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Mahathir’s version of democracy

 | June 14, 2012

If the former prime minister's views are read correctly, Malaysians have suffered by the compromise on liberal democracy.


Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has never failed to express his views not only for the benefit of Malaysians but also for the international community.

His latest rambling was a speech he delivered at the University Santo Tomas’ special convocation in Manila on June 11.

Reported by The Star, Mahathir ventured to talk about “practising democracy with limits”.

According to the report, the former premier stated that “democracy can only work when people understand its limitations”.

He also stated that “when people think only of the freedom that democracy brings and know nothing of the implied responsibilities, democracy will not bring the benefits it promises”.

Mahathir asked: “Why has democracy not delivered the good life we had expected of it?”

His answer was that “it is impossible for the people to rule themselves. There are too many of them and they cannot agree on anything. A government of the people, by the people and for the people will result in a stalemate, in no government at all, in anarchy”.

This is why he asserts that “instead of accepting the failures of democracy, we should make some adjustments and sacrifice some of the liberalism of democracy so we may extract something from the system”.

He admitted freely that Malaysia is not a liberal democracy.

Perhaps the inevitable effects of ageing have caused Mahathir to lose his sense of sharpness because, unwittingly, he has let the cat out of the bag on how the Barisan Nasional government practises democracy.

This is only confirmed what the better informed and educated Malaysians have long believed – that the BN government has been busily tinkering and skewering the principles of parliamentary democracy in this country to suit the whims and fancies of the powers-that-be and not the people.

Mahathir’s assertion is shocking. It is an admission of guilt that Malaysia was governed not as a liberal democracy in accordance with the Federal Constitution but by the imposition of what he terms as “implied responsibilities”.

No check and balance

Implied responsibilities during the Mahathir regime simply mean to use whatever draconian laws necessary to silence dissent and stamp the will and pleasure of the leaders on the people.

Malaysia, therefore, under the rule of the BN government has fared no better than governments ruled by despots. Even the Federal Constitution was amended to suit the liking of the BN government to ensure there will be virtually no check and balance on what the powers-that-be do in this country.

By not practising open and liberal democracy, and by opting to tinker with the process and practices of democracy, Malaysia has failed to comply and follow the tenets and obligations of the Federal Constitution as drawn up by the founding fathers of the nation.

By practising a pale imitation of democracy and hoping to be endorsed by the world as a democratic country, most Malaysians who were not part of the politician-crony-sycophant nexus failed to prosper and suffered much wrongdoing.

These shocking admissions of Mahathir are sufficient to suggest that democracy was manipulated and compromised to suit the creation of the minority elite that now exists in this country.

It should confirm the suspicions of many that this can of worms will open up a lot more wriggly, creepy details of how Malaysia has been governed as opposed to what we all along believed.

If in the past Malaysians all along believed that their votes counted, they are now in for a rude shock.

The electoral processes of the past general elections in the nation for sometime have been a farce and the cause of much doubt and suspicion.

The process of tinkering with democracy had ensured that the Mahathir regime prospered at the expense of democracy.

This reinforced Mahathir’s long-held belief, which he now openly confesses, that the people of Malaysia cannot and are unable to rule themselves even through their elected representatives in Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies.

Parliament and the state assemblies merely existed as a means to an end for Mahathir and his supporters during his period of administration – contrary to the belief and expectations of Malaysians.

The way forward

If read in context, and understood clearly, what the former prime minister is asserting is that Malaysians cannot decide for themselves what they want. This means it is better for people like Mahathir to decide for Malaysians and to determine his will for them.

This basically has been the BN’s style of governance since the ouster of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the founding father of Malaysia and the signatory of the Federal Constitution.

In the process of stamping his will and authority, the will of the people was crushed and it was basically “Mahathir’s Malaysia” all the way, where he ruled with impunity and in the process fuelled corruption and cronyism as the way forward for the nation.

Unfortunately, this meant the creation of a governing elite while the rest of the nation toiled to ensure the masters sat pretty and lived well.

In keeping with the style of despotic governments, most Malaysians suffered much tyranny and oppression while certain numbers fled the country to seek refuge for themselves and their families in greener pastures.

By the apparent confession of Mahathir’s style of administration and his beliefs in democracy, Malaysians should be prepared in the coming 13th general election to endorse a government which is willing to completely restore civil liberties in the country.

This is the only way Malaysians of all walks of life will be able to enjoy and savour “The Good Life” as the Americans do, and which is also enshrined in our very own Malaysian constitution.

The way forward for Malaysia is to emulate countries that show visible and clear evidence where “The Good Life” is not just a constitutional statement but where it is witnessed as a reality.

Christopher Fernandez is a social critic and commentator.


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