Aung San Suu Kyi unveils relief plans for Rohingya Muslims


October 16, 2017

Aung San Suu Kyi unveils relief plans for Rohingya Muslims

Nobel laureate aims to restore reputation by setting up civilian-led agency in Myanmar to deliver aid and resettle refugees

Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech to the nation over the Rakhine and Rohingya situation in Naypyitaw in September
Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for failing to denounce a brutal army crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine state. Photograph: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has announced plans to set up a civilian-led agency, with foreign assistance, to deliver aid and help resettle Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

A close adviser, speaking with Aung San Suu Kyi’s knowledge, said the proposed body had been long planned, and was part of an attempt to show the civilian government she leads, rather than the Burmese military, can deliver humanitarian relief, resettlement and economic recovery.

The Nobel laureate has been criticised for failing to denounce a brutal army crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine state, which has forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Thousands of refugees have continued to arrive in recent days from across the Naf river separating the two countries, even though Myanmar insists military operations ceased on 5 September.

Aid agencies estimate that 536,000 people have arrived in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh, straining scarce resources of aid groups and local communities.

About 200,000 Rohingya were already in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Myanmar, where they have long been denied citizenship and faced restrictions on their movements and access to basic services.

The adviser said Aung San Suu Kyi had been deeply affected by the crisis in her country, and was determined to fix it, but needed to be careful not to inflame the situation further.

“She is appalled by what she has seen. She does care deeply about this. I know that does not always come across. But she really does,” said the adviser, who asked not to be named. “What was not clear to her [before now] was how to fix it, and how to give the civilian government the powers it needed”.

In a speech carried by state TV late on Thursday, Aung San Suu Kyi said: “There has been a lot of criticisms against our country. We need to understand international opinion. However, just as no one can fully understand the situation of our country the way we do, no one can desire peace and development for our country more than us.”

Many of Aung San Suu Kyi’s former allies have been exasperated by her failure to criticise the military, but the adviser said she was treading a fine line, knowing her government could become under threat of being overthrown by the military.

The adviser added her speech marked an attempt to wrestle Buddhism out of the hands of extremists.

Aung San Suu Kyi came to power ending years of military rule in a compromise that left the military with sweeping powers.

In her new proposal, she said she was setting up a new body to deliver relief and resettlement on the ground, as well as implement projects in all sectors of the region.

“It is going to be an implementation unit and will introduce a degree of transparency into the government that will allow the international community to participate and provide aid”, the adviser added.

The aim is for the body to be a vehicle through which recovery aid, including that delivered by the UK, can be funnelled.

Her adviser said Aung San Suu Kyi understood the moral priority of humanitarian assistance, the need to build new homes for those who had to flee as well as the need for economic development in the region.

“She has put herself front and centre of this and said ‘I will lead this’ ”. The adviser added: “She is someone who through her whole life has been committed to the values of human rights. That has not gone away, but she is very focused on fixing the problem, rather than identifying it.

“She recognises there have been particular tragedies amongst the Muslim communities, and amongst other small minority groups. But, yes, she does see this latest and most dreadful upsurge of violence as stemming from carefully timed political attacks on police stations.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech made no mention of the allegations levelled against security forces, over which she has no formal control under the military-drafted constitution. State media in recent weeks, however, has offered repeated denials of the human rights allegations, often blaming misreporting by the west.

In her speech, she said: “Rather than rebutting criticisms and allegations with words, we will show the world by our actions and our deeds. In the Rakhine state, there are so many things to be done.”

Her adviser said: “She is trying to move away from inflammatory and divisive remarks towards a coherent national solution that is civilian-led. The perilous state of the democratic transition in her country is understood.”

Aung San Suu Kyi listed repatriation of those who have fled to Bangladesh as a top priority, a task that faces political and practical hurdles, notably due to the fact that tens of thousands of Muslim refugees who fled to Bangladesh do not have the documentation likely to satisfy the military that they have a right of return.

However, detailed work remains on possible forms of new registration to allow the Rohingya to return.

In another attempt to respond to western criticisms, Myanmar’s military has launched an internal investigation into the conduct of soldiers during the army’s offensive in Rakhine, which was launched after attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security posts in late August.

 

Cambodia– Responding to Rising Voter Expectations


October 16, 2017

Cambodia– Responding to Rising  Voter Expectations 

by Kongkea Chhoeun, Australian National University

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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As long as the Cambodian government manages to maintain satisfactory economic performance, continues its piecemeal reforms benefitting the majority of the population, and promotes some appearance of democracy in the country, it will continue to demand difficult value judgments on the part of Cambodian citizens as to whether the CPP’s actions against the media and civil society are worth fighting back against.– Kongkea Chhoeun

 

It might be easy to forget given the events of August–September 2017, but Cambodian democracy had until a few years ago been making progress. Many key indicators of democratic quality had continued to improve since the 1998 national elections, which followed the near collapse of the system in the aftermath of the July 1997 internal fighting between armed forces loyal to Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Rannariddh.

 

Competition among political parties increased, thanks to the unification of the opposition parties in 2012 ahead of the 2013 national election. The economy also continued to grow extraordinarily well. Growth has averaged 7 per cent per year since 1993, and poverty has fallen more than 1 per cent per year on average since 2003. Inequality has also declined. Vertical political accountability has been strengthened markedly, thanks to decentralisation and deconcentration. Cambodians are increasingly able to hold local leaders to account through local democratic processes.

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Sanderson Park, at Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh  has a sculpture of a dove with an olive branch in its beak. It is made up entirely from parts of AK-47 rifles.

But the 2013 polls were a turning point. Although they won the election, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lost the popular vote for the first time since 1998, seeing its popular vote plummet by more than 20 per cent. To its credit, the CPP-led government subsequently implemented various reforms aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Cambodian voters. The CPP has permitted moderate reforms, restructured the National Electoral Committee and increased public servants pay. And in August 2017, Hun Sen also promised a slew of new benefits for garment workers, including a big increase in their monthly minimum wage.

But with the carrots have come sticks.Indicators of horizontal accountability have either stalled or are in decline. Local and international NGOs and media operated with comparatively little constraint from the state before the 2013 national election period. Since then, the government has made disturbing moves that wipe out progress made in terms of political openness. Among a range of actions is the passage of legislation governing NGOs.

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Despite a boycott by the opposition, the Parliament passed the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations, which requires the nearly 5000 domestic and international NGOs that work in the country to register with the government and report their activities and finances or risk fines, criminal prosecution and being shut down. In August 2017, the government used this law to order the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to shut down its operations and repatriate its foreign staff, accusing the NDI of illegally operating in the country.

The Cambodian government has also targeted foreign and foreign-linked media. In August 2017, the government accused the Cambodia Daily of failing to pay more than US$6 million in taxes, giving the paper one month to resolve the issue or risk being shut down. The Daily is a US-owned outlet credited for its reports critical of the government. In addition, the government instructed more than a dozen radio stations across the country to cease operations, accusing them of failing to report how much and to whom they sell their airtime.

Two major factors — one internal and one external — may explain the government’s recent measures against international NGOs and media. Internally, these measures were escalated as a result of the June 2017 local government elections, the result of which represented a big boost for the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party and a serious blow to the CPP. After the June 2017 local government elections, the CPP still controlled the majority of local governments — 1156 or 70 per cent of communes. But the opposition party’s share of local governments increased about 12 fold in comparison with the last local elections held in 2012.

The external factor is the declining role of the United States as a champion of democracy. The drastic moves targeting US-based NGOs and media occurred in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump. His election and subsequent attacks on mainstream media have disconcerted democrats at home and abroad and certainly delegitimised US efforts to promote liberal democratic principles internationally.

Furthermore, the failure of the United States to pre-empt and manage democratic breakdown in Thailand, and to promote democracy in Laos and Vietnam, only serves to diminish the US role in promoting democracy in Cambodia, and potentially gives the Cambodian government an excuse to maintain the status quo.

Likewise, Australia and European countries have been silent on these issues so far, showing a similar unwillingness to influence internal political decisions in Cambodia. The 2014 Australia–Cambodia refugee deal tainted Australia’s reputation as an altruistic donor to Cambodia, and has certainly undermined Australian leverage in promoting reforms in Cambodian domestic affairs. And European countries have been busy cleaning up the mess in their own backyard after the Brexit vote in 2016 and the rise of populist movements across the continent.

Meanwhile, Cambodia is increasingly dependent on China, and less and less so on Western countries. China is feeding the Cambodian economy, investing US$857 million (roughly 61 per cent of total FDI) and channelling US$320 million in aid (roughly 30 per cent of total aid) to the country in 2015. By contrast, investment and aid from Western countries is either modest or on the decline.

Whatever the mix of domestic and global political influences, the consequences of the CPP’s crackdown on Cambodia’s democracy are being felt. As long as the Cambodian government manages to maintain satisfactory economic performance, continues its piecemeal reforms benefitting the majority of the population, and promotes some appearance of democracy in the country, it will continue to demand difficult value judgments on the part of Cambodian citizens as to whether the CPP’s actions against the media and civil society are worth fighting back against.

Kongkea Chhoeun is a PhD Candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

This article was first published here on New Mandala.

 

After the massacre in Las Vegas, nothing is set to change


October 9, 2017

THE ECONOMIST

A deathly silence

After the massacre in Las Vegas, nothing is set to change

 

But do not despair. Some progress on gun laws is possible in America

Print edition | Leaders

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Panoramic Photo of The Las Vegas Strip,Nevada

AFTER the worst mass shooting in recent American history, in which 58 people were killed and 489 wounded, both the president and the majority leaders in Congress sought to keep talk about new gun laws to a minimum. In Vegas that kind of reticence is called a tell. Had Stephen Paddock used a new technology—an armed drone, say—to kill from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, or had he been an immigrant from the Middle East, lawmakers would be rushing to legislate or tighten borders. But he was a retired white man who used some of the 49 guns he owned, so it is the price of freedom.

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There is a weariness to America’s gun debate and the familiar ritual after mass shootings, which are more frequent than in any other rich country. One study counted 166 of them in 14 countries in 2000-14; 133 were in America. Yet, nothing happens, partly because the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has evolved from an armed version of the Boy Scout movement into the foremost mouthpiece for a view of America in which everyone must be armed for their own protection, has a veto in Washington—including over banning “bump stocks” which make semi-automatic guns more lethal.

If America could not overhaul its gun laws after Sandy Hook, when 20 children aged six and seven were shot at school, then what chance is there now? And even if tighter laws on new guns were introduced tomorrow, there would still be a stock of 300m firearms to reckon with.

Such despair is unworthy of this week’s victims. There are plenty of down-is-up arguments about guns, but the Las Vegas shooting, in addition to being the most deadly, has shown up the old NRA line that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun as the most deceitful of the lot.

Granted, America has chosen permissive gun laws for itself. But the body count does not have to be as high as it is today. Research into murder and suicide suggests that making it just slightly harder to get hold of a weapon can reduce the number of killings, many of which are spontaneous and unplanned.

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The NRA has Senators and Congressman in its back pocket. No meaningful change in US Gun Laws is possible. Las Vegas is, therefore, not the last word on Gun Violence in the Land of the Brave and the Free.–Din Merican

It ought to be possible to write laws that respect the right to bear arms while banning weapons and modifications that make it astonishingly easy to kill a lot of people quickly. Most Americans favour such laws and would like universal background checks on gun purchases, too (though support for gun control is less fervent than for gun rights). Such a regime would still leave America with an unusually high number of murders, suicides and fatal accidents involving guns, but the disparity with other countries would be less glaring.

The road from Mandalay Hotel

Tired of waiting for Congress, some cities have introduced their own laws. In upstate New York, where plenty of people hunt, gun laws are permissive. In New York City those laws do not apply. Anyone who wants to carry a gun down Fifth Avenue must first obtain the permission of the NYPD. New York state tightened its laws after Sandy Hook, in effect banning assault weapons. Four other states did the same, though a further 16 responded by making guns easier to buy or carry.

Las Vegas, which sits in a state with some of the loosest rules in the country, should rewrite its own gun laws, too. Real conservatives, who champion local fixes for local problems, ought to cheer that. Of course it would not completely solve the problem. Cities like Chicago, near states with permissive laws, would still be flooded with guns. But in a country with 30,000 gun deaths a year, even small improvements would save a lot of lives. A rough calculation suggests that in the time between the Las Vegas shooting and the publication of this article, a further 320 Americans lost their life to a bullet.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Deathly silence”

 

Gun Control Issue re-surfaces in Fareed’s America


October 9, 2017

In the Aftermath of the Las Vegas Mass Murder: Gun Control Issue re-surfaces in Fareed’s America

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://www.washingtonpost.com

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Remembering the Victims of the October 1 Las Vegas Shooting

“He was a sick man, a demented man,” said President Trump, trying to explain the latest mass shooting in the United States. We hear this view expressed routinely, after every new incident. But it is a dodge, a distortion of the facts and a cop-out as to the necessary response.

There is no evidence that the Las Vegas shooter was insane. (I prefer not to use his name and give him publicity, even posthumously.) He did not have a history of mental illness that we know of, nor had he been reported for behavior that would suggest any such condition. He was clearly an evil man, or at least a man who did something truly evil. But evil is not crazy. If we define the attempt to take an innocent human being’s life as madness, then every murderer is mad. If not, we should recognize that it is a meaningless term that adds little to our understanding of the problem.

Actually, the quick assumption of mental illness distorts the discussion. First, it smears people who do have mental disorders. Such people are not inherently highly prone to violence. They are more often victims of violence than perpetrators. And to the extent that some are violent, they are more likely to inflict harm on themselves. Mental-health issues are correlated to suicides far more closely than they are to homicides.

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Nothing will happen. It is just poppycock talk, Mr. Obama. The NRA controls both Congress and The White House. More talk with Trump as The President. American democracy is dysfunctional.

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Second, turning immediately to the “sickness” of the shooter and piously calling for better mental-health care is, more often than not, an attempt to divert attention from the main issue: guns. (It’s also breathtakingly cynical because the politicians who use this rhetoric are typically the ones who also aim to cut funding for mental-health treatment.) Every conversation about gun deaths should begin by recognizing one blindingly clear fact about this problem — the United States is on its own planet. The gun-related death rate in the United States is 10 times that of other advanced industrial countries. Places such as Japan and South Korea have close to zero gun-related deaths in a year. The United States has around 30,000.

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This disparity is the central fact that needs to be studied, explained and addressed. When seen in this light, it becomes obvious why focusing on mental health is a dodge. The rate of mental illness in the United States is not anywhere close to 40 times the rate in Britain. But the rate of gun deaths is 40 times higher. America does have more than 14 times as many guns as Britain per capita, and far fewer restrictions on their ownership and use. That’s the obvious correlation staring us in the face, as we insist on talking about every other possible issue.

And this is not simply a case of the United States being different from the rest of the developed world. Data that look carefully at gun violence across the United States find a similarly tight correlation. States that have some of the highest percentages of gun ownership have some of the highest gun-related death rates (Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Arkansas), and those with some of the lowest rates of gun ownership generally have the lowest gun-related death rates (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island).

Then there are what almost look like social science experiments. On the one hand, Connecticut passed a law in 1995 that made it harder to buy guns. In the following decade, the gun-related homicide rate was 40 percent lower than projected had the law not been passed, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. On the other hand, Missouri in 2007 made it much easier to buy a gun. Over the next five years, the gun-related homicide rate was 25 percent higher than projected.

How to tackle this issue is a more complex problem, made particularly difficult by the fact that we refuse to study it — literally. One of the main government agencies that sponsors research on public health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been virtually forbidden by law from doing any research on gun violence and public policy for two decades. Buried in a 1996 law is a provision, championed by the National Rifle Association, that prohibits the CDC from funding research that might “advocate or promote gun control.” In the United States, in 2017, we essentially have a ban on scientific research that might lead to inconvenient conclusions.

Given the Second Amendment, America’s gun culture and the influence of the gun lobby, there isn’t any simple answer. But there are many small fixes that would make a big difference: universal background checks; restrictions on military-style weaponry (of which banning bump stocks would be a tiny first step); a ban on selling to people with a history of domestic violence or substance abuse. But first we have to stop the dodges and the diversions. When you consider America’s stubborn inaction in the face of this continuing and preventable epidemic of gun violence — I sometimes wonder if it is all of us Americans who are crazy.

 

Myanmar’s resurgent nationalism shapes new political landscape


October 6, 2017

Myanmar’s resurgent nationalism shapes new political landscape

by Thant Myint-U

https://asia.nikkei.com/Viewpoints/Thant-Myint-U/Myanmar-s-resurgent-nationalism-shapes-new-political-landscape?page=1

Extreme sentiments fueled by social media highlight external, internal disconnect

Myanmar’s Buddhist nationalists shout slogans against the government during a protest in Yangon on Aug. 3, for neglecting the national interest by failing to hold off Muslim insurgency. © AP 

The United Nations Security Council in recent weeks has placed new focus on Myanmar through discussions about violence in the country’s western Rakhine state, allegations of “ethnic cleansing” and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring Bangladesh.

Missing though was the bigger picture in Myanmar, beyond Rakhine, which will not only shape future options for refugee return, but also regional stability, and any possibility of a better life for all the country’s peoples.

Aside from Rakhine, there are at least another half million internally displaced persons, around 20 ethnic-based armed groups (the largest with more than 20,000 soldiers), hundreds of militias in the rest of the country and no real peace in sight.

In addition, the economy is far from healthy, with the stability of the banking sector in question, investor confidence in decline, and prospects for millions of the poorest people in Asia in the balance. Meanwhile, Beijing is offering major infrastructure projects that would tie the country more closely with China’s interior provinces and essentially make Myanmar China’s bridge to the Indian Ocean.

The current constitution gives the Armed Forces crucial powers over security while allowing the elected civilian government free reign over economic issues and foreign relations. It has been a tense cohabitation and the success of the next elections in 2020 and further democratic reforms are far from guaranteed.

For Myanmar’s people, this is a time of anxiety. Millions are worried that the fast pace of change will leave them and their families destitute and without opportunity. These same millions are now on the internet. Over the past five years the proportion of people with mobile phones has gone from a few percent to more than 70%. A population that still largely lacks access to electricity, clean water or health care is now on Facebook, widely regarded as Myanmar’s only social media platform.

New dark currents

In this time of national anxiety, a neo-nationalism is taking shape, enabled by social media and fueled both by the unfolding crisis in Rakhine state and a sense that the outside world, in particular the U.N. and the West, are siding with Myanmar’s mortal enemies.

While world opinion is focused on the humanitarian tragedy along the border with Bangladesh and allegations of horrific human rights abuses mainly against the minority Rohingya, the view inside the country is not only different but diametrically opposite.

In Myanmar the overwhelming focus among not only by the government but also the general public has been on the threat from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and fears of Islamic extremism. Since ARSA’s attacks on Aug. 25, Myanmar social media has been brimming with reports of alleged ARSA atrocities against Buddhist and Hindu minorities, tens of thousands of whom have fled south away from the country’s Muslim majority areas.

Rohingya people escape from Myanmar to Teknaf, Bangladesh, on Sept. 8 after violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. © Sipa/AP Images

In late September, both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group called for action in Myanmar, heightening fears of impending terrorist attacks in Yangon or Mandalay. Eyewitness accounts from refugees are often dismissed as fabrications, and what is seen from outside as a Rohingya human rights tragedy is portrayed within Myanmar — especially by Rakhine Buddhists — as a foreign invasion by illegal immigrants turned terrorists.

 

Art Harun on the State of Malaysian Politics: Rule of the Malay Majority, not Democracy


September 27, 2017

Art Harun on the State of Malaysian Politics: Democracy is not Rule of the Malay Majority for sure

It is naive and simplistic for anybody to think that democracy is about the rule of the majority. A rule by majority it may well be. But not a rule of the majority for sure.–Art Harun

by Art Harun@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

It is naive and simplistic for anybody to think that democracy is about the rule of the majority. A rule by majority it may well be. But not a rule of the majority for sure.

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Like Popes and Kings of Yore, he assumes he can do no wrong

Even the father of utilitarianism – the principle that is often quoted by absolutist-democrats to justify the action of the majority to lord over and trample on minority’s rights – Jeremy Bentham, was very critical of those who used his utilitarian principles to lord over minorities.

Bentham was conscious of the very real issue about the relationship between the governors and the governed, calling it a relationship between “the ruling few” and “the subject many.”

In later writings, such as in “First Lines of a Proposed Code of Law” (1821), Bentham made clear that utilitarianism could easily be abused to make one single man happy instead of the happiness of many.

Bentham noted: “At all times, in all places, till yesterday, and in the new world, the magistrate – the legislator – such is man’s nature – have been tyrants, tyrants having each of them, for the object of his acts as such – not the greatest happiness of the greatest number – but his own single greatest happiness.”

It is therefore crystal clear that Bentham had never intended to justify any majority’s transgression of the minority rights just because such transgression could bring the most happiness to the most number of people. He was in fact conscious of the fact that his utilitarianism principle could be warped and abused in that manner and he was dead against it.

John Stuart Mill, who was a strong advocate of utilitarianism, later made it clear that utilitarianism did not justify any transgression of minority rights. He noted that tyranny of the majority is an enemy of personal liberty (“On Liberty” – 1859).

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Mill propounded: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

Thus, the argument that in a democracy, the majority has the right to rule and do whatever they please as they have been given the mandate by the people is a fallacy. It is in fact an abuse of democracy.

‘Liberty is the highest political end’

Lord Acton reinforced this position when he wrote in his essays on freedom and power (part of a book that he never finished) that: “The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.”

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He later came up with this classical statement: “Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end.”

Lord Acton was scathing in his criticism of the infallibility of the Pope and King, who were believed to be beyond reproach. That criticism applies to the states and government today as much as it applies, in those days, to the Pope and King.

In a letter to Mandell Creighton, Lord Acton had remarked: “I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

“Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence, not authority: still more when you add the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

Best interest of the state

In an ideal democracy, the majority votes are just the choosers of a government. Once the government is chosen and formed, that government and all the machinery of the state do not rule to achieve the greatest happiness of the the greatest number of people.

It governs the state in the best interest of the state, taking into consideration the rights, freedom and liberty of all subjects.

Lord Acton thus described liberty as “the delicate fruit of a mature civilisation”. Alas, he also notes that “at all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare.”

Just look around us nowadays. And you would realise how these great men almost foresaw Malaysia in 2017.

Azhar Harun, better known as Art Harun, is a prominent human rights lawyer.

* The views expressed are those of the author’s and does not necessarily reflect those of FMT.