggle. This was all through legit democratic means.

Minority governments are also quite common in a democracy. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern governed with a minority government. In a minority government, everyone needs to play nice with each other. Both the government and the opposition need to be mature and civil in order to come to agreements for the country to move forward.

Now let’s get back to Malaysia. All of these things now exist in Malaysia. We have a Parliament where the power is more or less equal, with no dominance by any party. We have a government that more or less falls under the definition of a minority government. So, this is where we can start putting in place good democratic practices.

When a shift in power happens in Parliament in between general elections, of course, a snap election can be called but it doesn’t have to be. A proper negotiation can happen and a vote can be called for in Parliament. I can give many examples from different countries of this happening, but I think the most effective example would be closer to home.

I have cited this example many times. Forgive me for that but I just find it quite inspiring that it happened. The Perak State Legislative Assembly moved for a motion of no confidence against Bersatu menteri besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu. He graciously stepped down, and Umno’s Saarani Mohamad took his place with the government and opposition agreeing to a unity government.

So it can be done! But for it to be done, we need to have all the proper machinery in place. There needs to be a fully functioning government that will uphold all the institutions. The institutions have to be strong and not open to abuse. Aside from all the institutions, Parliament is a key one that needs to function so that democracy can continue.

We need ethical and responsible politicians who have integrity and work towards serving the people that they represent. They shouldn’t be squabbling and fighting with each other for their own selfish reasons (or at least not make it so obvious!). If they are arguing, it should be in the interests of the people and the country (trust me, people will know the difference!).

The people have already spoken. They spoke on May 9, 2018, during the general election. After that, it really falls on the shoulders of those who have been elected. And because they were elected by the people, every decision they make and action they take needs to be for the people. That is what representation is.

Is it so hard to ask that the democratic process in Malaysia be something that drives the country and the people forward? Is it so hard to ask that the politicians and political parties serve the people responsibly and fairly? Is it so hard to ask that those who have been elected to power just respect the people who voted for them (or even those who didn’t vote for them)?

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

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