Malaysiakini Letter

Jumping ship for genuine democracy

Irene Fernandez  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I refer to the Malaysakini report Anwar slammed over 'back door' bid for Putrajaya.

A few months ago, a number of seamen from trawler boats jumped ship in Tanjung Manis, Sarawak. These Cambodian fishermen were brought to work in Thailand as construction workers but sold to Thai fishing trawler owners.

The Thai fishing trawlers had obtained their license to fish from a Malaysian who was given the license by the Fisheries Department in Malaysia.

Fitting to the mould of the ‘Ali Baba’ style of getting licenses and selling them, we have a situation of a Cambodian sold to a Thai trawler who had a Malaysian fishing license. All the ingredients for trafficking in persons.

We know that the fishermen in trawlers have no protection and if they fall sick, there is no medical treatment. When they are very sick or do not work as demanded, they are beaten up and then, when they become weak, thrown into the sea to die. Was it wrong for the fishermen to jump ship at Tanjung Manis?

Similarly, we have to look at the current situation in the country in a holistic manner to conclude whether jumping ship is justified. Is it democratic?

Was there fair and free elections? Definitely not. In Sabah, not only money was poured in but voters without citizenship voted. Money politics was rife. All of us know that the electoral rolls are unclean and manipulated.

There is no free media. There was unnecessary fear instilled in the rakyat . And if we put all this together, it was unfair. Does it constitute genuine democracy? No!

The recent developments in the country unveil the truth of intense corruption, of grabbing the people’s wealth, of significant oil price increases which were unnecessary, all which have brought much hardship to the people especially the poor.

You cannot imagine what this weak governance and indecisiveness together with the plundering of wealth is leading us into. It is becoming a crisis situation.

I was in Sabah. It created anger and pain to listen to how the daughters of Sabah are being sold and forced into prostitution in Singapore and then sent elsewhere. The daughters of Sabah believed they were taken to get good decent jobs.

Their parents sold their land, all they had for a good future for their daughters. Poverty, more than 40 percent now with increasing unemployment, is pushing Sabahans to leave and search for a new life. Sabah, a once rich and wealthy state, is in shambles, destroyed by the BN government.

Similarly, in Sarawak, the control and power over the people is so strong that each day indigenous peoples’ lands are stolen from them. Those who resist are arrested and abused by the state machinery. The daughters of Sarawak face the same dilemma of being pushed out of their own ancestral land.

As they get pushed out, they become vulnerable. The road to trafficking and forced prostitution or slavery has been constructed by the current BN regime.

Do we widen this road under the fa c ade of democracy? Or do we turn on the machinery to destroy this road, to open up a new one which brings justice, freedom and decent livelihoods to our daughters and sons? Whatever door we call it, it must open to a genuine democracy and justice for the people.

This democracy, I understand, must protect the freedoms and rights of the people. The democracy I want is where the pillars that uphold it must be free and independent from executive control.

If the executive and legislature are useless in protecting the rights of the people, in respecting the freedoms of the people, in guaranteeing livelihoods, decent jobs and wages with equitable justice, then why sustain such a system?

And therefore, I salute those with courage to jump ship. They jump ship not for personal gain but for the nation as a whole. They are doing justice to their constituents because the nation will take a new road of good governance, of rights, of freedoms, of better livelihoods where all benefit.

It is good to jump ship so that genuine democracy will become a reality. Fifty years is enough. Just like how fishermen jump ship to save their lives, it is timely for others to jump ship to save democracy, to save our daughters and sons, to save the nation.

It is a change for all. Let’s stop being myopic.

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