Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Time Malaysians Forced Our Institutions To Do Their Jobs

Written by johnleemk on 6:01:06 pm Mar 19, 2009.

The first anniversary of March 8 is nigh, and more than ever, Malaysians just want politicians to stop politicking and get back to the business of governing. Unfortunately, that is a wish we are not likely to see fulfilled any time soon. For the politicking to end, somebody has to blink and back down—and that is not in the interest of anyone, whether their allegiance lies with Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat. The true responsibility for ending this political crisis lies with the rakyat, not with the politicians.

After all, what incentive do either Barisan or Pakatan have to stop this nonsense? Barisan is sure as hell not going to say "Okay, Zambry will quit as Menteri Besar—we're really sorry we toppled your democratically-elected government. Let's figure out how to fix this economy and finally consign racism to the dustheap of Malaysian history!" Neither will Pakatan say "Fine, we won't contest your claim to Perak—you won power fair and square. Let's work together on those economic issues you mentioned!" If either of them did this, they'd be the laughing stock of the country, and they'd have absolutely nothing to gain from it.

We will not have any political peace until the next general election, because there is no good reason for either Barisan or Pakatan to quit when they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from battling each other. Honestly, if either party just lay down and did nothing, would we still get peace? If Barisan gave up, Pakatan would be harassing it to no end, and vice-versa: either way, little governing would get done, and the politicking would continue.

If we want peace to be enforced, we need an external enforcer: an institution. Our institutions are supposed to be the non-political pushback against politicking; they're supposed to be those things that remind politicians there's also governing to be done, because otherwise nobody would ever bother with governing until they had all the power there is to be had. And so we have the Police. We have the Anti-Corruption Commission. We have the judiciary. We even have the royal families, who have a poorly-defined but nevertheless definitely real role to play in the political process. If these institutions were actually interested in forcing us back to the business of governing, they could definitely do it.

Unfortunately for us, all these institutions just don't give a shit. They are all either in the pocket of Barisan, completely apathetic about the realities of the political situation, or both. We are in completely unknown territory now, because almost all these institutions have proven to be very politically selective in doing their jobs, or very blind to the laws that give our institutions effect in the first place. Instead of reducing the problems of politics, our institutions are actually exacerbating and worsening them.

And truth be told, I am not very sympathetic to people who just want all this to be over so that our government can go back to business as usual. It's not that I disagree with them; as exciting as all this political news is, it's very bad for the economic situation and very bad for our long-term institutional stability. But all these crises we are going through right now are just symptoms of deeper instabilities within our political system.

Even if Barisan and Pakatan agreed to work together, the partnership would not last. Barisan and Pakatan have fundamentally different ideas about how to fix the economy, about how to tackle social ills like racial and religious tensions, and about how to reform our institutions. Even if we could push a button and instantly end all the legal and political tumult about Perak and every other political quandary in this country, if we cannot decisively establish a stable and functioning system of government and institutions, the exact same problems would remain.

So if institutions can't be that external force to end this all, only two options remain: democratic revolution or dictatorial coup. While I am obviously exaggerating to some extent—I don't think we're all that close to becoming another tinpot dictatorship or banana republic just yet—these are ultimately the only ways to end this crisis of politics. Either put the decision back to the people, or take the decision completely out of their hands—these are the only ways to truly and decisively end the crisis.

Right now, the call for fresh elections in Perak continues, in spite of the Perak Sultan's clear decision to favour Barisan's politics in this battle. Even if I were a betting man, I wouldn't put money on fresh elections being held soon; all the institutions and machinery of the state play to Barisan's favour. But elections are the only way to end this embarrassing stalemate in the state assembly and halt either Pakatan or Barisan in their tracks.

A much likelier scenario is the federal government declaring an emergency in Perak and taking over the administration, as it has done on other occasions. This is an old and hallowed tradition of the federal government, overriding the wishes of the people of the states; it dates back to the administrations of Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Hussein Onn. If outright emergency does not do it, a fresh Operation Lalang—perhaps under a new and less gentlemanly Prime Minister—should finally put all this political instability to rest.

So, unless the politicians of one party or the other go completely insane and suddenly lay down arms, it seems we are set for some kind of dramatic and drastic end to our present political woes. The obvious question is whether the only thing we can do is wait for this to ride itself out while still ineffectually calling for fresh elections or quixotically begging our politicians to stop politicking. And I think there is a way out: forcing our institutions to do their jobs again.

If we cannot speak our minds at the ballot box, we have no choice but to speak our minds on the streets and in the media. We must make it abundantly clear to our politicians and institutions that if they do not allow our will to be heard and continue to stand in the way of good government, they will pay a very heavy price in the end. In a democracy, there must be a democratic solution to political problems; it falls to the rakyat, not the politicians, to find this democratic solution.

We do not need new polls to democratically end this crisis. All we need to do is to force our institutions to once more do the jobs they were created to do, and to force our politicians to defer to the judgment of the rakyat, instead of obsessing about their own petty power-grabs. Taking these demands to the streets and the airwaves is not irresponsible; it is simply taking responsibility for the governance of our country and the future of our democracy.

First published in The Malaysian Insider.

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