As the nuts of the dacing are tightened, the arms will remain level even with grossly unequal weights on either side. Thus an illusion of justice and fairness is created, observes Ravinder Singh.
The dacing had been used in Malaysia as a reliable weighing instrument for a long time. But a time came when its use was banned as some traders using it were not so honest and with a sleight of hand could easily give short weight to the customer. So it had to go and be replaced with modern, more reliable and not so easily tampered weighing instruments.
The ‘dacing’ or double-pan balance scale is a symbol of justice, fairness, equality. The Bar Council’s logo has it and so does the logo of the ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional.
Having a logo is one thing, but living up to what it signifies is another. When a political party uses it as its logo, the party is promising the people that it would govern in a just and fair manner. In a multiracial society, it would also signify equality of respect, etc. for all. Has the party lived up to what it depicts itself to be?
Elections are mere days away. The ruling coalition feels like it is their birthright that voters give them another five years. In schools and universities students have to pass exams before they get to continue to higher levels of study. Similarly, election time is examination time for the ruling party, and the voters are the examiners.
The caretaker government that has been on the job for an unbroken span of 55 years is strongly advocating the idea that electors should “return favours” to them.
Everyone knows what this means – give them another five years. Fear psychology is being used unabashedly and to the maximum to push this idea through. Goodies in the form of cash and kind are being strewn all over the country. Promises are being made of more to come if voters “return the favour”. Bleak pictures of economic ruin and racial problems are being bandied about to frighten voters if there is no ‘continuity’.
Yes, one good turn deserves another. But what are the favours that they have done to the nation over the past 55 years that deserve a good turn in return? What betterment compared to decades past has this unbroken 55-year rule brought?
It is very symbolic that the logo of this 55-year-old administration is the double pan balance scale or ‘dacing’. Now if we use the dacing to weigh the deeds of this administration to see how its actual deeds weigh against what is being claimed, against what is expected of good governance, do the scales balance?
It is not possible in this short test to weigh everything. So let us concentrate on just a few core matters. A benchmark is needed and 1957 is appropriate because that is when home rule started under the ‘sailing boat’ brand administration after colonial rule ended.
Firstly, in a true democracy, the doctrine of the separation of powers between among the three branches of government, i.e. the legislature, the judiciary and the executive, is of paramount importance. This is so, so that an effective check and balance is maintained and none of them one becomes dictatorial. We see this working in some Asian countries, e.g. in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India where the judiciary have passed sentences against top sitting and past leaders. What is the position of the doctrine of the separation of powers in Malaysia? Is it respected?
In 1988 the Malaysian judiciary was castrated with the sacking of the Lord President and two other top judges, while three more top judges on the chopping board were reinstated after the kangaroo tribunal hearings. Although years later, under a different PM, it was acknowledged that their sacking was unjustified and they were compensated, that has not restored the glory of the judiciary to the pre-sacking era. How many judges today have the stature and standing of those five judges? How many of them today are bold or confident enough to stand up to the excesses or other nonsense of the Executive?
The judiciary has inherent powers to strike down laws that are unconstitutional. But today we have laws that expressly remove this power of the courts e.g. in the recent case of dubious names in the electoral roll, the court said it could do nothing as it had no power to rule on electoral rolls that had been gazetted. Now ministers have more powers than the courts. What happened to the dividing line between the three arms of a democracy? Better democracy than in 1957?
The legislative arm had more than a two-thirds majority for most of the 55 years. This was used to mutilate the Constitution, the highest law of the country. Morally, Parliament should not be amending the Constitution because Parliament itself is a baby of the Constitution. But then, we had a PM to whom “laws are a hindrance to development”. He had to have his way, all the way. The rule of law was relegated to the dustbin. He called it guided democracy.
How did the Executive arm fare? Let us look at a few of the more important areas of its work.
Race relations – Can anyone honestly say that these are better today than in 1957? We did not have the likes of Ibrahim Ali and his ilk brazenly uttering statements hurting the feelings of the other races although doing so is an offence under the Penal Code. No action is taken against them for breaching the law, which means certain people are free to drive wedges between the races. 1 Malaysia?
Education – Is it better today than in 1957? In 1957, there was no issue about learning the English Language. In fact, next to the Indians in India, Malaysians, including Malays, were the best English-educated in Asia. Malay, Indian and Chinese children had no problems then learning their own language, English and Malay. Why is it such a problem today?
Schools – We have some beautiful school buildings today compared to those days. There was such good discipline and academic learning then. Today we have so many disciplinary problems in schools, where children can be so violent, where teachers are afraid of their students. Is this called “improvement”? Academic standards were good. Today, passing marks are apparently reduced to show “good” results. But we are told our education system is better than that in some advanced countries, e.g. Germany. How many top schools of the 1950s are today near the bottom of the list?
Universities and university colleges – We have a lot of them today, spread all over the country. What is the quality of their products, many of whom find it difficult to get employed? Many of them cannot have serious discussions on any topic, many cannot speak or write a few grammatically correct sentences of English? Is this advancement or degradation of education? Something to be thankful for?
The police – Are there really proportionately less crimes today than in the 1950s, 60s and 70s? They blame it on people’s perception. But what develops those perceptions if not the happenings around them? When people and their friends, family members, office mates etc., are directly affected by criminal activities, can people not get worried about becoming the next victim?
A few departments or bodies are said to be independent e.g. the Anti-Corruption Agency (now Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission), the Auditor General, the Attorney General, the Election Commission. Let’s put them in the dacing also.
The AG’s chambers do not prosecute without fear or favour, but selectively. While they are quick to haul up certain persons, their eyes are closed to the likes of Ibrahim Ali, Ridhuan Tee and even Dr M for making racially sensitive statements, which are an offence under the law. The quality of prosecutions is down as many cases are thrown out due to investigations that are not thorough or important witnesses not being called. In Jean Perera’s case, a confession was new evidence that saw the accused due to be hanged going free, but in Altantuya’s case it is not new evidence though two police officers are on death row. Justice without fear or favour, befitting the dacing symbol?
The Malaysian-Anti Corruption Commission can be mocked by a minister who says he will not cooperate with them as they are “naughty”. Can this happen in our neighbouring countries?
The Auditor General has exposed government excesses and malpractices year after year. Congratulations to this department which passes with an excellent grade, for doing an excellent job. But what happens after that? Why is the plundering not stopped? E.g. an educational institution bought two laptops for about RM90,000. What happened to the person who did so? Where did the excess of about RM85,000 go? Accountability?
The Election Commission claims to be independent and to be conducting elections in a very fair manner. It shows the public a supposedly well balanced dacing with its two arms level. The arms, when they are on a fixed pivot, will balance when the weight on both sides is the same or approximately the same. But the EC has made the arms balance with 1kg on one side and 18kg on the other – one vote in Putrajaya being approximately equal to 18 in Kapar. How to do this trick?
Simple, remove the fixed pivot and replace it with a nut and bolt. This was done by an amendment to the Constitution when the definition of “approximately” was removed. Then using a torque wrench keep tightening the nut to hold the two arms in balance with unequal weights in each pan to serve a purpose. As the nuts are tightened, the arms will remain level even with grossly unequal weights on either side. Thus an illusion of justice and fairness is created. No wonder the dacing was banned as a weighing instrument in trade and commerce.
So, elections are not about blindly returning the favour, but about critically evaluating the performance and credibility of all those standing for election and seeking the voters’ endorsement.
Ravinder Singh, a former teacher, is an activist based in Penang and regular contributor to our Thinking Allowed Online section.