A campaign of courage
Our writer argues that all conscientious Malaysians, including BN component parties, should support the Bersih rally because they deserve a capable government.
Why is the rally for electoral reforms such a political hot potato? Why this gush of threats and calls for the punishment of the Bersih rally organisers? Why is the Barisan Nasioanl hegemony so fearful of electoral reforms? Why shouldn’t it support free, fair and clean elections?
Bertrand Russell once propounded the theory that bad leadership in a democracy is a logical impossibility. “The electorate always get the leaders they deserve. No matter how incompetent or venal the leaders are, the electorate must have been even worse to have elected them.”
But this cynical view cannot apply to Malaysia. The Malaysian experience has shown that it is possible for good citizens to get bad leaders.
Malaysians deserve a capable government. Not only must the best men and women among the candidates across the political divide win elections; they must also be elected under democratic principles supervised by a truly independent body.
Ministers and Members of Parliament should not be chosen because they are somebody’s cronies or through political horse trading or by back-door means, as in the appointment of senators among election losers.
The electorate must have all fair and just opportunities to elect the best governing team for the country.
That is why Malaysians must strive for changes in the electoral landscape.
In 2005, the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), with support from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, published a study of the existing electoral system in Malaysia. With contributions from more than a dozen distinguished academicians, it gives us one of the best analyses of Malaysia’s electoral history.
“The general conclusion reached in this assessment of the current state of Malaysia’s electoral system is that Malaysian elections cannot be considered reasonably free and fair because they do not fulfil the functions required of them in formal democratic theory,” the authors wrote.
The rather silly official rebuttal against claims of unfairness and unjust elections is that the large voter turnout is a clear indication of public confidence in the electoral process.
And then there is the even more perverted argument that the opposition’s gains in the last general election proved that Malaysian elections are free and fair and the Election Commission is indeed independent.
That Malaysian elections are not conducted fairly is not just an allegation from opposition parties; it is also the observation of non-partisan citizens. No intelligent Malaysian can deny that the Barisan Nasional (BN) uses public institutions and public agencies to help it win elections and no thinking observer can fail to notice that it often resorts to threats, intimidation and bribery.
Those who know something of the history of Malaysian elections cannot fail to note that the system is diseased. Except for the 1969 and 2008 elections, BN has consistently been re-positioned with two thirds of the majority in Parliament although this is not reflected in its share of the popular vote.
Since the advent of the Internet, there has been an increase in documented evidence of BN’s ghetto politicking and various forms of blatant unethical campaign practices.
What is morally wrong cannot be politically correct, despite the perverted thinking among the leadership of the BN component parties, especially the MCA.
Indeed, the hypocrisy of the current MCA leadership is in stark contrast to the thinking of the party’s founding fathers. Hence, it should surprise no one to hear MCA recently threatening action against members planning to participate in the July 9 Bersih rally.
MCA’s current leaders, if they were true to the party’s founding ideals, should instead revisit the efforts of their predecessors to ensure a just political system.
In 1986, the MCA leadership voiced out, albeit discreetly, its disquiet over a range of unfair practices it attributed to the Umno leadership. Some of these had to do with the Chinese being under-represented in the BN government. MCA leaders had a pessimistic view of the future. They felt that the Umno hegemony would continue to cause an erosion of Chinese political power.
The leadership frankly admitted in a report: “The BN system in itself poses an inherent disadvantage for the Chinese community.
“This system gives the ruling elite in Umno the built-in opportunity to exploit intra-party divisions within Barisan to their advantage.”
The report also criticised the political bias in the delineation of electoral constituencies, citing the repeated amendment of the Federal Constitution to give heavier weight to rural constituencies, which it said went against the one-man-one-vote principle.
Past MCA leaders through the years have also lamented Umno’s domination of the both the executive and judicial arms of government and questioned the independence of the Election Commission (EC).
In great contrast to their predecessors, the current MCA leaders tend to behave like wimps. Their raging rhetoric against the Bersih rally is clearly symptomatic of political impotence, leaving us with the impression that MCA is a failed party devoid of ethical leadership.
Party president Dr Chua Soi Lek’s argument that Bersih has allowed itself to be used by the opposition in organising the rally has been reinforced by his deputy Liow Tiong Lai’s intimidating remark that the party will discuss whether to sack members who participate in the rally.
This posturing is likely to drive another nail into MCA’s coffin. In recent years, the party has repeatedly confirmed its irrelevance. Its raving and ranting over the Bersih rally could well be the tipping point of its political demise.
While we write off MCA, the pertinent question to ask is: Should conscientious Malaysians unite and rally to Bersih’s support against the sleazy electoral landscape?
Constitutional experts, political scientists and conscientious academicians seem to think so.
Electoral systems shape the nature and structure of political parties and of the wider party system in the countries in which they operate. The independence of the EC would promote greater accountability of MPs to their constituents.
Experts and opinion makers also contend that electoral reforms would contribute to greater political stability for all players in power.
(File Picture from internet)
Stanley Koh is a former head of research in MCA, He is an FMT columnist.