This image is now vividly imprinted in our minds — one of the two young men wielding the ceremonial Malay kris.
The grandstanding by sword-waving senior UMNO Youth leaders symbolises UMNO-cracy – Malay nationalism taken to its extremes. And in an “age of extremes”, which Eric Hobsbawm described the last 100 years to be, we ought to be deeply concerned about the direction our nation is pointed towards in the 21st century.
UMNO-cracy is a system of government in which a single political party, UMNO, dominates other groups (MCA, MIC, Gerakan and others). These partners are allowed concessions within a “coalition government” which uses their presence as representatives of minority groups to legitimise its otherwise complete monopoly on power. The dominant party – largely through the personality of the Executive – retains control of all branches of government, the civil service and the media to ensure its hegemony over our politics.
To deflect criticisms that such a government would certainly attract today, UMNO-cracycrats toss a few crumbs in the direction of the opposition to give some semblance of pluralist politics. Electoral fraud and gerrymandering of districts are common place in Malaysia, almost to the extent that some in the opposition are willing to accept electoral corruption as a mere fact of life.
This is the foundation upon which UMNO’s edifice is built. A supposedly democratic nation survives on the perpetuation of corruption and continued blatant abuse of power, suppression of political dissent and a compliant and timid media. It goes to the extent of using the Internal Security Act whenever the pressure for reform becomes too much to bear.
In this climate the entire nation suffers at the expense of the few who enrich themselves with government contracts. Our education system, for example, is mediocre at best. Politically favoured appointees who are tasked with administering our schools and universities are barely qualified to do so. Students, on account of the draconian University and University Colleges Act, are educated in a climate of fear. Our tertiary institutions are not in the forefront of scholarship and research.Mediocrity is everywhere you care to look.
What we want is a real democracy. That was our bargain in 1957 when we gained independence from the British. Our Declaration of Independence ensured that our country (then Malaya) was founded on the principles of justice and freedom. Over the years, under UMNO-cracy, justice and freedom were eroded and usurped by a ruling elite which does not respect human rights and other fundamental freedoms.
Democracy is based on the “consent of the governed” (Thomas Jefferson). For this to exist, there must, first, be free, fair and transparent elections supervised by an independent and impartial Elections Commission which can stand up to rigorous international scrutiny.This was BERSIH’s cause when nearly 60,000 Malaysians march to the Agong’s Palace on November 10, 2007. All political parties must have equal access to the media and there must be rigorous and open debate. Opposition parties must enjoy freedom of movement, speech and assembly to present alternative policies and programmes, and the opportunity to criticise the incumbent government.
The existence of a vibrant opposition is vital as “a bulwark against the tyranny of absolute power” (Anwar Ibrahim). Furthermore, the people must have a right to information so that they can make informed decisions about their future government. UNMO-cracy denies us this inalienable right. So we must work towards the end of the Official Secrets Act, under which the Badawi Government hides and also cast the Internal Security Act into the dustbin of history the way we we did to British colonial rule.
Second, democracy is also about justice. Here, it is appropriate for me to quote Anwar Ibrahim:
“The idea of justice is so central to what it means to be human that no society is devoid of this conception. Moreover, as a society matures, the people’s expectations in terms of justice become even greater. Whole societies have been stirred to action in the pursuit of justice and good governance, overthrowing colonial powers and foreign oppressors. Yet, today, long after independence has been achieved, these societies find themselves forced to fight against oppression from within, because there can be no justice under autocracy, a political system characterised by the rule of men and not the rule of law”
According to the late Tun Suffian, the rule of law requires that rules and procedures which the state enforces should be public and explicit, not subject to political manipulation. We do not want our citizens to be under arrest without explicit charges, Nor do we want confessions gained through torture, physical or psychological abuse, or any kind of threat or promise. In other words, there must be no extrajudicial procedures, arbitrary arrests, or use of repressive state apparatus to silence political opposition and dissent.
The rule of law, as any lawyer will tell you, also means the protection of fundamental rights guaranteed by our constitution. These rights must be protected by an independent judiciary. Our judiciary is our safeguard for our fundamental liberties. Yet today, after listening to the Lingam video clip, we know that our judiciary’s integrity and independence have been compromised.
Unless we fix this problem, the ability of our judges to make judgments without fear or favour is non-existent. We need to ensure that public confidence in our judicial system is restored. While I am not sure what the newly appointed Royal Commission of Inquiry under former Justice Tan Sri Haidar Mohamed Noor, given its rather restricted terms of reference, can achieve, he and fellow commissioners must be aware that they have a moral obligation to stop the judicial rot for the national good.
Soon, we will be again asked to make a choice between UMNO-cracy and Democracy. I know what my choice will be. I am convinced that the status quo is not an option. We have to change, and together we can make it happen. I support a government which runs our country with the consent of the governed and does it in an open, transparent and accountable manner and listens to our concerns and addresses our needs.
Selamat Hari Raya to my brothers and sisters and goodwill and respect to all my fellow citizens.
 Anwar Ibrahim, “Universal Values and Muslim Democracy”, Journal of Democracy, Volume 17, Number 3, July, 2006,p.9