Democracy and freedom of expression

By Art Harun
June 21, | The Malaysian Insider

JUNE 21 — In The Wolf and The Silence of the Lamb, I said, among others:

“The core of democracy is representation. It is a system of governance where the people are represented by representatives who are elected by the people. These representatives then form a government. The government than governs the people. A state is then formed, consisting of the government and the people it governs.”

More importantly, I attempted to correct the popular notion that democracy was the cause of liberty. After alluding to Marx’ Utopian state, I opined:

“The obvious flaw in Marx’s theory of a utopian society makes democracy a very alluring alternative. If at all, it pushes to the fore the false notion that liberty is the product of democracy, when in fact democracy is just but one of the many (flawed) ways of protecting liberty. Liberty is not caused by democracy. It rather is the cause for democracy.”

And I asked some sobering questions:

“That brings us to some sobering thoughts. Can liberty be usurped by democracy? Is it possible for a democracy to destroy liberty in itself? In that event, what will happen to democracy? Can it exist without liberty?”

I would like, in this article, to expand the theoretical postulation that the basis of democracy is liberty and freedom, in terms of the freedom of expression of the people in a democratic state.

I feel that a deep understanding of this area of the democracy theory is important, more particularly due to the current climate in Malaysia, where BERSIH is planning a rally for electoral reform on the 9th July this year while at the same time, the usual suspects of horror and doom, Perkasa, Ibrahim Ali and their ilk are planning to create disturbances.

Democracy, to my mind, starts with an expression of will by the people or a group of people. The will which was being expressed was the will to be represented in the governance and administration of the state which the people formed.

That will was expressed through the process of elections.

It would not thus be far-fetched to say that a state of democracy is anchored to, and in fact born, out of that expression of will. The expression of the people’s will is therefore the thrust of democracy.

However, the expression of the people’s will does not end with the casting of votes. A true and dynamic democracy requires continuous engagement of minds between the state and its people. The elected representatives are not angels. They are not gods. Being human who are garbed with power robes, temptations lurk in every corner. Abuse of powers and positions are just but a finger snap away. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, said a very wise man.

Furthermore, democracy is also tied up to mandate by numbers. Which means, the majority would win the right to rule. Regardless, the success of a democratic state is not in the manner in which the majority rules. It is measured by looking at how the majority balances and treats the rights and demands of the majority with the obvious desires and wants of the minority bearing in mind the general welfare of the state as a whole.

In such a dynamic and vibrant state of things, expression of the people continues — and must be allowed to continue — if a meaningful democracy were to exist.

The people express their will and mind. The state, via the government, listens and acts. The process continues. It is this continuous and mutual engagement of the will and mind, between the people and the state, which gives democracy its soul.

Democracy does not mean the people expressing their will by casting their votes once in 5 years and after that the elected representative could assume that they are “mandated” to do anything at their whim and fancy until their 5 year term ends at which time they come back for a new mandate. That is periodical absolutism. A benevolent absolutist — even a police-state masked as a democracy where democracy is used to legitimise the state’s penchant for sadistic and diabolical intents.

When there is a general intention to express the people’s will, it is not for the state to prevent such expression of will by citing security or economics reason. In a vibrant democracy, a responsible state should act to facilitate the expression of that will in a peaceful and orderly fashion. That is the duty of the state.

A state which acts to prevent the lawful expression of will by the people which it governs is a state fearful of its own voice. That state loses its moral legitimacy to rule and to be respected.

The state must remember that the will of the people is insidious. That it exists inside their mind. What they wish to do is the express that will.

Even when such expression is supressed, either by the overt acts of the state of any of its machinations, the will still exists. It will not go away.

Although the expression of the will may be prevented, the will can’t. —

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