Why You, Mr. Malaysian, Need Democracy
Or: Fuck the Malaysian government. For a brief moment, I I seriously considered using that sentence for the title of this article, because that is really all I feel at the moment. After the events of the past month, I simply cannot and do not understand how anyone can be sympathetic at all to those in power, to those who say we do not need any more than the little illiberal democracy we have (if that is democracy at all).
To anyone still pretending we are a democracy, despite my complete demolition of this notion on so many occasions (the most recent being when the Prime Minister refused to meet with representatives from a non-governmental organisation), today's events should be far more than sufficient refutation of this completely bankrupt belief.
Where do we begin? Should it be with Anwar Ibrahim, who was detained after being told he was on an immigration blacklist, and only released after questioning? How is it democratic to prevent a Malaysian citizen from returning to his home country, simply because he is an opposition politician? How is it democratic to effectively criminalise dissent from the ruling party?
Or should it be with the recent arrest of a hundred lawyers and civil society activists, who were simply walking down a sidewalk in Kuala Lumpur? You can make the argument that the BERSIH rally last month, and the more recent Hindu Rights Action Force rally deserved to be dispersed. It's a horrible argument, but you can feasibly make it without sounding more than a bit stupid.
But what do you do with a hundred lawyers and activists who wouldn't hurt a fly? Who weren't blocking traffic? Who were just walking around, down the sidewalk? How the bloody hell is that a crime? Is walking down the street now a crime if it has anything to do with opposition to the government?
The greatest irony is that these people weren't even doing this as a show of political support for any organisation. If Barisan Nasional stands for the happiness and prosperity of the Malaysian people, it has no choice but to stand for human rights — the right to pursue happiness, the right to believe what you want to believe, the right to think what you what to think. That is what the Bar Council and its friends were walking down the sidewalk for — and you arrest them for that?
Or how about today's events at Parliament? A bunch of opposition politicians and activists came to Parliament to submit a memorandum. They weren't disrupting traffic. They weren't harming anyone. They were exercising the democratic right of dialogue with one's representatives, on property paid for and maintained by their taxes. Nobody got molotov cocktails thrown at them; nobody was attacked.
Naturally, what happens is the Police enter the grounds of Parliament and arrest the politicians and activists — some of them right in front of the Leader of the Opposition. Then they confiscate the car of an opposition leader and torch it. What kind of fucking crime is it to drive to Parliament to talk with the delegates you elected? What kind of fucking democracy is this?
Now, maybe you don't care about democracy. Maybe you're a purist "bread-and-butter" voter. Fine. But ultimately, democracy is inseparable from your bread and butter. If you look at history, real democracy and putting food on the table are basically the same.
Before democracy, before this idea of equality before the law, the government could do anything it liked to you. It could take away your home, put you in jail, exile you to a foreign land — whatever it liked. That's how things worked in pretty much every dictatorship on record.
Democracy has enshrined this idea that you have the right to hold property — that you have the right to own things, and to decide how to use them. That you are master of yourself, of your own will, and of the things you earn by exercising your own judgment and making your own decisions. That is democracy in a nutshell.
When you take away the right of people to make their own decisions, to make their own judgments, to be their own masters — when you subjugate them to the will of another equally fallible human being as if that person knows better than you what really makes you happy — you have basically taken away every right that a human being can have.
You may think your rights aren't important — but you are wrong. Freedom is what lets you choose to work, lets you choose what to study, lets you choose who to work for, lets you choose which school to send your children to, lets you choose what food to eat. All these are freedoms — fundamental freedoms. And they all boil down to the freedom to do what makes you happy as long as that doesn't harm anyone else.
Maybe you say, "Well, in that case, don't bother the gomen and they won't disturb you lah! What for make so much trouble?" But the problem is, democracy is all about bothering the government. If we aren't going to put our representatives on the spot and demand that they work for us, that they implement policies which will ensure our right to pursue happiness and satisfaction, if we are just going to keep voting for and supporting them until kingdom come, what is the point of holding elections? What is the point of maintaining even a facade of democracy?
The problem with this thinking is that it assumes the only reason you would dissent is because you like making trouble. But we all dissent from the government everyday — we do it not because we are troublemakers, but because we feel that something is just not right. As even the Prime Minister admitted a few days ago, things are not perfect in Malaysia. As long as things are not perfect, there will be mistakes to point out and disagreements on how to address them.
In other words, each and every one of us will disagree with the government at one point or another. We already do this everyday. If the government can lock lawyers up for walking down the street, and torch the cars of opposition leaders, we're only a hop and a skip away from throwing people in jail for voting for the opposition or simply pointing out an error in government policy. If we say that the right to drive where we like or marry who we love depends on whether we like the government of the day, we might as well say that there is simply no right to lead our lives as we wish.
When the government says that it has the right to stop you from doing something which does not harm anyone else, it is putting an end to this fundamental freedom — the right to seek out what makes you happy, what fulfills you, what gives your life meaning. When the government says you can't marry this person, you can't practice this religion, you can't attend this school, you can't walk down this street, it is basically saying that you have no such right to be happy.
And that is why democracy matters — because in a democracy, there is no such arbitrary "I know what's best for you" decider. When every man is equal before the law, no man has the right to tell another how he should run his life. Democracy is as vital to our existence as the very air we breathe, and to so repugnantly disdain it as this government repeatedly has for the over five decades it has been in power is not just a crime against democrats or opposition politicians. It is a crime against every Malaysian who wants to be happy. It is a crime that cannot be tolerated any longer.