An afternoon with Ban Ki-moon ― Part 1

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By Dyana Sofya

FEBRUARY 16 ― Last Friday I was privileged to take part in an event hosted by the United Nations Association of the United Kingdom and Chatham House, the London-based independent policy institute ranked second most influential in the world.

Central Hall Westminster was the venue for “The UN at 70: Time to invest in our global system ― A conversation with Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General.”

Upon reaching the historic building, opposite Westminster Abbey and adjacent to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, I joined several hundred others in queue to get in.

A slight London drizzle and chilly winds was not going to stop aspiring world leaders, young professionals and university students from all over the world from attending what promised to be a prestigious event.

Although I had hoped for a far more intense engagement and discussion on current issues plaguing the international community across the world, the discourse was somewhat general and light, but inspiring enough to make the over 2,000 participants ― myself included ― feel hopeful and motivated to change the world.

Mr Ban spoke a little bit about his childhood days. He grew up in a time of civil war, the Korean War between 1950-1953.

Divided by ideology, he saw how his country was torn into two, with the Americans backing the South and the Chinese and Soviets assisting the North.

As the war unfolded in front of the six-year-old Ban Ki-Moon, his family had to flee their home and came to rely on the United Nations’ assistance for food and medicine.

Seeing how the international organisation impacted his life and helped his country to recover and rebuild, Mr Ban became determined to pursue a career in international relations.

Eventually, he became the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade for South Korea and later was elected as the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations in 2006, succeeding Kofi Annan.

Mr Ban advised young people not to take wealth, happiness and stability for granted. He went further by saying that young people do not appreciate wealth, happiness and stability as much as his generation did, or those who live in more difficult parts of the world.

“Democracy and all these sacrifices has built you up and made you strong”, was what he told us. I for one was moved by his talk. Indeed, too many of us, especially among the young, take democracy for granted. How many of us actually fathom what democracy, and the elements required for it to truly exist?

The UN General Assembly and former Commission on Human Rights (predecessor of the Human Rights Council) spent years crafting the common principles, norms, standard and values that today form the basis of what we accept as democracy.

The following are what has been declared the essential elements of democracy: Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; Freedom of association: Freedom of expression and opinion; Access to power and its exercise in accordance with the rule of law; The holding of periodic free and fair elections by universal suffrage and by secret ballot as the expression of the will of the people; A pluralistic system of political parties and organisation; The separation of powers; The independence of judiciary; Transparency and accountability in public administration; Free, independent and pluralistic media.

Without a doubt, all these elements of democracy are echoed in the supreme law of our land – the Federal Constitution. These elements were further infused into our lives through the Rukunegara (including its preamble).

Unfortunately, anyone reading the news headlines in our country for the last few years should be forgiven for believing that democracy in Malaysia has been neglected, abused and worse, trampled upon by the very system that was supposed to safeguard it.

In Malaysia, cartoonists are charged with sedition, academics are muzzled and even graphic artists are put under police surveillance simply for uploading a caricature of the prime minister.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s electoral system is beset by irregularities and unfairness (read: gerrymandering, vote-buying, incidents of violence, abuse of government resources to campaign for political parties).

Malaysia’s Opposition Leader languishes in prison on politically motivated charges while other opposition MPs face all sorts of criminal charges. The mainstream media is fully controlled by the ruling regime and websites that carry “sensitive” stories are banned.

Our democracy was supposed to be the building blocks of our country’s progress into modern and developed nationhood, but over time, it has been manipulated to benefit those with vested interests and greedy politicians.

Certainly, the state of the nation today is not what our founding fathers imagined for us when they built this country. Therefore, it is important that we young people do more than just sit around (or migrate!) and watch our beloved motherland being plundered by these new age philistines.

In a room of people maintaining a conspiracy of silence, we should be the ones voicing out the truth, never mind if we have to shoot our mouth off. We should not take our hard-earned democracy and independence for granted.

We may come from different sides of the divide but our loyalty and interest should lie with our country rather than our political masters. We must re-learn, re-value and reclaim our democracy, our independence and our Malaysia.

For those who are interested, please sign up for our next Sekolah Demokrasi intake.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

  • Malay Mail Online
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