By Awang Abdillah Awang Nasser
MoCS Coordinator, Jepak
The PBB ‘leaders’ have all pledged to defend the status of Pehin Seri Taib Mahmud as the rightful Chief Minister of Sarawak as his party PBB alone had garnered 35 seats, and together with those won by the other BN component parties, the BN had attained the majority number of seats out of the total 71 seats in the DUN in the just concluded 10th state election held on 16 april 2011.
This achievement as what they claimed is what democracy is all about! We do not dispute the numbers nor the democratic ruling of majority rule. What we question is the modus operandi PBB deployed in the election that enabled them unlike the other BN parties to win all the 35 seats contested.
Senator Dato Idris Buang and YB Abdul Karim had even threatened to take action against those who demand that Pehin Seri Taib should step down as the CM by 13 august 2011.
Let us try to understand the concept of democracy in its’ entirety.
Democracy is not only about winning the majority number of seats in an election as claimed by Taib’s diehard loyalists nor is it only confined to the system of government as many are led to believe. The comprehensive meaning would aptly describe it as a kind of political system in a country. As to whether it remains as a theoretical concept or is being practised according to its theoretical principles and rules is another thing altogether.
Democracy is a political system where the ultimate political power in the country is vested in the masses or people . Unlike the political power vested in an elected government or a country’s ruler, the political power of the people is in the form of democratic rights and universal principles viz –
1. Rights of citizens to choose own government
Every citizen has an equal right to choose their own government through a fair and free process of the country’s election.
The general election is a process that gives every eligible individual an equal right to choose and vote candidates and political party of their choice free from coercion, intimidation, unlawful influences and the like, to be elected to the legislature ie the Parliament and in the case of state of Sarawak the DUN for a specific term usually 4 -5 years.
Setting a time limit is necessary to ensure power is returned back to the people since power vested in an elected government is a temporary one, to enable the people to evaluate the performance of the elected representatives and the administration, and to replace the representatives, or even change the leadership, party or the entire government if necessary in the next term.
2. Rights of the majority
Elected parliamentarians or DUN members would then proceed to form the government based on the principle of majority rule.
Any party or association of parties that has attained a simple majority of seats in the House holds the democratic right to form the government. The opposition parties or the people do not dispute this universal ruling. Formation of a government would technically mean the formation of the cabinet to enable the government to function. The minority party/parties would then automatically assume the role as the opposition. The role of the opposition is essentially to act as the check-and-balance in and outside the House acting as the watchdog for the people.
3. Rights of parliamentarians or DUN members to speak freely in the House
Since the members of the legislature are elected by the people, the role of the parliamentarians should be to act on behalf of the people’s interests esp on national and economic issues.
Hence all lawmakers should be granted full and equal rights and opportunities to speak and discuss issues affecting the nation or state irrespective of which camp they belong. No DUN member should be stopped from speaking his mind especially when questioning the government actions, let alone suspend him from the sitting for any period of time.
Such act is a violation of the people‘s rights vested in all the DUN members. Hence the appointment of the Parliament or DUN Speaker must be a person who is nonpartisan to any particular member in the House irrespective of the latter’s standing or affiliation, to ensure any abuse of power by the Executive can be checked and curtailed inside the Dewan before the malpractices get out of control as what is happening in our state.
On the other hand if the Speaker is a partisan to a particular leader or party, and acts to restrain members of the opposition from speaking during session time, then such acts will kill democracy on the spot, but if he goes overboard by overprotecting the government ministers (acting on instructions from the CM of course) where the questioner is given the boot such as suspension for questioning the Chief Minister’s actions, then he has literally thrown out the democratic system and turned the honourable House into an unfit and shameful demonic institution.
Hence the Chief Minister have made a 2nd hijacking of democracy inside the DUN!
The House is supposed to be a venue for intellectual discourse,debate , dissemination of information on state and national issues.
4. Rights of the judiciary
It is mandatory that the elected government should uphold the independence of the judiciary free from interferences by the former or any politician at all times to ensure all citizens irrespective of their positions and affiliations are treated equally before the law. This universal ruling is to ensure justice and truth are upheld and executed by the courts in the country.
5. Freedom of the media
The authorities should allow the print and electronic media to provide independent news and reports free from government control to ensure the public receive unbias and uncensored information .
6. Basic human rights
The people must have the freedom of speech and writing without any harassment or threats from the authorities to enable the people to air their opinions freely without fear on any public issue.
7. Duties and responsibilities of the elected government
A. Duties of an elected government
Since the members of the DUN are in the first place elected by the people ,the role of the government is rightly to serve the latter. Policies formulated , and duties and responsibilities executed must adhere to the democratic and universal principles, the rule of law and good practices.
It is the duty of the elected government to devise economic plans for the economic development and progress of the state and the people, create and channel wealth, provide business, employment opportunities and public facilities for the people to raise their standard of living in all fields.
No member of the cabinet should serve his own personal vested interests viz indulging in abusing his position and status to acquire State wealth and resources for themselves, usurping government funds, award public projects and works for oneself and cronies, trafficking in illicit funds to buy votes during an election, and commit other malpractices.
The cabinet is answerable to the people for whatever actions the ministers have committed. The political leaders should not appoint any henchmen to defend their wrongful acts as what is happening right now!
Henchman the likes of Dato Idris Buang who want to protect his rice bowl (most of these henchmen have rice bowls as big as a kawah) is coming out in the open in full force to defend their master.
B. Responsibilities of an elected government
Ensure that national and state elections are conducted free from all kinds of unlawful acts and malpractices; the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law; freedom of the media; freedom of speech and writing and others; special agencies like the MACC should be given the free hand to investigate malpractices especially corrupt acts committed by any power abuser and their henchmen and cronies, irrespective of one’s status.
The Executive must uphold all these democratic rights and universal principles and the rule of law in executing its duties and responsibilities in order to achieve good governance.
C. Democracy is vulnerable
Like any system, democracy has its own loopholes. Problems arise when it comes to implementation:-
(i) The people decide the success of democracy
The success of the democratic system depends on the ability of the people to exercise their rights. In the first place the system assumes that the people can think freely and independently on their own to decide and choose who they want to elect as representatives to the legislature.
In the Sarawak context this is a serious problem because the rural people are generally poor and ignorant, hence they do not know about their potent rights in a democratic system of government.
Generally they cannot think and decide for themselves. This explains why PBB managed to win all the 35 seats in the 10th state election, unlike the other component parties especially SUPP where the urban electorate can decide freely and independently on their own as to who to choose among the candidates and parties.
PBB took advantage of this phenomenon fully for the last 30 years through money politics, trafficking in illicit funds to buy rural votes etc!
Not surprising then the rural people will choose only candidates that use the PBB/BN symbol ‘dacing’ and not otherwise.
The Chief Minister have made the first hijacking of democracy during election time!
(ii) Though there are many democratic rights that are beneficial to the rakyat, sometimes these rights can be abused by irresponsible individuals.
Hence it is necessary that the relevant authorities monitor such activities.
Measures to safeguard the true democratic system:-
1. Essential to have a strong opposition in the legislature
To safeguard the system from abuses of power, an effective and outspoken opposition in the legislature is very essential esp in the case of Malaysia.
Therefore our State needs to have more opposition members in the Dewan for this purpose. The power of the Speakers must be reviewed and limited to that of conducting mainly the sessions. He cannot overrule the rights of the YBs to speak freely.
2. Imperative to educate the rural people
The opposition should not only expose the abuses of power and other malpractices committed by the politicians in power but more important to educate the rural people whose mindset have been spoilt, to know the importance of their democratic rights and universal principles for the bettement of themselves.
3. Role of other entities and agencies
The media and special agencies like the MACC should be brave enough to stand up and speak at least for themselves that Sarawak and Malaysia need to change in order to move forward ,otherwise our State and nation may end up like some Middle Eastern and South American countries, where there is anarchy and sufferings of the people.
4. Last line of defence
If all democratic measures have failed to dislodge power abusers in the State, the only line of defence left which is stil part and parcel of democracy is the loose association of brave men, free fighters, NGOs, media, members of public and others who can act to prevent Sarawak from heading towards anarchy, authoritarian or dictatorship rule etc.
We have witnessed in many so called democratic countries, corruptors, autocrats and even dictators can thrive within the democratic system.
These last men standing is our only hope to bring positive changes to the state. They can do it through exerting pressures for individual leaders to resign from their posts before they commit more harm. If leaders have crossed the red line too far inside the people’s territory, then it is only fair that the last line of defenders push them back to the original line.
This can be done by making demands and peaceful demonstrations as the defenders of true democracy.
Acts of pressure and criminal imtimidation against a third party are two different terms, the latter implying harm to the third party. Acts of pressure such as making demands for one’s resignation and calls for demo if he refuses to bow to pressure are still within the ambit of democracy.
Setting a dateline would give the other party time to exit in an honourable way.
The opposition parties can refer the acts of the Sarawak state government to the UN body or the International Court of Justice for violations of democratic rights and universal principles.