Returning to democratic foundations should be the top priority

Breaking Views
by Ahmad Mustapha Hassan
The Malaysian Insider
January 17, 2011

January 17, 2011JAN 17 — Malaysia is considered by the present leaders as being a democratic country. It goes to the polls every five years or whenever the ruling coalition feels the time is right. It allows its citizens to practise whatever religion they choose, with some major exceptions. It allows the media, electronic and print to exist, with again very major restrictions. But, of course, the rationale behind all these restrictions is to maintain peace and order. This is the common cliché used to justify the existence of all the preventive and restrictive laws. Of course, the real reasons are to maintain power.

Looking back on how Malaya then was formed, there was every reason to believe that our model of democracy would be a shining example to all the newly independent countries that were once colonies of Britain. Malaya followed the Westminster model. Malaya had all the trappings that would make all other countries envious of it.

It had a bicameral legislature just like Britain. Instead of the House of Lords, it created a nominated House known as the Senate. Members of Parliament were to be elected through a general election. It separated the functions of the Executive and that of Parliament. Each had a definite power of its own. The Judiciary was independent of the Executive. The separation of power was put in place to allow democracy to flourish. The media was to act as the fourth estate.

To top it all, Malaya created a unique constitutional monarchy to be rotated every five years by the nine Sultans in the country.

And the civil service was to remain neutral.

It was beautifully conceived by the founding fathers. The country was to be secular in nature although Islam was made the official religion with all other religions allowed to be practised. There was, in other words, religious freedom.

But like all other cases with newly independent countries, the path towards practising true democracy came to a sudden halt. None of the former British colonies except India ever progressed politically towards true democracy. Some even moved towards anarchy, dictatorship and autocracy. Malaya achieved its independence on a platter but power corrupts the leadership and thus currently Malaysia too is affected. It lost its way and the people are merely fed with slogans, one after another. They are catchy but bereft of any meaningful content.

To struggle and fight for independence was morally right and an obligation but to know how to govern justly and efficiently was another matter. Most had completely discarded the goals, motives and the inspirations in achieving independence. In Africa, the fight had caused thousands to die. With independence, another evil had surfaced — ethnic cleansing. Killings had gone on unabated. Corruption became the order of the day. The nations’ wealth was treated as being the personal wealth of the leaders.

Slums and shanty towns mushroomed as no plans were formulated to give the people their basic needs — education, food and shelter. The leaders were too busy enriching themselves.

But in Malaysia, the ideals as espoused by the founding fathers were cast aside soon after the second prime minister, Tun Razak. True democrats knew what separation of powers meant and what it was meant to foster. It was to stop the rise of any megalomaniac.

Pseudo democrats felt that this arrangement was an impediment to what they wanted to achieve. They felt that all the organs in the separation of power should be subservient to the Executive. This was especially so with the Judiciary. The Judiciary was to be just an appendage of the Executive. It should not be independent of the Executive. Thus the Judiciary was mauled and made to be an institution without honour or respect.

Parliament and the Senate simply acted as rubber stamps to the whims and fancy of the Executive. The media was compelled to support the Executive and had no business to report truthfully and fairly. They were made the tools for propaganda to shape the thinking of the populace to support the government.

All other instruments of government were politicised and became impotent. They lost the power that was originally bestowed and power was transferred to the politicians. The politicians thus became the policy makers and also the implementers. All semblance of checks and balances was thrown to the winds.

A new prime minister has come into office with full of promises to transform the nation, But there has been no effort so far to again remodel the country as was enshrined by the founding fathers. Will Datuk Seri Najib Razak be a saviour and clear the mess that has befallen Malaysia? The task is herculean in nature but will Najib be brave enough to institute the changes that will bring the country back to its original sovereign status, respected and admired by others?

If he truly wants to transform the nation into a united, prosperous and a high-income nation this should be his first priority.

* Ahmad Mustapha Hassan is the author of “The Unmaking of Malaysia” and a former general manager of state news agency Bernama. He was also the press secretary to Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and the then-Deputy Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Monday, 17 January 2011 - 5:39 pm

    ///Malaya followed the Westminster model. Malaya had all the trappings that would make all other countries envious of it.///

    The heyday was long gone. Our pristine democracy has already been wrecked by greedy, corrupt, irresponsible leaders. The only way for the nation to regain its former glory is by voting Pakatan to power.

  2. #2 by tak tahan on Monday, 17 January 2011 - 6:24 pm

    Agreed yhsiew,brought two young chaps to register today.

  3. #3 by burn on Monday, 17 January 2011 - 6:51 pm

    saviour and clear the mess…?
    remember this…
    to bath the keris with chinese blood!

  4. #4 by tak tahan on Monday, 17 January 2011 - 6:52 pm

    As usual perampok cinta1 is catching up with us from behind malaysia ranked ‘partly free’post.Rambutan effect la i supposed.

  5. #5 by Bigjoe on Monday, 17 January 2011 - 9:16 pm

    Actually it should be but democracy is not the urgent problem – the most urgent issue is the system of checks and accountability that is no longer functioning – be it our police, our judiciary, govt finance, our education system, even the laws itself.

    Before Najib, there were paperwalls thin pretence of institutions and systems holding things in check a bit BUT under Najib, they punched thru the paperwall of pretence and the laws and systems which were wrecked by Mahathir is shreded to pieces in actual practice.

    Forget democracy, we need to stop a runaway train from crashing into a tragedy…

  6. #6 by Godfather on Monday, 17 January 2011 - 10:26 pm

    You can say all you want, Kit. Our top priority is to announce hundreds of billions of ETPs and allow leakages to go to our cronies and relatives.

  7. #7 by Godfather on Monday, 17 January 2011 - 10:27 pm

    sorry, should be “….hundreds of billions worth of ETPs…”

  8. #8 by Taxidriver on Monday, 17 January 2011 - 10:27 pm

    If going back to democracy means losing power, which do you think UMNOB will choose?????????????

    The one and only hope to revive true democracy is through a rejime change. There is no other way.

    Bangkitlah Rakyat Malaysia. Sokonglah Perubahan Dan Selamatkan Negara Tercinta.

  9. #9 by tak tahan on Monday, 17 January 2011 - 10:46 pm

    Firstly,our founding fathers should come to haunt them to give them serious advice or face consequence to the highest capital punishment.I guess for decades people already have been complaining but to no avail…which is certain likely be the circumstance(not mistaken) if we still choose not to change government.Secondly,’easy way out’,not to vote them in but goes up the multi racial Rocket with PR coliation members

  10. #10 by digard on Monday, 17 January 2011 - 11:31 pm

    There was a plane for Ben Ali, out of Tunisia.
    “There is a plane out for you, Najib, too!”

    In Tunisia it was 23 years, in Malaysia we’ve been sitting 53 years now. The difference? Natural resources. And a very much laid-back population. This year, Singaporeans, 45 years ago living in the same country, will earn 7 (seven) times per person what we earn here. They may work harder, true. But never 7 times harder. The difference? Into the pockets of the ruling elite.

    “There is a plane out for you, Najib, too!”

  11. #11 by limkamput on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 12:11 am

    Strange, somehow I don’t really get what this author was trying to say. How do we return to our democratic foundation when democracy has not really taken root in this country? Do you think our founding fathers were democrats? Do you think the first generation of our leaders after Merdeka were freedom fighters for democracy and people power? I have no doubt at all this country was cursed from the very beginning. If the Tunku was a true democrat, we would not have the Stephen Kalong Ningkan episode and Singapore would not have been knocked out from the Federation. This country was designed for tribal rule from the beginning. Sure, we have election every five years or so. That is because they won, stupid. See the 1969 incident and see again the events unfolding after March 2008. See how they have subverted and continued to destroy further whatever remnants of democracy that still exist. Tell you what, if this generation knows not what true democracy is all about, you can’t expect the next generation to keep the flag flying. No, I don’t think the author diagnosed the right disease – it is not finding the way back to our democracy foundation. The right diagnosis is why democracy has never taken root in this country despite the democratic constitution and despite people actually dying for it like fighting and defeating the communists.

  12. #12 by tak tahan on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 12:24 am

    Najis:7 times higher in revenue?Sorry,not sure.Not 1/4 of seven times harder working hours?What then?
    Founding father:Seven times good social policy and seven times good the answer against your stupid nep and 1malaysia slogan to bluff and continuously plunder the people of this nation to make you filthy rich as the obscene way which is forbidden in our religion.Be truth to urself and be kind to your people or face mon..go..lia case!!Bakayarou.Get out of putrajaya as you should have started to feel it now..coming from the tide of change fever…Go away or be put in lock up for your indecisive, uncaring and two split personality soul for malay and non malay plight..Repent or allah cannot forgive your repeated sins forever.

  13. #13 by sheriff singh on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 3:38 am

    Don’t forget the Rulers, the 9 Royal Houses. The Sultans have to be independent and be above politics. They have to be Constitutional Rulers.

    But alas, Mahathir, UMNO and BN had to clip their powers back in the 1980s and in 1993.

  14. #14 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 6:26 am

    ///But in Malaysia, the ideals as espoused by the founding fathers were cast aside soon after the second prime minister, Tun Razak/// – Ahmad Mustapha Hassan
    The Malaysian Insider

    “After the second prime minister” implies beginning with the third, Tun Hussein Onn?

    I am not sure that this is factually correct.

    This is not doing justice to Tun Hussein Onn.

    Sister-in-Islam’s Zainah Anwar’s take on Tun Hussein Onn –

    Besides him, there were 2 other PMs who apparently did not get on that famously well with the 4th (TDM) – the 1st & the 5th. What does this imply?

  15. #15 by monsterball on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 7:19 am

    It is simple…..UMNO copies all good governance leadership to make sure all Malaysians trust and vote for them…and quietly amend this and amend that to control all laws and do what they want.
    Under Mahathir….his UMNO B…..he made sure all laws are water tight to let him do as he wanted..starting with making hundreds of UMNO B top guns rich and he stole more than RM100 billions…to enrich the party ….using that to buy votes…and billions for his family and cronies.
    He was so successful using CORRUPTIONS to buy loyalties.
    To conclude…UMNO B under Mahathir…fine tuned the art of fooling Malaysians…and that is why it is confusing to some Malaysians to understand.
    There is nothing to confusing or to understand.
    It is pure political con jobs to fool Malaysians and down right crooked human con jobs…to steal and do as they like…having amended all laws to make sure they hold the 4 aces…and nothing can put the crooks in jail…as thousands UMNO B members are being encouraged to take money through corruptions….and make sure all are crazy for money…which is the worst devilish drug you can find…that resulted…all will do anything for money.
    UMNO B under Najib…is actually..applying the said political con his own ways by starting with his slogans….employing APCO for RM77 million per year to give him ideas how to do fool Malaysians…much more powerful than Mahathir.
    Such a leader will expose everything .

  16. #16 by dagen on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 9:17 am

    Limkamput is right. Democracy? Only paper existence, man, without any actual or practical significance. To clear up our system we need the assistance of Walle and to look for democracy in the country we shall have to engage the service of Walle’s girlfriend, Eva. Soon the whole country will turn into a rubbish dump. Then we shall all have to abandon it and go to live in (yes you guessed it) the Axiom.

    BTW, I dont recall seeing rambutans in the Axiom or hearing any mention of ketuanan by those people in the Axiom. So I suppose cintanegara and gang would be most unwelcomed. And I wonder what would Walle do if he happens to find the suzuki cup? Would he keep it, or would he crush it?

  17. #17 by Godfather on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 9:18 am

    Just look at the case of the idiot in Johor, Markom. First he was caught on Youtube campaigning for BN. In spite of this evidence, he still denied campaigning for BN. Then he was “caught” trying to transfer the husband of the PAS candidate to Johor Baru. Then he retracted it when news of this broke. Now he says it was only retracted temporarily, and that he had every right to know the political affiliations of teachers.

    If he had kept quiet, then the situation might not get any worse, but every time he opens his mouth, you start to wonder where he even got to be the director of education for Johor. He has violated every rule in the civil service, and I can bet my bottom ringgit that he will be promoted, and may become the next DG of Education. Isn’t this a scary thought ?

  18. #18 by undertaker888 on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 12:37 pm

    the era of umno is beginning to end. he is the 6th PM. 6 represent gross imperfection. the 7th or completeness will come soon to replace this corrupt regime.

  19. #19 by perampok cinta1 on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 3:43 pm

    We’re a democratic country. No doubt about that. If we’re not a democratic country, then Pakatan Rakyat should not be governing the four states that they won back in 2008.

    What’s the meaning of democracy? Democracy is a political form of government in which governing power is derived from the people, by consensus by direct referendum, or by means of elected representatives of the people.

    We’re actually doing all the above now. How would the Pakatan want it done then?

  20. #20 by Godfather on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 5:54 pm

    I give up on this perompak cinta1 clown. Maybe the English in the article is too much for him to understand.

  21. #21 by tak tahan on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 6:39 pm

    er……er…..getting bored with this moderation is awa……

  22. #22 by sotong on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 6:41 pm

    Decades of narrow,divisive and short sighted leadership had done enormous damage to the country….we need to clean up the mess before moving forward.

  23. #23 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 6:49 pm

    We hv democracy lah, now EC proposed 2 allow proxy-voting
    Mayb orang mati n phantoms can hv proxies 2 vote 4 UmnoB/BN on their behalves in GE13

  24. #24 by tak tahan on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 6:54 pm

    They will say maybe pontianak,toyol,makluk halus or some kiddy storries.Will call bomoh to check!!!!!Lau Eh.Hampalang pun boleh kong punya.

  25. #25 by tak tahan on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 - 10:37 pm

    I can’t mention ur name la Bola,sure moderation will appear.Where a u racently?No much whispering from you..busy?Too much bola bola..i think

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