Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Malaysia Disproves Its Claim to Democracy Yet Again

Written by johnleemk on 4:22:22 pm Dec 5, 2007.
Categories: ,

That infamous waste of Malaysian taxes otherwise known as the BERSIH November rally has been the scourge of this administration in recent weeks. Our Information Minister, Zainuddin Maidin, made a now-infamous appearance on international television insisting that Malaysia is a democracy.

His defence was pretty standard, tacking to the typical administration line pretty closely. Malaysia is a democracy because we have the ballot box, bla bla bla. Nothing we haven't heard before.

But, of course, we know that democracy is about more than voting. Voting is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. Democracy is that end.

Democracy is about the people making their own choices and decisions. Elections are one method of expressing your opinions, but so are public demonstrations, broadcast media, meeting with government officials, and so forth.

Now, we know that these things are frowned upon by the Malaysian government unless the views expressed coincide with those of the party in power. Zainuddin (or Zam, as he seems to be commonly known) has been particularly proud of trampling upon democracy in this way.

Not too long ago, he once again proved decisively that there is no democracy in Malaysia. This time, he said that a non-governmental organisation had no right to meet with the Prime Minister to air their grievances because they were not supported by enough people. He further added that because another group already had the government's imprimatur to represent the same constituency as this NGO, the NGO was redundant and could be told to shove off. (I am referring of course to the Hindu Rights Action Force and its attempt to meet the Prime Minister.)

On the face of it, this sounds democratic. After all, the crux of democracy is popular support. But at the same time, democracy is not a tyranny of the majority — it can try to be, but it will be difficult to remain one for very long.

It is one thing to demand popular support for a policy or politician. It is another thing to demand popular support for the right to support a policy or politician. Zam has basically said that the government does not care about your concerns unless you are in the majority.

He has naturally done this in the past, insisting that opposition politicians not be given any media attention because a majority of the country does not support them. But this is a perversion of democracy — airing their views is not the same as endorsing them.

The Prime Minister naturally cannot meet with all his constituents, or every interest group that comes along. It is simply not practical. But to deny people the right to see him because they do not have enough support, or because they clash with another interest group the government already favours — as opposed to doing so because the Prime Minister is just too busy — how is that democratic at all?

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