Democracy at the crossroads?


Holding regular, free, and fair elections is the essence of parliamentary democracy.

I’M referring to the situations in certain cases only: Hong Kong, USA, Myanmar, and my own beloved country, Malaysia. These countries are hogging the print media and online.

Are we seeing the beginning of the end of a democratic system of government in these countries? Is half a loaf really better than no bread?

In the case of Hong Kong, it was simply a matter of time. The world almost expected that, even before the expiry of the 50-year period of the ‘One-Country Two Systems’ rule, China, the mother country would start to whittle away the safeguards, gradually assuming full control of the former British Colony. It looks as though eventually Hong Kong will be administered directly from Beijing.

This is the end of free and fair elections, in terms of electing a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. The Hong Kongers have the choice of staying put and living under the direct rule from Beijing, or leaving for another country, if there is such a possibility. In this case, Great Britain, the former ruler of Hong Kong, has given a chance to a limited number of the present Hong Kongers to settle in that country. Being the former ruler, Britain obviously feels it has the moral responsibility to provide shelter and eventually citizenship to those people.  For those who can afford to live elsewhere, it is a case of ‘half a loaf is better than no bread’. For the rest, however, there is no choice but to adapt to the ‘new normal’. It is not what the majority of Hong Kongers want, but what is the choice?

Murdering democracy 

In the United States of America, people whose forefathers had pledged to uphold democratic rule have recently made a mockery of democracy itself. You know who I mean – those who attacked the Capitol, killed a policeman, and generally wrecked the place. They saw fit to question the presidential election results, unable to stomach the fact that Trump had lost the presidency. Of course, there are accepted channels to question results of elections. That is a democratic right, but once the results are known and certified as correct by the independent authorities, that is the end of questioning the outcome. Accept the results and prepare to fight another day, in four years’ time. That would have been a democratic strategy to adopt. Only poor losers, egged on by the chief loser himself would choose to attack the symbol of democracy itself.

Whether the attackers were under instruction of the former President, or not, remains to be determined by his former peers. Under impeachment, allow him to defend himself. That is being democratic too.

The threat to the American democratic credentials seems to be over for the moment.

Danger nearer home

In Myanmar, the army has taken over the job of an elected government, and charged Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy icon with the crime of keeping walkie- talkies in her house. This is not the first time the army usurped power of a civilian government. In 1962, the then Prime Minister of Burma, U Nu, was deposed by General Ne Win, chairman of the Revolutionary Council. In the current crisis, it looks like the end of democracy for Myanmar. No more elections for one whole year, at least, plenty of time for the generals to entrench their positions. Even if there will be elections of sorts, I wonder if Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to stand for election again. She and her party are likely to win big again in fair and free elections. As such, they will pose a danger to the army again. What’s the odds that she will be banned, or simply disqualified?

And on the home front 

The big question is when will the general election be held. We hope that it will be held when it is safe to hold one – after the defeat of Covid-19. The big worry is the ongoing political power struggle in Peninsular Malaysia. We don’t know when those involved will stop pulling each other to pieces, down the road, and into the gutter. Maybe general elections could settle the problem of the Malay leadership in the peninsula.

The voters in Sarawak are waiting for the time to choose their MPs: competent men and women who can articulate their interests as well as their fears. Sarawakians are concerned about a federal government run by people with extreme religious and racial agendas. They are concerned about rampant corruption in high places, and anxious about the outcome of discussions on their state rights, distribution of wealth, regional disparities, native rights, and many other issues awaiting resolutions by the government of the day.

Our place in the sun

At the crossroads of democracy in several countries in this part of the world, perhaps, we Malaysians need to show the world that democracy is still alive in our country. We want to show the world that all our administrative institutions are functioning normally, especially the civil service. Our armed forces will not seize power from the civilian government. Our police will investigate reports of crimes thoroughly, without fear or favour. Our judicial is impartial and independent, the judges’ judgments beyond criticism. Once a malefactor has been sentenced, the sentence will be carried out, pronto. Corrupt officials continue to be prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished according to law.

It’s high time we amended the Federal Constitution to outlaw party hopping by elected legislators. Any MP who abandons his party automatically gives up his seat, and a by-election be held to choose a new member.

Come on, KL, fix a date for the holding of the general election, and the period within which a government must be formed after a general election. A Prime Minister who has lost the majority support among the legislators, in the meantime, must resign his position, together with his entire cabinet. And while we’re on the topic – reduce the federal cabinet to a rational size.

These are some ideas which might help preserve democracy as the Malaysian way of life for many years to come.

Please accept my greetings of the Season – Kong Hee Fatt Choy!

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected].