Current Affairs

Democracy is not a waste of time

Wan Hamidi Hamid, Advisor for Roketkini

Sometimes, without realising it, we express something of a Mahathiristic tendency, such as describing anything democratic as a waste of time. Dr Mahathir Mohamad, 22 years in power as Prime Minister of Malaysia, once said that too much democracy could lead to violence and instability.

In a society when almost everything was controlled by the Barisan Nasional’s government-knows-best policy, the people could only access the information that was fed to them through the crony-controlled mass media. Even after Mahathir’s reign ended in late 2003, the spirit of Mahathirism continues to haunt us until today.

It is not surprising then that some of us, including many journalists, activists as well as politicians, who think elections (as part of democracy) are a waste of time. In actual truth, democracy involves a lot of process, as it must bring in people to discuss, to argue and to make decisions. It sounds nice on paper but in reality, democracy involves bringing in people with different interests, even antagonistic to each other, to agree on something.

However, that’s the only way democracy in a modern context – majority voice plus rights and freedom – can work properly. The alternative is either dictatorship or oligarchy.

Therefore, Mahathir knew that democracy would cripple his dream and fantasy of playing the role of father-knows-best when he felt challenged by Anwar Ibrahim’s growing popularity by the late 1990s. So He got rid of Anwar 16 years ago. As for Anwar, despite being comfortable being Mahathir’s henchman, he was actually bidding for time to provide more room for democracy.
Whether we believe Anwar or not, it was clear that democracy as the whole world understands it has no place under Mahathir’s rule. Under his reign, democracy was what he wanted it to be.

A waste of time and money?

Throughout Mahathir’s reign, it was common to hear phrases like “too many elections are a waste of time”, “too much democracy is not good for the country”. The question is how much is too much?

Let’s start with what we don’t have at the moment. We no longer have local council elections. We used to have those until the middle pf 1960s; they were suspended and later abolished. Today local councils and now city halls are run by government officials appointed by the federal government.

This means our housing areas, urban or rural plans, drainage system, roads and streets, bridges, pedestrian crossings, children’s playgrounds, shop lots, food stalls and many other amenities are decided and implemented by strangers whom we do not elect.
They are not answerable to us as residents, citizens and voters. They only answer to the federal government whose leaders know nothing of our local problems. That’s how we lost our basic rights to bureaucrats who believe they owe us nothing.

Now to something we have. Yes, we do have elections at state and federal levels. We go out to vote once in four or five years. That’s all we have for democracy. Mahathir has repeated his mantra for democracy since time immemorial, and many of us still believe him, that if we have more elections, it is a waste of time and money.

A waste of money? In 2012 it was reported that the Election Commission estimated a budget of RM700 million for 2013 General Election, i.e. RM400 million for the elections and RM300 millions for safety and security during the elections.

Let’s take this example that may sound simplistic to some people; if some big shots linked with BN did not abuse or cheat or steal RM12.5 billion from the PKFZ projects, the government could have use that money to conduct 17 general elections – this means it’s enough money to have general elections every five years for the next 85 years.

It’s true elections cost money but surely it’s better than allowing people’s money to be absconded by scoundrels whom we elected (although some were not) to be our trustees of public funds.

Wasting time to reform?

In a different angle of the Kajang by-election, the courts too played its role. It seemed strange that the court decided to set the dates of Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy II case and later seemed to rush the decision that effectively prevented the former deputy prime minister from contesting.

That’s just one case involving Anwar. He has many other cases that are smack of political persecution. Mahathir’s regime had molested our judiciary in the late 1980s, is it a waste of time to try to reform our deformed democracy?

While it’s true that Pakatan leaders need to review their political game, their critics should perhaps take a more comprehensive view about the whole Malaysian political scenario – where Goliath controls almost everything from the media to government machinery to schools, universities, agencies and departments while David has a nice little slingshot.

It doesn’t mean Pakatan can get away with murder, it merely states the point that one does not compare apple with oranges, what more Goliath with David, especially when journalists and writers analyse Malaysia’s flawed democracy. Perhaps that’s the reason some global progressive elements support the idea “advocacy journalism” as an alternative against mediocre media controlled by authoritarian ruling elites and their crony capitalists.

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