Can Malaysia have a Jokowi?

By Maria Chin Abdullah
Oct 29, 2014

As politics unfold in Indonesia, many are impressed with their responses towards democracy building. On Oct 20, Indonesians witnessed a peaceful transfer of power with the inauguration of the seventh president of Indonesia.

Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi, had defeated Prabowo Subianto by 6.3 percent in the presidential election on July 9, 2014. While Prabowo had initially submitted an election petition to challenge the results, he had gracefully accepted the court’s ruling when it rejected all his complaints. This sealed the Jokowi-Jusuf Kalla team’s presidential victory in the eyes of the law and the voters.

Indeed, President Jokowi’s beginnings have been anything but impressive in his quest to eradicate corruption and build a clean government.

President Joko Widodo had announced his cabinet and he had strategically submitted his ministerial cabinet lineup to the Corruption Eradication Commission for their screening as a show of his commitment to “form a clean government”.

On Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014 the commission had deemed eight of his cabinet selection as inappropriate due to their “alleged involvement in cases of graft and human rights violations.” (The Jakarta Post, Oct 22, 2014).

Despite criticism of his delayed announcement, President Jokowi had stood firm on his position, an indication that he may be trying to avoid repeating the mistakes that his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, made when three of Susilo’s ministers were convicted or became suspects in corruption cases.

Jokowi’s political career went through an interesting democratic process. He was elected as the governor of Jakarta in 2012 after earlier being elected as the mayor of Sukarta in 2005.

In Indonesia, the government structure covered four tiers – president, parliament, regional provinces and local government. This is part of Indonesia’s political decentralisation policy adopted in 1998 after the fall of Suharto.

By 2005, direct elections for mayors, regents and governors were put into place as important component to weed out entrenched administration that is corrupt, inefficient and politically linked to the then equally graft-ridden Suharto regime. It was also an effort to give back to the people their right to elect their own local leaders.

The local government, depending on demographics, size and economics considerations, are represented by either elected regents (district level) or elected mayors (city level). Both regencies and cities are at the same level, having their own local government and legislative body. Representatives are elected for a five-year term. Regional provinces are autonomous and represented by elected governors.

However, direct elections in Indonesia were scrapped in September 2014 prior to the inauguration of President Jokowi in October 2014. It was an attempt to undermine President Jokowi. There is now a possibility to challenge this bill at the Indonesian constitutional court which has the power to over-rule the parliament.

Cultivating acceptance of possible change

Nonetheless, the lesson learnt from the Indonesian experience is that since the 1998 Suharto downfall, the democratic transition has been able to build into systems that cultivates positive acceptance of possible change in existing political institutions.

The Indonesian democratic process has allowed someone from Jokowi’s (left) background: non-attachment to the military and coming from the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (Partai Demokratik Indonesia-Perjuangan) to have a smooth and peaceful change in the government.

In comparison, there has not been the same openness, inclusiveness and democratic practices enjoyed by Malaysians. It has been an uphill struggle against a state administration that has zero tolerance for opposing ideas and constructive engagement. Instead of institutionalising democratic reforms, efforts are made to suppress diversity, rights and freedom.

To start off with, Malaysians do not even have the luxury to cast their third vote. The local government elections were last held in 1963 as local elections were suspended under a proclamation of emergency in September 1964 amidst the Indonesia-staged Confrontation.

We had started well. Local elections was first introduced in George Town in 1857 and abolished by 1913 and then reintroduced in 1951 with the passing of the Local Authorities Elections Ordinance 1950. Two years later, the Local Council Ordinance 1952 created local councils for villages.

By 1958, Malaysia had local elections that covered city councils; municipal councils, town councils, town boards, rural district councils and local councils. Under the Local Government Elections Act 1960 (LGEA1960) and its amendment in 1961, the Election Commissions took over the conduct of all local elections.

When local elections were suspended, the Royal Commission of Enquiry to Investigate into the Workings of Local Authorities in West Malaysia (the royal commission) presented their recommendations in 1968 and produced the commonly known Athi Nahappan Report to urge for the reinstatement of local elections. It was again rejected in parliament.

According to political parties and scholars, they believed that the suspension of local elections, as early as 1959 in Kuala Lumpur, was to prevent the opposition parties from winning them.

This is the history of Malaysia whereby the ruling administration has low tolerance for any openness and lacks commitment to build a truly democratic society. Taking away the local elections is one of the ways used to eliminate any political opposition to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) administration. Opposing views, critical engagements and opposition political parties are never tolerated by BN.

We have other incidents where people’s rights and freedoms have been curbed. The 2009 Perak crisis is an example where the ruling regime could not tolerate the possibility of another state being governed by the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat. The people’s votes were grossly undermined when three Pakatan Rakyat state legislators defected and caused a collapse in the Perak state government.

Instead of agreeing to allow the then-menteri besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin to dissolve the state assembly and call a fresh election, the sultan of Perak allowed Barisan Nasional with the three defected state assembly representatives to form the new state government. The faith of the Perak constitutional crisis was sealed when the Federal Court confirmed in February 2010 that BN’s Zambry Abdul Kadir was the lawful menteri besar.

The Kajang move is seen as yet another attempt by the BN ruling administration to eliminate opposing views. The Kajang move, initiated by Party Keadilan Rakyat, was an attempt by the opposition political party, Party Keadilan Rakyat, to place Anwar Ibrahim as the possible appointed candidate for the Selangor menteri besar post, if he was elected as the state assembly in Kajang by-election.

Almost immediately, Anwar’s alleged sodomy trial date was fast forwarded and there was a threat that he may even face a jail sentence, if proven guilty. It is not surprising that many viewed the trial as politically motivated with the intention to snuff out the one person who could possibly be Malaysia’s next strong opponent as the prime minister.

Draconian laws

If all else failed in silencing dissent, there are the laws. Malaysia has a string of draconian laws and the latest and most creative is the Sedition Act. The Act is used liberally to criminalise all those who criticise the government or its officials. It is now a convenient Act used to prevent Malaysians from expressing and debating, freely and openly, a diverse range of political opinions and ideas.

At least thirty-eight persons have now been charged with sedition including Members of Parliament, politicians, human rights defenders, academicians, lawyers, students and journalists for publishing or disseminating information and ideas through the Internet or traditional media. The latest victim of the Sedition Act is Anwar for his speech made three years ago. So even if Anwar’s alleged sodomy case is dropped, he has to face sedition charges.

But the lights are not out yet for Malaysia. We may not have a Jokowi for now but the bravery of the students on Oct 27, 2014 in defying the Universiti Malaya administration in their fight for freedom of expression and association is an indication that there is much hope for our future.

MARIA CHIN ABDULLAH is the chairperson for the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections 2.0 (Bersih 2.0) and the executive director of Empower. She believes politicians are bad masters if not made good servants through free, fair and competitive elections.

  1. #1 by boh-liao on Thursday, 30 October 2014 - 9:46 am

    YES, over here, more n more REPRESSIVE
    More draconian laws
    More instances of agencies working in cahoots with UmnoB/BN 2 block changes, 2 subvert justice/democracy, n 2 perpetuate UmnoB/BN’s cling 2 power

    Rakyat wonder if we ever C UmnoB/BN gracefully accept d decision of voters 2 replace UmnoB/BN

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Thursday, 30 October 2014 - 12:29 pm

    Here, looking 4 a JOKowi
    Don’t think so la, none
    But, ha, ha, JOKers – plenty

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 30 October 2014 - 1:46 pm

    If by Jokowi, it means a true self-made reformist, then the answer is NOT LIKELY.. Given the vast reaches of the NEP and the reach of UMNO’s machinery, the number of entirely self-made Malay success is not large. Without a large number, the number of that subset with enough interest in politics and for reform, is likely going to be very very small. So its not likely.

    The truth is the last self-made successful reformist is actually Anwar – Anwar may have rose ultimately in the ranks of UMNO, but it was on HIS TERMS and hence qualify as self-made.

    BUT studies shows that those successful who receive Affirmative Actions assistance are very much more likely to “give back” to their society. Hence the number of people willing to join and lead reform is then actually quite large. Its truly a paradox of affirmative action – those who benefitted actually don’t want it expanded but rather limited to those in need. The theory is that they have first hand experience the large number of beneficiaries that waste them and further want to believe that their success is only in part because of affirmative action.

    So the likes of Rafizi, Nik Nazmi, Nurul, etc is actually NATURAL and from them a similar goal can be reached.

  4. #4 by boh-liao on Friday, 31 October 2014 - 3:49 am

    In dis 1DERful land, NO direct election of PM by voters
    PM chosen by d party or coalition with d highest number of MPs
    Bcos of gerrymandering n EC, UmnoB/BN almost certain of perpetual power here (even though number or % of popular votes drops)
    PM almost guaranteed 2 b chosen fr UmnoB kaki, n a succession scheme oredi built in – chosen fr kaki with golden spoons sticking out fr all holes of their bodies, oozing tainted liquid n gravy
    Oredi current PM is d son of a former PM n is infamously paired with C4, Mongolian, another Razak, ful of sai, sodomee, etc
    Next in line r more sons of former PMs, even SIL too
    They may NOT b d best kaki 2 b PM but UmnoB does hv an unusual culture of picking leaders
    Hence, in dis 1DERful land, NO WAY a Jokowi-like person can ever b PM
    Competence, ‘work, work, work’, n NO corruption r NOT d criteria 2 b chosen as 1

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