Thursday, July 14, 2011

Democracy is not a blank cheque

Over the past few weeks, and most recently from the Deputy Prime Minister, the common argument against Bersih 2.0 is that "Pakatan Rakyat won 5 states and denied Barisan Nasional a two-thirds majority in Parliament. If our election system was tainted, they wouldn't have won any at all." Furthermore, Muyhiddin went further to say that because the system has been tried for 50 years, it has been tried and tested. Does anyone else believe that this statement lends any credibility to the system?

Muhyiddin must realise (though I doubt it, based on his recalcitrant nature) that this is a fundamentally flawed argument, especially when we look at the outcome of the last general election. Barisan Nasional won 50.27% of the vote, but swept up 63.1% of the seats. The problem does not really lie with vote manipulation, but rather the fundamentals of the system. Just based on the election results and based on the law of averages, BN only required 29,160 votes per seat, while Pakatan Rakyat required 46,298 votes per seat. Therefore, the opposition would require 37% more votes for each seat they contest. Does this seem fair?

The issues of gerrymandering, postal votes not tallying, stuffed ballot boxes, phantom voters and corruption is coupled by unequal access to the media, year long governmental propaganda through the mainstream media and the public censorship of dissenters. Threats to civil servants that they may lose their jobs if they don't vote for BN, the wealthy and influential warned that Special Branch is watching their every move and the myth that the government can track who you voted for also dampens the integrity of our electoral system.

Now, there is the question of whether Pakatan Rakyat is also guilty of the same election offences when they won 5 states? I would submit that they are not. Apart from allegations that the opposition parties paid off people to vote for them, which in itself is not plausible due to the fact that the opposition is well known not to have a lot of money, most of the electoral fraud occurs under the purview of the Electoral Commission.

Right before Bersih 2.0, the EC had shown their true colours by accusing the Bersih movement to be an opposition plot to overthrow the government. Strong words from an entity which is supposed to be impartial. An ex-EC official had made known to me that their full time job was in fact to gerrymander, and ensure that areas known to vote for the opposition are moved into increasingly large constituencies in order to increase the chances that BN can secure a marginal seat come the next general elections. The fact that PR had won so many states is nothing short of remarkable and a clear sign of the displeasure from the people.

So are voters being disenfranchised? You bet they are. So the "divine right" to vote for the government of our choice every five years is tainted by the fact that a vote in one constituency equates to 20 votes in another constituency. Do we really get a government representative of our choice?

What is democracy? It is described on Wikipedia as follows:

"Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law. It can also encompass social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination."

Now what does this actually mean? This means that just because the people voted you in during a General Election, does not mean you can run around as untouchables as though you have been given the license to do anything you want (that is until the next General Election where you start throwing goodies to the people to forget their long term suffering and vote for you again).

Universal suffrage is not the only democratic right that Malaysians have, as the right to assemble peacefully is enshrined in Article 10 of our constitution, the alleged supreme law of the land. When a government is elected in, gets arrogant, and flexes their muscles at the people, we have the right as citizens to gather peacefully in protest, as we believe their actions are not justified.

The Prime Minister told the media that Malaysians are peace loving people, and demonstrations are not part of our culture. Despite everything, I am inclined to agree with him. Typically, most Malaysians are apolitical. But when our right have been trampled all over, and people get emotional and tired of the constant abuses, the people have risen above all obstacles to descend upon KL en mass, to tell the government and the world exactly how they feel.

Democracy is not a blank cheque. Rather it is a heavy responsibility borne by the government of the day, because the fact is that the Rakyat is the ultimate boss. This applies equally to PR, if they were to take power.

It is obvious that this BN government have forgotten this a long time ago.


DOUGLAS TAN is a DAP member and yearns for a free and democratic society. He blogs at

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