From democracy to autocracy to kleptocracy

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So many Malaysians in government are unable to see what many the world over have written about 1MDB and the serious crisis facing this nation, writes K Haridas.

Electoral democracy as practised in Malaysia is about numbers in the first-past-the-post system.

Issues of identity can often mask people from the real issues and challenges facing a nation. In Africa this can take the form of tribal loyalties. In India this could range from caste loyalties to religion and ethnicity. The same could be said for our nation, where many of these issues, in particular ethnicity and religion, are exploited.

Real bread and butter issues, the challenges that voters face are often masked by issues highlighting sensitive ethnic and religious issues. The divides created are exploited to mask glaring deficiencies like the trust deficit, corruption, mismanagement and favours given to cronies.

With a prime minister, who is also the finance minister, and with 43% of the stock market under the hold of government-linked companies, where is the level playing field? For real democracy to work in Malaysia, the entire system has to be retooled. The disparity between urban and rural votes and between some urban constituencies is most glaring.

You can have the best system in the world but if these are managed by people who do not have the courage to stand up for what is right, then the system gets exploited. A string of laws such as the Official Secrets Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act are used to instil fear into the people.

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What we are witnessing today is democracy in the fashion of an autocracy. And despite losing the popular vote at the last general election, this unpopular government continues to debase the standing of the nation internationally.

An autocracy of this nature soon evolves into a kleptocracy, as is evident from all that has happened in the last five years. We do not need external forces to undermine our democracy. We have many people for whom money, titles and other benefits are enough to buy their silence. Others, however, fear the loss of their jobs. We lack leadership with spine and clarity. What we witness is religiosity without values.

Democracy globally is facing tremendous pressures. The enemies of democracy are no more clearly defined as fascist dictators. On the contrary populist authoritarian leaders – as seen in Cambodia, Maldives, Malaysia and other Asian and African nations – use democracy as the entry point and then remould the system to their benefit.

We are witnessing in Malaysia the silence of Institutions, the disregard for the rule of law, draconian laws that prevent the press from playing its rightful role, and the use of the Official Secrets Act to protect those in power. Those in power today are playing by their own rules to ensure they will remain in power thus undoing democratic traditions.

Sreven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their book How Democracies Die stress how the democratic structure is vulnerable to power-hungry leaders who subvert the system by ignoring conventions and requirements: “Institutions are not enough to reign in elected autocrats who pack the courts and other neutral agencies, buy off the media and other private sector companies, and rewrite the rules of politics to tilt the field against opponents.”

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This is an accurate analysis of what is presently happening in Malaysia. “The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy gradually, subtly and even legally to kill it,” they emphasise.

Democracy calls for vigilance, which is the responsibility of every citizen. There is the need to mobilise and ensure that citizens are aware of these challenges and use every type of media that is available today to challenge the establishment and expose their twisted motives and tactics.

Trust has been the critical issue and with the trust deficit further compromised by the drop in the Corruption Perception Index, every Malaysians needs to speak out and stand tall for the future of democracy in Malaysia. This election is perhaps a defining moment for all of us.

Our country is being attacked from within. Compromised leaders further compromise the integrity and security of the nation.

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen who illegally ousted Nasheed in a coup in 2012 has fallen deep into the hands of the Chinese, which now has a free trade agreement with his nation. The building of a modern port, an airport, a cruise hub, a marina and a dockyard including the possibility of another port further south will see the confirmation of the Chinese as the largest number of tourists to the country.

Similarly, Sri Lanka, under the aegis of former President Mahindra Rajapaksa, saw the development of an airport and a port in Hambantota – all part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative.

It is clear from all this that Chinese naval strategy is being fulfilled. An article in a Chinese naval journal revealed the nation’s strategy for the Indian Ocean: “Select locations meticulously, make deployments discreetly, give priority to cooperative activities and penetrate gradually.”

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We are gradually reduced to being like the frog in a container of water that is slowly being heated. We have lost the ability to jump out and, in the end, we will be cooked because we are blind to the forces that have exploited the greed and ambitions of our leaders.

Already over 90% of Sri Lanka’s GDP goes to debt financing. This is what leaders who are vulnerable because of their greed and corrupt activities do to their nation.

We all know what the picture in Malaysia is and with many of our ports potentially in the hands of the Chinese in the future, several strategic interests could be compromised.

Already, China is perceived by many to be assisting corrupt leaders in a string of Asian and African nations.

We must ensure that we regain the reins of our democracy by ensuring that this ruling ‘coalition of silence’, which does not understand what it means to stand for ethical standards, is voted out.

We may have national integrity plans and a minister for national integrity, but the hypocrisy that is evident shows how power corrupts absolutely – body, mind and soul – even among  so-called religious, ‘sensitive’ people. The corrupt and those who have damaged the international reputation and dignity of this nation must be called to account.

Amazingly, so many Malaysians in government are unable to see what many the world over have written about 1MDB and the serious crisis facing this nation. Yes, when good individuals remain silent, then evil triumphs.

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