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Make it a people’s government

June 26, 2012

The time is ripe for a new form of government... in which the people will have a direct say in running their country.

A government of the people, by the people and for the people will result in a stalemate, in no government at all, in anarchy.Dr Mahathir Mohamad

Seven score and nine years ago, a great American president paid tribute to all those soldiers who fell during the American civil war. In his address at the dedication of a cemetery for these “honoured dead” at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln spoke eloquently of the brave men who sacrificed their lives so that the new nation “might live”. The last line in his brief speech struck a chord that still reverberates in the corridors of power today: … “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. It defines the essence of democracy.

More than a hundred years later, a not so great leader in Malaysia branded Old Abe’s hallowed system as anarchy. He sought to replace the cornerstone of democracy with his own brand of (mis)guided democracy. The former prime minister chose to dedicate his speech in a country where people power overthrew an autocratic leader. The people there acted responsibly and in a democratic spirit to demolish a dictatorial regime.

The Old Man went to a university in the Philippines to lecture the people there about the dangers of having too much freedom, which can lead to chaos. There are limits to democracy, so preached the wise man whose 20-year reign did not see the country reach the pinnacle of economic power and social cohesion. He left a legacy riddled with political sores, economic wounds, ethnic pustules.

There is nothing grievously wrong with a system of government that gives wide berth to freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of action. The fault lies with the politicians entrusted with keeping the sacred flame of democracy alive. Most times they made a mockery of the trust placed in them. When the people revolt, these leaders wearing the seal of prime minister or president unleash the brutal might of the state on the hapless citizens. The crackdown is often bloody, merciless, deadly.

The doctor who once ruled Malaysia for two score years erroneously believed that politicians know best and that people know nothing and are incapable of taking care of their destiny. To him, too much freedom is bad for the heart of the country. His prescription: a large dose of restrictions on freedom of every thing. Malaysia under him saw the judiciary crippled, the press emasculated, the economy weakened, political opponents clamped up. The country grew dark when the lights of liberty were dimmed because one man thought he knew how to run the country without listening to the people.

Hallmarks of autocracy

For decades one party was allowed to rule – and ruin – the rich land which today is in danger of falling rapidly behind others in the race for economic growth and prosperity. Much of the damage was inflicted by one man whose years in power bore all the hallmarks of autocracy instead of democracy. He was elected by the people but he did not see it proper to work for the people. For him, democracy has its limits within which the people can exercise their rights but not question the unlimited powers of the political masters. Mahathirism is the antithesis of democracy.

Yet his pupil talks of building the best democracy in the world. This could mean a government which allows unrestrained liberty of expression and action. People would have the licence to even criticise the government without fear of retaliation. Even honest Old Abe would be put to shame because our democracy would be one up on America. We would be a shining example for all the world to follow. But a reality check indicates a grim picture: democracy is still under relentless attack. The pupil is no better than the mentor.

Politicians in many parts of the world have miserably failed the democracy test. From the Arab world to the African heartland to the shores of Asia, leaders have left a trail of mess. Social unrests, civil wars, armed conflicts are their ugly handiwork. Some were eventually overthrown – they fled for their lives, or were killed like rats. It is evident that it is politicians, and not the people, who have caused so much havoc and who deserved the severest retribution.

The time is ripe for a new form of government to take its place in the counsel of man, in which the people will have a direct say in running their country. The rulers will answer directly to the people. If need be, the people will take to the streets to check government excesses. The office of prime minister or president, with all its ostentatious strappings of authority, is no longer needed. Democracy, with its limitless possibilities, will be at the core of the people’s government.

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