Dismantling the tyranny of democracy

By Edwin Yapp
July 12, 2011 | The Malaysian Insider

JULY 12 — A government elected by the people, for the people — that is the bedrock principle of any fully-functioning democracy.

As we recover from the aftermath of the events on July 9, 2011, I find myself having to explain this very crucial principle to some of the people who are most important to me — my children.

I feel compelled to do so simply because there is so much misinformation out there that the young will inevitably be misled and confused.

Like, for example, my son said to me a day after the Bersih 2.0 rally: “Pa, can we wear yellow again?” Admittedly, I should have explained to him earlier what was going on and why the government of the day has outlawed people wearing yellow T-shirts, which carry the word Bersih 2.0.

Then there is the bunkum that permeated the media in the days after the rally. Led by many government-friendly news organisations — who time and again try to paint the idea that the Bersih 2.0 movement is on the wrong side of the law, as well as one-sided opinions on blogs — I needed to undo the misinformation that is circling around my kids’ heads.

As a responsible Malaysian citizen and a parent to Malaysian kids, explaining the truth and going back to the basic principles of democracy are a must.

There are many reasons why what happened last Saturday was wrong. From the show of unnecessary force by the police to the insincerity of the government and its officials in making bad-faith offers to Bersih 2.0, to how one-sided and deep-slanted the spin against the movement was after the event. These are the things that need to be explained to young minds.

But I believe that all this misinformation pales in comparison to the one argument government officials always cite: That if the rakyat are not happy with this sitting government, go to the polls and change the government.

While in itself that statement seems logical and correct democratically speaking, the plain truth is that in Malaysia this advice is pointless and ineffectual.


The democratic principle of “a government elected by the people, for the people,” necessitates and demands that a sitting government listens to its people.

In other thriving and fully functioning democracies around the world, this is expressed through the polls when their citizens make their voices heard and has the power to kick out an incumbent government, just like what happened in Britain recently. In short, governments come and go as a result of the people’s wishes through elections.

But such mechanisms only work if there are free and fair election processes and practices.

For us in Malaysia, how can the people change the government of the day through the polls when the current electoral processes and procedures are unfair, one-sided and not effective in the first place?

Thus, I find this argument that our sitting government often preaches is oxymoronic because as long as there are ineffective electoral systems and corrupt practices within the electoral process, there can’t be a level playing field for people wanting to change the government.

Such advice therefore only belies what the government tries to preach, and the irony of it all is that this sitting government is never going to change as long as there is this one-sided playing field and the powers-that-be are in full control.

This is why I believe government officials always resort to the argument that “people should change the government of the day by means of the polls,” as the powers-that-be always know that this will never happen as long as they are in control of the electoral institutions and the policies that govern these institutions.

And the proof is in the pudding, as for 54 years we’ve ever only known a federal government that has been led by Barisan Nasional.

Malaysia can never be a true and fully functioning democracy when there is no level playing field, nor a chance to change its elected officials and the government of the day through a fair electoral process.

It’s akin to saying: “Heads the government wins, tails we, the rakyat, lose.”

This, at least for me, is why the struggle of Bersih 2.0 is important — to bring about clean and fair electoral reform to the country for ALL its people.

To me, it’s not about opposition parties being in control or trying to ram through their own political agenda. Nor is it about the incumbent government trying to vilify Bersih 2.0 as an illegal trouble-making, rebel-rousing group of people.

It’s simply about demanding for clean, fair and free elections in the country.

That said, I’m mindful that the struggle of Bersih 2.0 will continue and pundits will continue to weigh in as to whether it can make an impact in areas of the country where it really matters — deep in the Malay heartland — and not in the suburban and urban areas.

But what of us? What can we do now in the present?

One place I think we can certainly begin making an impact in — to borrow the words of management guru Stephen R. Covey — is to expound, educate, defend and persuade the people who are in our “circle of influence” about the need for electoral reform in order to break the rule of those who are corrupt and tyrannical in their ways.

This is certainly what I’m going to do, beginning with my household, my children, and the people who are in my influence, including many young people, business leaders and the general public, that I as a journalist have a chance to interact with.

Bersih 2.0 represents the aspirations of the rakyat for a clean and fair electoral process so that Malaysia can go back to the roots and fundamentals of democracy — a government elected by the people, for the people.

And don’t forget, it’s only when we have a government elected by the people, for the people, will we be able to put upright people in Parliament and derive a just government to rule over the rakyat.

So join me in the fight for a better Malaysia and influence as many people around us with the correct democratic thinking and get them to vote in the next polls according to what they believe is right.

After all, this is your right as a democratic citizen of Malaysia.

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 12 July 2011 - 6:13 pm

    “a government elected by the people, for the people” (determined by conventional ballot box) “only work if there are free and fair election processes and practices” – Edwin Yapp. As in many places conventional political participation via ballot box has been rigged/manipulated to return an incumbent successively. So Opposition says (like that cannot lah, enough of this charade rather than true representative democracy) and in the absence of alternatives, lets try non conventional forms of participating in politics, like, for example, the signing of petitions, taking part in protests and demonstrations on the streets of KL. Why Mahatma Gandhi says even if assemblies flout the laws, civil disobedience is OK because they are unjust laws. Bersih proceeds on this basis (if one subscribes to Bersih as Opposition motivated). [Cities are centres of power. What happens there has profound impact on rest of country. Most successful people power in region started in capital cities of Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila). The time here appears opportune: 13th Election is coming soon; Najib administration also wants Malaysia to be in UN Human Rights Council and Malaysia’s image and standing as “moderate” Islamic member is at stake. So how hard can authorities sledgehammer protesters without also offering them buffet lunch? Or detain Ambiga (after arrest) when was one of the recipients of the US Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage? This (image) is something Najib has to weigh.

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 12 July 2011 - 7:02 pm

    The country’s biggest problem is ethno-religious politics. It breeds facism. The threat is always the spectre of May 13 or some racial conflict. General Ibrahim Ali warned Perkasa’s members would counter-march; he could not necessarily control their behaviour; though Perkasa’s marchers were told not to bring weapons, a Mahaguru said that 50,000 of his Silat exponents were prepared to “wage war” with Bersih activists! Chinese were told to stock food at home; and Ambiga, 1 of the 8 recipients of US Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage in 2009 was labelled “anti Islam”!

    The veiled threats were to spread fear so that established order of things based on ethno-religious politics is not challenged…

    One of the good outcomes of Bersih on 9th July is that there were neither Perkasa’s “soldiers” nor Silat exponent being seen anywhere on that day. (Police yes the usual water cannons, chemical spray, batons beating on shields and charging but the release was as quick as the arrests and some were served buffet!).

    The implicit threat of possible violence that induced or calculated to induce fear did not prove to have materialised in the slightest form, and is contradicted! This is a big chink, thus exposed on 9th July in this fortress of ethno-religious politics and discourse based on threat and fear. A lot of hot air was blowing out of it. The next time such threats are delivered, they will receive scant attention if not laughed off.

You must be logged in to post a comment.