Malaysiakini Letter

The nation being held hostage by one party

Gerard Lourdesamy  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Nov 10 will be remembered in the annals of this nation's history as the day when the people took power back from a despotic and ruthless regime that has long been entrenched in power through unlawful and fraudulent means.

It does not matter whether there were 40,000 or 100,000 people on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. What is important is that people from all walks of life, different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions regained their constitutionally-guaranteed right to freedom of peaceful assembly that has been whittled down by undemocratic laws made by an authoritarian government and defended by a compliant judiciary over the years.

Despite overwhelming odds and an obscene display of power and might by the police at the behest of their political masters, the rakyat braved the water cannons, tear gas and the inclement weather to gather peacefully and demand for electoral reform.

When the political leadership of the country is both corrupt and inept, preoccupied with self-preservation and unjust enrichment, the rakyat have no choice but to take to the streets to voice their displeasure and demand for change. The government has forgotten that they are there to serve the people and not the vested interests of politicians and their cohorts of cronies.

We now see the total negation of democratic principles and values in this country by a government that seeks to remain in power by stifling and oppressing its own people through threats, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, a compliant and corrupt police force, a compromised judiciary, a controlled media and a civil service that prides itself in being an extension of the ruling party.

The country is being held hostage to a party that has entrenched itself in power for 50 years and refuses to even acknowledge that the people should have the right to change their government through free and fair elections in accordance with acceptable international standards and democratic norms.

Democracy is not just about having elections every five years. It is about encouraging, engaging and tolerating dissent through the exercise of fundamental liberties and rights by the people, civil society and the media. No single party, Umno or Barisan Nasional, have a monopoly over power in Malaysia. It is the people who empower them and not the other way around.

Unfortunately, after 50 years of single-party rule, we have a party that is drunk with power and arrogant enough to treat this country as its own personal fiefdom while the people are relegated to the role of the silent and compliant servants who are expected to suffer rising prices, a high cost of living, a worrying crime rate, a mediocre education and health system, unbridled corruption, nepotism and cronyism at the highest levels of government, the judiciary and the police, excessive wastage in the planning, usage, allocation and distribution of public funds, while the leaders, their families, friends and business partners live a life of luxury with their expensive clothes and jewels, fancy cars, huge houses, fabulous holidays to exotic and expensive places and not to mention the unending parties and social events where some of the women wear even less than the much-talked-about uniforms of Air Asia stewardesses .

Of course, these events are not subject to raids and the purview of the religious authorities or are they an acceptable and glamourised version of Islam Hadhari that is touted ever so often by the leadership. It is, by any stretch of the imagination, hypocrisy at its worst. The rakyat are fed-up. These sentiments are prevalent at all levels of society both within the educated classes and the masses.

The government, of course, with its usual cabal of sympathisers and sycophantic supporters, who are invariably only interested in position and power as a means to get contracts, enrich themselves and curry favours with party leaders, only hears what it wants to hear while our very respectable newspapers and media reports this rubbish to the people as if it were the gospel truth.

Unfortunately for the unimaginative spin doctors at the employ of the government and ruling party under the very able guidance of the prime minister's son-in-law, the self-proclaimed guardian and saviour of the nation, the people are not that stupid to buy into their garbage. The rakyat in their God-given wisdom and intelligence, that has somehow escaped the political leadership, likes to call a spade a spade while the government likes to call it a fork.

The Bersih rally was a resounding success by all counts. While the local media decided to play the role of the government's lapdog, both the foreign media, foreign and local observers, websites, bloggers and the brave men and women who took to the streets, relayed the news, pictures and stories to the world. As a famous Tamil saying goes, "Only an idiot would try to hide a whole pumpkin in a pot of rice".

Kudos to the local journalists and editors (at the behest of the government and the crony owners of their newspapers, television and radio stations) who attempted to perform this magical feat. Suffice to say that they all ended up with egg (or more fittingly chemically-laced water) on their faces! The National Union of Journalists should take pride in the magnificent journalistic standards and freedom that their members have displayed in the last few days. Sadly, though, most people now regard the newspapers as only useful for wiping their backsides if not less.

The journalists in any other free and democratic country would have either gone on strike or boycotted their editors and newspapers rather than carry out a campaign of misinformation or disinformation, as the case may be, to deceive the public. At the end of the day, without reporters and writers, newspapers cannot possibly function. But, unlike some lawyers who had the guts to protest over the dismal state of the judiciary, the other professions seem to be asleep. Undoubtedly, they are concerned about their jobs and incomes.

But as Mahatma Gandhi rightly proved, peaceful civil disobedience was enough to bring down the might of the British Raj, what more a government like ours, managed and protected by imbeciles. If the people are not willing to take a stand and rise up to the occasion, then all is lost. We have betrayed our country, our freedom and independence to a regime that is no longer the servant of the people but has arrogated itself to the role of master and dictator.

It is odd that whenever the ruling party holds a public rally or protest, permits are readily given and the demonstration is labeled as peaceful. But it is never the case when the opposition or non-governmental organisations do the same purportedly because only opponents of the government are prone to crime and disorder. That does not explain the numerous convictions of Umno and BN politicians for fraud, corruption, murder, sexual misdeeds and not to mention their rowdy and uncivilised behaviour during election campaigns, as the menteri besar of one state demonstrated in a recent election.

Disorder only happens in Malaysia when persons are planted into peaceful gatherings to cause trouble and mayhem. If the police are genuine, professional and honest in the discharge of their duties, they should allow peaceful assemblies in designated areas with full police protection and control.

The organisers of the Bersih rally proved this with their excellent marshals who guided and controlled the crowds. The demonstration was peaceful and without incident until the police decided to fire their water cannons and tear gas at the well-behaved protesters. While we can accept that the police were acting on the instructions of their superiors and political masters, the police should remember that they are servants and protectors of the rakyat , not their tormentors and oppressors.

Even under the terms of the infamous Police Act, the police could have contained and controlled the crowd without having to resort to violence and unnecessary provocation. The traffic chaos that ensued in parts of the city and its outskirts was caused by excessive policing.

If a permit was given, the police could have directed the organisers to have the gathering at the Stadium Merdeka, Stadium Negara or any other open space followed by a short procession to the Istana Negara to hand over the memorandum. This would have been far better. Instead the police exaggerated the security threat and made matters worse by their overreaction.

The memorandum to the King calling for clean and free elections is merely a plea from the rakyat that they want their constitutional right to vote and elect a government to be protected from the abuses and corruption of the ruling party. People no longer trust the ineffectual Election Commission, a disgrace compared to its Indian counterpart.

People no longer trust the constant gerrymandering with constituencies, wholesale transfer of voters, numerous phantom voters on the electoral rolls, the completely non-transparent conduct of postal voting which ought to be only limited to the armed forces and police serving in border areas, the interior regions and overseas, the ridiculously short campaign periods (these were even longer before and immediately after the 1969 emergency), the ban on public rallies, the lack of media space for the opposition in the newspapers, radio and television and the abuse of government machinery and facilities by the incumbent party.

If the government intends to continue misusing its funds and resources for party activities during an election campaign, then the people have the right to ask that all political parties be funded from public funds based on the percentage of popular votes that they receive in any one election. Otherwise, Umno and BN should be told to stop misusing the peoples' money. I am sure that the billionaires and millionaires in Umno and their cronies can afford to fund the party's election campaigns.

A caretaker government should be put in place between the dissolution of parliament and the formation of a new government without the power to disburse funds, expenditure, subsidies and announce major policies or projects that involve public monies during this interim period.

In these difficult times when every institution in the country has been tainted and compromised by the ruling party, the rakyat can only turn to the King and the rulers. It is they who must ultimately defend the constitution and the laws of the country, the rights, freedom, prosperity and happiness of the people.

Malaysia is a rich and well-endowed country. The people are its biggest asset. Any party can rule this country provided they are accepted by the people through a democratic process that is free and fair. No single party or person has a monopoly over power in this country. Governments come and go in any functioning democracy. It is not fatal to the progress and prosperity of the people, provided that politicians are clean, trustworthy, efficient and intelligent with a firm belief and respect for democracy and the rule of law.

Otherwise, eventually only chaos, anarchy and revolution will occur when the people can longer accept a leadership that is intolerant, undemocratic and corrupt, one that has negated and betrayed the people's trust, their well-being and future.

The monarchy is a living symbol of our nation's history, its continuation and its tradition. But at the end of the day, when the very existence, fabric and future of the nation is threatened by an entrenched and elected dictatorship, it is the rulers who have to use constitutional and extra-constitutional means to protect and defend the people from their own government. A constitutional monarchy can also be an enlightened monarchy but a morally inept government can never be a democratic one.

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