Democracy is for every day, not just elections

As a layperson and citizen, I would like to write on what democracy, as practised in Malaysia today, is all about.

We claim to be a democratic country which was able to change the government peacefully. Unfortunately, I think this is only a quarter of our story.

For more than 60 years, our democratic system existed mainly in name. Today, despite the change in government, I don’t think the “democratic tradition”, as practised in this country, has changed much.

As it stands, the system is still very much wallowing in the mud with power concentration, incompetence and malpractice being common occurrences in government.

A truly democratic system must be able to hold the government and its leaders to account every day, not just during an election.

We were lucky to pull through the last general election. But democracy is more than that; it is not only supposed to work when the nation is facing a crunch. It must work every day.

No doubt the new government was instituted democratically. But is the new government today as democratic as we want it to be? After almost a year, have we allowed the government to act as it pleases without much transparency and accountability, or have we monitored and pressured it, holding it to account?

It will be interesting to assess whether our democratic system is working when we observe the following unfolding events:

  • We have government leaders using fake degrees or indulging in the false representation of their qualifications and credentials. Is our democratic system able to reprimand or punish those involved? What about cases yet to be uncovered? Do we just let sleeping dogs lie?
  • We have government leaders unable to protect public interests. There is the endangerment of forest reserves, environmental degradation and clear conflict of interest situations in which it claims lack of power, jurisdiction or ignorance. Should our democratic system gladly accept its seemingly helplessness or demand a clear explanation?
  • We have clear promises made to the people by the new government. Not every one of these promises is difficult to implement. Some are being delayed or reneged for political reasons or vested interests. Can our democratic system compel the government to honour the promises now, or must we wait for the next election?
  • We have government leaders going quite blatantly against established procedures such as open tender, transparency and economic prudence. Is our democratic system able to detect malfeasance and bring those responsible to book?
  • What about leaders condoning or obstructing investigations of wrongdoings? Is our democratic system able to identify and punish them accordingly?

We must allow our democracy to work every day, not just during a general election. If not, frustration and instability will gradually build up like it did in the past.

We were lucky our democracy worked in the May 9 polls. I am not too sure we will be as lucky the next time.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.