If we want to push the boundaries of democracy and uphold the principles of people’s power and equality, this the right time to do it, says Shuhaib Ar Rumy Ismail.
Having a cup of teh tarik and roti canai in my hometown, Jitra, has been my morning ritual since I was a boy. Those were the occasions when I could connect physically with many people, especially the Pak Ciks.
Hearing them chatting, debating and ranting somehow made me realise that everyone has the capacity to think, and sometimes their wisdom is more insightful than any journalist’s.
Last week, when I decided to reacquaint myself with this ritual, I was struck by the sight of senior citizens scanning their smartphones to look up references or points for the warung’s political debates.
Technology is everywhere. Right now, you are using a gadget or device to read this. Smartphones, tablets, desktop PCs or laptops have become our life companions and almost a part of us: the tangible ‘sixth sense’ in this modern world.
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The current trend on the Internet-of-Everything (IoE) pushes every aspect of the tools that we use daily to be connected to the internet. Astonishing data transfer speeds of up to 7.5 gbps are now under development. Accessing and sharing information has never been easier.
But despite rapid technology advancement, our political system is somehow stuck in traditional ways. Its structure, hierarchy, instruments and paradigm seem to be trapped in the post-colonial era. Nothing much has changed since then. I am not talking about any other country; I am referring to Malaysia. This phenomenon has gone shockingly unnoticed by the masses or even by many politicians in this country.
We can learn from history that technology (or tools) can disrupt the system or even the paradigm. Back in the medieval ages, the process of centralised religious understanding was disrupted by the invention of the printed press, which was then used to print and distribute Bibles to ordinary people. That is how Protestantism flourished.
In the 19th Century, a small group of scientists tried to predict what the future would be like. They figured that New York would perish because of an overpopulation of horses! This was prior to the creation of the car, which was brought to mass production by Henry Ford 50 years later.
Human beings create the technology, and in return, technology shapes our reality. This is what we called the feedback loop. By tools (or technology), human beings have conquered the top of the hierarchy of organisms in this world.
Let’s get back to the main theme. Why is it that the very thing that has the most influence on almost every aspect of our lives – i.e. Big Brother – finds itself unable to upgrade itself?
We can learn from the UK example. The British government recently undertook remarkable reforms to its system of government.
The UK is well known as one of the most centralised governments in the world. For this type of government, the system normally would be like a slow-moving giant, as the complexity of the bureaucracy, much of it inherited practice, hinders new changes from being implemented.
By optimising digital instruments, the UK government managed to reduce many unnecessary procedures that had been obstacles in government services for a long time. They got rid of the paper-based bureaucracy, saving vast amounts of public money and slashing the time taken for jobs to be carried out.
The offices of many ministries now share their space, sorted by the suitability and inter-relationship of ministerial affairs. This centralised yet integrated government is showing promising trends that could point the way to how government can become more efficient and less bureaucratic.
Open data is one of the key areas implemented by the UK government. Gov.uk acts as the central hub for almost all governmental data. Every policy, update on any legal issue related to particular groups of citizens, any government task, discussions and implementation by government institutions can be found there. Citizens can monitor the government more effectively this way.
Not only that, the website provides for open consultation with citizens. For every new policy tabled for discussion in Parliament, public participation is taken into consideration.
By focusing on transparency, user (in this case, citizen) experience, a direct approach and minimalism, the UK has shown how technology can be used in government.
By considering this model, we can move further to empower every individual in the country. Direct democracy can be achieved with the help of technology. Perhaps this will prevent the abuse of power, which always comes from the concentration of power in representative democracy.
If we want to push the boundaries of democracy and upgrade it to uphold the principles of people’s power, equality, transparency and justice once again, this is the right time to do it.
There will be no more just talking. There will be no more silent minority. There will be no more inequality when it comes to public opinion.
And those animated debates by the Pak Ciks in the warung will not be pointless hot air; rather they will be counted and heard as part of public opinion. Unlike in the past, there will be no need to wait another five years to have people’s power restored to the rakyat.
Shuhaib Ar Rumy Ismail is a student in the Faculty of Science at the International Islamic University of Malaysia. He has a keen interest in democracy, social justice and intellectualism and is actively engaged with multiple discourses on youth empowerment in Malaysia. He is currently a fellow at the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) and a crew member of Universiti Terbuka Anak Muda (UTAM).
Shuhaib recently participated in Aliran’s Young Writers Workshop on Federalism and Decentralism, supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives. Of his experience at the workshop, he says, “The workshop opened my eyes to how to write better for a myriad of readers, convey better lines and hook readers until the end (of the article).
“A great platform for young intellectuals who want to start immortalising their ideas to the masses!”