Brave New World (The Star)
1 July 2010
It is one thing to have a populace that does not quite understand the full extent of their democratic rights, it is quite another to have leaders perpetuate a feudalistic atmosphere to keep their grip on power.
After the 2004 general election, the newly chosen MP for Putrajaya was being interviewed on the telly. He was obviously very happy with the result – his chubby face was glowing. The Barisan had won big in that particular constituency.
His happiness was understandable but his explanation for the victory, however, was a little bizarre. He said the reason Barisan won the seat so easily was because Putrajaya was home to mainly civil servants. In other words, it was expected that these people will vote for the “government”.
Two points of clarification should be made here. Firstly, the freedom to choose is the right of every single Malaysian, regardless of job description. And secondly people don’t vote for a “government”, people vote for a party which will then form a government.
It’s all pretty basic Democracy 101 type stuff, but I guess for some it’s a lesson which is a little tough to grasp. Not surprising really, considering how terribly feudal our country is.
Why, just today I read that tribal leaders in Sarawak have been warned not to vote for the opposition. The last time I checked, the right to choose belonged to all Malaysians. I didn’t realise there was a tribal clause.
To a certain extent, I can understand why some people may think that once a party is in power then they deserve undying loyalty. It is a throwback to our days of absolute monarchs, chieftains and the like. You had an allegiance to your ruler, whoever that ruler might be and woe betide you if you were to be rebellious, or to use that most heinous of Malay words “derhaka”.
But times have changed and we are a democracy now. Or so we claim to be. If we are, then this thinking is simply not in line with our rights as citizens to choose our leader and to choose whoever we like as our leader. A feudal system is very much top down whereas a democracy moves the other way.
But like I said, I am not too surprised that we ordinary people may fail to understand and appreciate the power that is in our hands. I’m not surprised because the everyday business of governance in this country is infected with the trappings of feudalism.
Look around you – if you are in any public building, chances are you will see several portraits smiling benignly down at you a la Kim Jong Il. Apart from providing income to a bunch or photographers, printers and framers, I really don’t see the point in having these elected mugs smirking down at me. After all, what is important is the office, not the individual holding that office.
And although our national characteristic is one of politeness and respect, I don’t think it should degenerate to base toadying and brown nosing. It is distasteful to see grown men slobbering, bowing and scraping to elected officials who, let’s face it, are our servants and not the other way round.
Again, in a warped kind of way, I understand why people do this. These big shots have power. But then, even here there is a distortion of how things should be. They have power, that is true, but that power must not be in any way unlimited and the use of that power has to be accountable and transparent.
Because our system of governance lacks transparency and accountability, the amount of power wielded by the few is far too great and this merely feeds into the feudalistic thinking of the society we live in as people will prostrate themselves before someone whom they think can give them reward, regardless whether they should have such power to reward or not.
However, back to the Sarawak tribal chiefs. Michael Manyin, who is the Sarawak Infrastructure Development and Communication Minister, said in a speech that “tribal leaders are the government’s agents in developing local communities and are not supposed to go against the government”.
This may be true in the daily life of a tribal leader. He will have duties to carry out and he should not do anything to undermine that. However, during election time, there is no longer a “government”. There are only parties vying to be the next government and in that situation, a tribal leader or any other citizen for that matter can choose who they want.
It is one thing to have a populace that does not quite understand the full extent of their democratic rights, it is quite another thing to have leaders perpetuate a feudalistic atmosphere in order to keep their grip on power.
It is about time we realise that this country belongs to all of us, the citizens. It definitely does not belong to elected officials who are at the very most merely managers entrusted with the running of the nation and managers with no security of tenure because we can fire them.
And that is not “derhaka”, that is democracy.