People first, democracy now!

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Democracy only works when people claim it as their own, asserts P Ramakrishnan.

In a democracy worth its name, it’s the people who come first. The government exists for them and not the other way around as is happening now. We are made to believe that the people are there to do the government’s bidding. The government actually tells you that.

You vote for my man on Sunday, you will get a cheque on Monday. That’s what they told the voters in Ulu Selangor. In Sibu they told the voters, “You elect my man, I will pay for the flood mitigation project” – otherwise you can drown in the flood for all I care!

In other words, you will be rewarded if you serve the ruler; otherwise you will be punished. They don’t govern the country any more – they rule over you; they lord over you.

Is this what democracy is all about?

53 years of disappointment

For 53 years, we have been ruled – not served; for 53 years we have been kept apart through policies that discriminate against the citizens; for 53 years they failed to forge a nation rooted in justice and truth. For more than half a century they failed us miserably; they disappointed us blatantly without a care or thought for the welfare of the nation and its people.

They did whatever they wanted to, without being accountable for their actions simply because the police, the judiciary, the anti-corruption commission, even our mainstream media and others are no longer able to function professionally and in an unbiased manner in the larger interest of the nation. Notions of justice and fair play are no longer the cornerstone of our society.

Tun Dr Mahathir made sure that truth and justice will not be part of the fabric of our society. He destroyed the judiciary in 1988 and we have not recovered from that shameful onslaught that removed the Lord President unjustly and made victims of two honest and brave judges of the Supreme Court who stood up for justice.

Our judiciary was once regarded as a bastion of justice. It was a well-respected institution of integrity in the Commonwealth. But alas, it is now totally discredited and ridiculed. We can even predict certain judgments even before they are pronounced.

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Certain judges don’t even seem to know the law. They dispense judgments that are baffling and absurd. We witnessed these weird instances in numerous cases.

In the Perak crisis, the provisions of the Federal Constitution were completely ignored; in the Kampung Buah Pala case, we witnessed an absurd situation when a piece of land was sold for pittance by the former BN Penang state government when that land did not belong to the state government – this very important fact was strangely never addressed by the court; in the cases involving conversions that deliberately disrupted families and separated mother and child, the verdicts of the judges were absolutely unfair.

In the case of Anwar Ibrahim, the courts have totally discredited themselves in the way they have denied Anwar access to vital information that is crucial for his defence.

Rampant corruption, wastage – and a false dawn

Corruption is rampant and the MACC does not come across as an impartial institution that can be depended upon to curb corruption. The speed with which it moves to investigate those opposed to the BN as compared to the dragging of feet when corruption involves BN leaders and ministers makes you wonder whether the MACC is there to protect the BN and harass the Pakatan Rakyat.

If we are privy to information about corruption and abuse of our money that has surfaced lately, it is not because of the ACA becoming MACC. It is because of the change of certain state governments.

For over 50 years, the books had been closed to the rakyat. Alarming information has been preserved and protected through the use of the OSA. Not any more. Exco minutes no longer remain a state secret. They can be revealed; the abuse, the corruption, the lies – all can be exposed now.

The wastage and squandering of the national wealth is amazing and bewildering. While there are moves to remove subsidies and reduce scholarships due to lack of funds, we seem to have endless funds for opulent lifestyles and extravagant expenditure for putting up buildings that cost hundreds of million ringgit.

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Shockingly, allocations to hospitals have been cut drastically resulting in shortages of vital medicines. But we have funds for building a new parliament.

Why do we need another Parliament when we already have one that is rich in history, serving as a national symbol of democracy for nearly half a century?

We should not even think of moving into the Putrajaya International Convention Centre, which has come to symbolise one of the many failed projects that has cost the taxpayers unnecessary colossal expenditure.

A new Parliament should not be used as an excuse to save or rescue Putrajaya ICC. The Malaysian voters should punish the BN at the next election if it dares to go for another Parliament completely dismissing public sentiments.

Why do we need another palace when we already have the Istana Negara and another palace in Putrajaya? We can safely assume that His Majesty the Yang Di Pertuan Agong had not demanded for yet one more palace.

People were fooled into thinking that a new dawn in race relations had arrived when the Prime Minister announced his 1Malaysia with much fanfare. For a moment, he made Malaysians believe that at long last we have come to our senses. He spoke of equal opportunities based on ethnic harmony, national unity, and efficient governance.

But it was rather unfortunate that almost immediately, it was sunset for 1Malaysia when his Deputy declared, “I’m Malay first.” He put a stop to our progress in race relations and came across as supporting Ibrahim Ali’s Perkasa, which is strident about Ketuanan Melayu.

1Malaysia notwithstanding, it is clear that under the BN we will never be united as a people and as a nation. The BN is not capable of genuinely reinventing itself. We will remain divided and compartmentalised in our own communities because this situation suits the BN.

We must never fall into this trap.

Hope for complete change

Democracy only works when people claim it as their own. But, as the Aliran Singers tell us, democracy means you have to get off your backsides!

In this regard, it is important to usher in a two-party system for Malaysia. In a two party system, we can expect them to behave responsibly or else they will get the boot, for sure.

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It is refreshing to note that after half a century of monolithic rule by the BN, we are witnessing changes that are interesting and refreshing. We have got a Speakers’ Square, stadiums for massive gatherings, ‘tak nak ISA’, a more lively and vibrant parliament, accountability for past misdeeds, Balkis misuse of funds and junket trips exposed. These were never possible before the tsunami brought in the change.

Let’s give a serious thought to an alternative government. Let’s not be put off by the internal squabbles in the Pakatan Rakyat, which is being played up by the mainstream media to give an edge to the BN.

There is still hope for complete change. Please do not think that we are anti-BN. We are not. Any ruling party whatever its colour and shade must conduct itself responsibly, solely in the interest of the people.

In keeping with this policy, we give fair warning to any future PR government. We will be just as critical of the Pakatan Rakyat when it reaches Putrajaya. It makes no difference who governs this country. If they are wrong and at fault, if they do not walk the talk about people first, democracy now, the PR government too will be equally criticised and condemned. Rest assured, we will conduct ourselves even-handedly.

Let me make a personal appeal to all of you. The Aliran Monthly in its 30th year of publication needs your support urgently. The hassle of collecting payment from distributors, coupled with poor sales and spiralling printing costs, has forced our hand to do away with street sales of the Monthly.

As from 1 January 2011, the Aliran Monthly cannot be bought off the shelf in stalls and bookshops. But it will be available to those who subscribe to the magazine.

I encourage all of you to subscribe to the Aliran Monthly. Get your friends and relatives to subscribe as well. Meanwhile don’t forget to visit our website regularly, check out our Thinking Allowed-Online in particular.

This is an abridged version of the address by Aliran president P Ramakrishnan during an Aliran fund-raising dinner at the PJ Civic Centre on 26 June 2010

Thanks for dropping by! Apart from the views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed, the opinions in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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