A government of real change should not think that muzzling criticism through censorship and other sinister means is the only way of maintaining order, says Mustafa K Anuar.
Political cartoonist Zunar’s assertion that he would still criticise the government even if Pakatan Harapan (PH) takes power is a good starting point in addressing the issue of political change.
Cartoonists, critics, academics, independent analysts and concerned Malaysians should have a platform and the freedom to exercise their right to make the government accountable.
And, given that PH has promised political change and institutional reform, it is only proper that should it come to power after the general election, PH be subject to the highest standards of public scrutiny.
That is why, for example, laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act (as mentioned by PH recently), which has been abused in the past, should not be amended but repealed.
There should also be incentives for smaller media outlets so that political, social and cultural diversity is embraced and celebrated, and the interests and concerns of minorities and the marginalised are protected.
And this should be accompanied by the passing of a Freedom of Information Act to demonstrate the government’s sincerity and full appreciation of freedom of expression and information as a cornerstone of democracy.
The notion of separation of powers should not remain a fanciful idea only at the hustings. It should be concretised so that the executive, legislative and judiciary should really check one another to prevent any abuse of power, irrespective of who becomes the government.
If this idea is pursued vigorously, then we would be able to avoid, for instance, the embarrassing situation in which our Parliament becomes a place where issues of national import and public concern, such as the 1MDB scandal and the Unicef report on child poverty and malnutrition, are prevented from being discussed.
Incidentally, lawmakers should be reminded that laws should be created to empower the people, not to cow or leash them – as has remained the practice to a large extent in the country.
Laws should also be instituted for the interest and welfare of the people, not the select few.
A government of real change should not think that muzzling criticism through censorship and other sinister means is the only way of maintaining order.
It should help build an environment where ideas flourish and are discussed and debated like they would be in a civilised and democratic society. There should be respect for intellectual freedom.
In the academia, for example, students should not be punished, fined and suspended simply because their opinions are dissimilar to the government.
Put another way, university authorities should not react in a way that would give the general public the impression that they have left their mental faculties behind upon gaining administrative power in universities.
It goes without saying, therefore, that universities should be a place where contrarian views are part and parcel of academic life, and should not be perceived as something abnormal or, worse, criminal.
Similarly, academic institutions, such as the National Council of Professors, should untangle themselves from the public impression that they are merely there to provide legitimacy to government views and actions.
Books, including cartoon books, need not be banned just because they are discordant with the government’s views.
And another thing, the Opposition should not be perceived and regarded by the government of the day as an unnecessary evil – because it is a legitimate institution in a thriving democracy. Not a nuisance to be mocked or even quashed.
To be sure, right-thinking Malaysians look forward to more than a mere change of political actors with a similar tired script when they go to the polling station in the near future.
The Malaysian Insight