Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Rule of Law, Not Rule By Majority

Written by johnleemk on 2:16:27 pm Jun 3, 2007.
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There is a common misconception that in a democracy, 51% of the electorate can override the wishes of the other 49%, even ordering genocide by decree if they wanted to.

This is not so; it may be true in the idealised dystopic world of some political scientists, but in reality, no democracy is a democracy for very long if it implements a tyranny of the majority.

There is however a worrying tendency amongst many people to assume that all branches of government must always reflect the views of the majority, no matter what, without regard for the rule of law.

In a democracy, the laws created by the institutions are to be enforced and followed, regardless of whether the majority benefits or is harmed by them.

In the West, it is not possible for white policemen to gun down suspicious-looking black men on the excuse that these people are probably criminals, or that this coldblooded murder benefits the majority white population.

Similarly, when the courts interpret the law, they are supposed to have only one thing in mind — what the law says. To allow the majority to impose its will on the minority by coercing the courts into following a false interpretation of the law is to throw the door open to anarchy.

The institutions of a country do not exist to provide a semblance of organisation to the messy process of enforcing a tyranny of the majority. A civilised country is ruled by what the statute books have to say, not by the whims and fancies of the majority.

In some "democracies", the branches of government which are directly or indirectly elected by the citizens seem to think they can lord it over the unelected branch, which is usually the judiciary.

But all that does is raise the question, what is supreme in a civilised nation? Is it the will of the majority, or the will of the constitution? In some idealised dystopic "democracy", the will of the majority may be supreme, but in the real world, any self-respecting civilised society knows that it is the law which takes priority.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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