March 11, 2011
Democracy is about Accountability to Citizenry
by Mustafa K. Anuar*
In a functioning democracy, political leaders are accountable to the people in whose name they rule. Well, that’s the theory. In practice, many leaders tend to forget that these people are the ones who put them in the seats of power in the first place to represent their collective interests, concerns and dreams of a better tomorrow.
Indeed, quite often certain actions of these paternalistic leaders tend to suggest that the ordinary people have no business in participating in the country’s decision-making process. Instead, the leaders give the impression that their constituencies have a say in the affairs of their beloved country only on polling day.
The long duration between one general election and the next, so goes the thinking, is supposedly reserved for the leaders to do whatever they want. They seem to imagine that they have been given a blank cheque. And this is when these leaders — their acquired honorific titles notwithstanding — misbehave and, more importantly, forget that the people are their bosses. They seem to forget about transparency and accountability, virtues that can help arrest the worrying trend of corruption in high places.
Worse, these so-called leaders are transformed into something that is irritatingly arrogant, if not dangerous. They may, for instance, suppress criticism and dissent expressed by ordinary people against the ruling elite to such an extent that there emerges a serious disconnect between the ruler and the ruled.
And if such criticism becomes too heavy for the leaders to handle, they do not hesitate to crack down on the people in the name of “national security” (read: ruling elite’s security). So, peaceful protests and demonstrations in the streets, which are part and parcel of the democratic process, are often crushed by the authorities using water cannons and arrests.
If they perceive their positions and interests to be acutely threatened, the ruling elite may even pit one ethnic community against another — “divide and rule” — even though this approach is utterly divisive and endangers peace and (real) national unity and security.
On other occasions, these leaders may warn the people not to “politicise” (read: criticise) certain government policies and laws that are drafted, passed and implemented against the common good of the people.
If the people are perceived to be strongly resistant to this warning, the leaders may insist that they would defend their top leaders to the last drop of blood in a way that is reminiscent of the extremely feudal days of yore.
These leaders forget that money for the country’s development comes from the people themselves. Taxpayers’ money is at times used in a manner that does not benefit the majority of the people. Worse, these taxpayers are deprived of certain development funds for having voted in the ‘wrong’ political party. It is a punishment of sorts against the voters/taxpayers.
Talking of elections, the people are often treated like kids. The leaders may throw some sweeteners and crumbs to the voters mainly to keep them “quiet” and satisfied. They act as if the development funds dished out to the people come from their own pockets.
Some, if you may recall, even have the gall to tell the voters that they would help them only if they vote in their candidates in the elections. Such leaders must bear in mind that they should not forget the people lest they themselves be forgotten in the long run. It doesn’t help for these leaders to mudah lupa (easy to forget).
* Mustafa K. Anuar is Honorary Assistant Secretary of Aliran.