Malaysians Deserve Better Than Troops in the Streets
Events are moving faster than my addled mind can keep up with. I was thinking about writing something on the shocking revelations about our Deputy Prime Minister two nights ago; the events of yesterday nixed that and gave me fodder for the beginnings of a new piece on the ridiculousness of this whole fiasco. But rather than focus on the amazing material we have for political gossip, I'd like to go back to the final lines of a piece I wrote for the Malaysian Insider earlier this week, which I just republished here:
Change has come by way of the ballot box, rather than the barrel of a gun. Let's work to keep change coming this way.Nat Tan has written about the need to keep the army off our streets; I think that is a sentiment we all have to second. Although I will not be able to attend the rally tomorrow, and I am sure most of us would simply not want to chance things, it is important to realise that we are responsible for making sure that no man, be he Abdullah, Mahathir, Najib or Anwar, and no organisation, be it Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Rakyat, or the government, can coerce the Malaysian people into siding with them.
I inadvertently found myself on the sidelines of our latest scandals yesterday. Passing through KL Sentral, I saw dozens, if not hundreds of combat fatigue-clad soldiers milling around the train station, apparently waiting for something. I headed to the Prince Hotel in Kuala Lumpur for a conference on human resources, and while I listened to a speaker drone on about the importance of "walking the talk", downstairs, the man of the moment, private investigator Balasubramaniam, was convening a hastily-called press conference to retract his statement that the Deputy Prime Minister was involved in the Altantuya fiasco. That night, at a mamak, I joked with friends about the possibility of a coup, noting that the two men who might be at the centre of it — the Inspector-General of the Police and the Defence Minister — both stand accused by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of shocking crimes.
Jokes aside, the notion of military involvement in daily life is simply revolting. One of the few things we can truly be proud of is that except for a brief interlude between 1969 and 1971, we have never had to resort to the military to keep the peace; any claim the BN government might have left to preserving law and order definitely lies in tatters now that, as I write, military vehicles surround the Kelana Jaya Stadium where the opposition plans to hold a rally tomorrow.
When a country has to rely on its military to keep from falling apart, the country is in danger: it is at war with someone. The implication now is that the country is at war with itself, as it was in some parts in May 1969. When the police are not enough to keep the peace, we are in deep trouble.
Of course, this sounds alarmist; this is because there is no such thing. Snatch thieves and rapists aside, the only criminals who threaten the safety of the nation are likely somewhere in Putrajaya. It is the government which has ordered the military to intervene in public affairs that is the true party at fault here.
After all, does the government really expect a million people to crowd into a stadium which fits 50,000 and can reportedly seat only 25,000? Why does a simple demonstration merit military intervention? We have had larger and more controversial rallies, in more turbulent times, without the need for the military to get involved.
The thin veneer of farcical BN-style democracy is no longer enough to clothe our naked emperor; this regime is far too transparently undemocratic. When you are now using the barrel of the gun to get your way, you cannot call this a democracy. When you use the threat of armed men staring down the very people they are supposed to protect, intimidating them lest they dare, gasp, say what they think, you have lost whatever right you might have had to claim that you run a democratic country.
This is no longer about politics, because nothing truly involving the people of the country can ever be just "about politics". No, this is about the way we lead our lives, about how we want to live. Do we want to live as free men, or do we want to live as the servants and slaves of a corrupt few who treat our land as their personal fiefdom?
When it comes down to everything, the question of what government we want to have, the question of what policies we want, the question of liberty — they're all just one simple question: how do we want to live? We cannot live like dignified human beings when the people with power over us are chosen by a colonial power several thousand miles away. But neither can we lead a life of dignity when the people with power over us deny us the right to choose our leaders, deny us the right to say what we bear in our hearts.
And when someone threatens us with force, be they the Queen of England, the Defence Minister, or even our own King himself, they are not just threatening to deprive us of our dignity, but our lives. We have to choose: life or our own self-respect. We could not live this way under the British, the Japanese, the Communists; we fought back.
I am not saying we should take up arms and rise up against this government which persists in tearing its own legitimacy and respectability to tatters, day after day. Neither ought we resort to placing our trust in unelected, symbolic monarchs to intervene politically; it sets a precedent for them to coerce us in the future. This is, after all, supposed to be a constitutional democracy; resisting an infringement of our way of life is as simple as making your voice heard.
You don't have to defend any particular person or viewpoint. All you have to believe in is Malaysia and Malaysians: you have to believe that we deserve to live our lives the way we, ourselves, decide. You have to insist that there is a better way than Malaysians being told what to do, what to think, what to believe in at gunpoint, blackmailed with the ultimate threat.
Thomas Jefferson famously said that the tree of liberty needs to be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. I would not like to see blood spilled; nobody wants that to happen. But the onus is on our elected, "democratic" government to respect our right to do what we want, not as opposition supporters or government supporters, not as Malays or non-Malays, not as cronies or average Joes, but as citizens of Malaysia and as human beings.
When a government is forced to threaten its own people to get its way, when a government has to put armed men on the streets to scare the very people they are meant to protect, something has gone wrong. You don't need a rocket scientist to tell you that. Regardless of what happens during and after the rally tomorrow, let us all, wherever we fall on the political spectrum, however we feel about our fellow Malaysians, put these differences aside and work together for a Malaysian way forward. Let us work together to achieve change in a peaceful and democratic way; let us work together to keep our government actually one of the people, by the people, and for the people.