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How democracy functions

August 16, 2012

FMT LETTER: From Nate Light, via e-mail

Malaysians are fed-up. Open Facebook and a stream of rants and complains about our nation pour in – flagrant corruption, moronic policy makers, rotting social ethics. We blame our leaders for not steering the country correctly, and we rant about the nation not progressing fast enough. I don’t deny them.

However, it seems complainer-Malaysians miss one crucial point – that ranting alone is not going to save our nation, and we all misunderstand how democracy truly functions. Shouting what’s wrong is not helpful; offering a solution is. It’s not enough to know what we hate; we must know what we need and the achieving steps to be taken.

When a wrongdoing occurs, the news is spread throughout our social network for people’s knowledge; this act is passive – people listen; no actions taken, yet. In a democracy, the next step will be people reacting; this latter act is active. The crucial thing is people’s reaction, and Malaysians misunderstanding what it means.

A reaction is not you angrily defaming the government while hiding behind the monitor and keyboard. Politics is about real people, standing out in the real world and get things done. The angry chants of people in the virtual world are merely phantom – they’re just not real enough to effect actions; they are not threatening enough – thus can be easily dismissed by the Big Guys.

A reaction is a demonstration on the street. It has to be real and impulsive, so that the Big Guys are forced to make changes we ask for. Thus is a functional democracy; what else do you think enables free Americans to bend political decisions to the general consensus? It’s simply because their demand is clear and powerful, then their politicians are forced to take action. This is kind of a reversed-dictatorship.

To make things explicitly clear, I’ll dissect the mechanism of democracy into three steps: an idea, impulse, an executor.

An Idea

Angry blusters by Malaysians are often blind – we scold with volcanic tone, yet we don’t seek to correct the wrongs. The first step of the democratic mechanism is an idea, and to qualify it must have vision and direction. The general population must be able to react concurrently and arrive at several potential solutions. “Is this new law suitable for us? This corrupt official must receive such punishment; this wrong policy should be scrapped and be replaced with that new one,” and so on.

Good politicians are not omnipotent; how are they supposed to know what we want when we don’t even know it ourselves? The democratic people can’t be passive lazy asses who just sit and hope for a good policy to appear from politicians for them to vote. Democracy primes itself as people’s power, thus the population shall play part in dictating its own fate. Ironically, this is also its weakness, because apparently democracy requires general intelligence to operate.

I dare to say that Americans are really creative and smart in producing ideas crucial to genuine democracy. Contrarily, the general Malaysian population is still too naive, thus we are toyed with when politicians abuse democracy and turn it into their quasi authoritarian power. We are brainwashed from young to obey, to shut up and to endure abuses. This definitely has to change, and people has to be bold and intelligent to stand up. But it means transforming the entire culture from its root, which is getting harder nowadays with stronger governmental propaganda.


You need force to do work. In politics, that force is called inevitability. The collective voices of hundreds of thousands of Malaysians are often brushed aside, and our major protesters are dismissed as minority. These happened when we fought for PPSMI, Bersih and Internet freedom. Street demonstrations can easily be deem insignificant by our politicians, what impact those phantom voices on the Internet you think can produce? An impulse is a massive flood of people voicing out their ideas. That’s why demonstrations are healthy and necessary; it’s despicable that protests have been derogated as sinful in Malaysia.

I boldly mentioned earlier that politicians have to feel threatened before they will take actions, but I don’t think I’m wrong. Big Guys who’ve been clinging comfortably on the power apex will cease to listen; they’ve grown too arrogant and too powerful to bring down. What makes democracy different from dictatorship is that the people can stand up by law to protest, threatening to bring the Big Guys down.

Out of this fear only will the politicians start reacting to our demands. The condition in Malaysia is imbalanced – we can’t bring them down, because 1) we don’t have a great replacement; 2) the population is still not intelligent enough, thanks to brainwashing. Americans have a good power balance between two rival parties the Republicans and the Democrats, thus there exists healthy competition to keep them in good duty. In the end, impulse is about us manipulating a party’s fear of losing power.


The realisation of an idea requires an executor – a doer. Or else, an idea remains imaginary. Remember, politics is always about doing things. Executors are often politicians who listen to the people, or on a lower level, they can be non-political advocacy groups, such as Avaaz (global) or the Bersih coalition (local).

The greatest single person who famously(or infamously) succeeded in turning his ideals into reality was no one other than Adolf Hitler. His belief was – “The best way to realise your grand ideology is to grab power yourself and do it.” There are many smart Malaysians ready to save the country. What they lack is this belief, and a coalition. It’s not easy for them to join a political party without being repelled by seniors, because no one would endanger one’s status by accepting a stronger competitor. A freshly created political party of talented, intelligent and wise Malaysians is required.

On a lower threshold, we have the advocacy groups as pushers of politicians. Avaaz successfully turned phantom voices on the web into real impulses by sending out real representatives and bring the voice of millions straight to the face of politicians. They turn up in council meetings, global submits and offices of leaders to show the petition signed by global citizens on their website. Bersih is a good start, but it still has to learn much from Avaaz. The protests held were  chaotic, the impact was not strong enough, and Bersih leaders have to be smarter to open up the minds of all Malaysians while countering the opposing force.


Democracy is power given to the people. For it to function, the people have to be intelligent. Through the mechanism of ideas, impulse to execute hem, only can the people’s will be turned into the basis of government’s power.


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