July 2011 Archives
I stepped outside the house this morning and was assailed by a distinctively smoky, musky aroma in the air. Visibility was down, and looking off into the distance, it seemed like the land was engulfed in a smokey haze. The Indonesians were burning again, and its time for Malaysians to suffer the consequences (again). My whole family is sick, including my 3 month old baby. Walking into the office, nearly everyone has the sniffles, coughing. Business has never been so good at the company clinic. I can only imagine how poorly people who suffer from asthma or breathing problems are faring through all of this. For them, for the worst of them, it'll be like drowning in open air -- they won't be able to breathe.
It's interesting that this is happening just days after the Bersih rally, because it makes the comparison all the more easy to connect.
During the rally, one person died. It's a tragedy, and despite the Government's claim that he passed due to heart failure, there certainly is a case to argue that if the police hadn't gassed him, he wouldn't have had to run and put unnecessary stress on his heart. Predictably, the Opposition is milking this tragedy for all it's worth, calling the death a testimony to the police brutality of a merciless Government hell-bent on preserving their corrupt way of life through unfair elections. Etc etc etc. The script is obvious.
But where is the outrage, Anwar Ibrahim, over this haze that is causing so much harm to millions of Malaysians? Where are the chest thumping speeches against the brutality of the Indonesian government for being strict in the enforcement of their no-open burning policies? Where is the formation of "UDARA" - Malaysians for clean and healthy air? Where are the threats of street demonstrations if the Government does nothing to put pressure on the Indonesians? Where are the green T-Shirts? Where is the petition to the King? Where is the global organized protest?
Of course, you'll see no such thing, because Anwar Ibrahim can't afford to antagonize the Indonesians who have been staunch supporters of his cause for years. Earlier this week, Malaysia had to send an envoy to Indonesia to explain the Bersih rally, to assure the Indonesians that the police acted within the law. That is how much they love Anwar Ibrahim over there, even a relatively minor incident (much larger rallies occur in Indonesia on a much more frequent basis) such as the Bersih rally can spark off columns of newspaper ink in his favour, potentially leading to a diplomatic crisis between the nations.
A reasonable person will make this connection: if Anwar Ibrahim claims to have the rakyat's best interest at heart, why does he choose to support Bersih and do nothing about things such as the haze (that hits us every single year, a few times a year)? Given the evidence, is it because one cause brings him political mileage while the other will tarnish the good reputation he has overseas (especially his large base of goodwill he has in Indonesia)?
A true champion of the "rakyat" will not discriminate between the two; the fact that he does, makes me question his motives, his intentions and his nobility. Therefore, was Bersih ever really about electoral reform or was it just a vehicle for him to gather more support and "buy" a few thousand more votes in the next general election?
Sometimes, i wonder which is more disgusting. A party that bribes the voters to vote for them with RM50 handouts on polling day, or a man who brings 50k people to the streets where people get hurt and one person died so that he gets more votes. Don't let him fool you, Anwar Ibrahim is not a white knight. He is just a politician, no better than the rest of them.
there are 8 altogether, for those who need their memories refreshed), but that's not important. What is was the show of "unity", the show of a common cause, the show of "right" and how the "might" of the Government was defeated. Great fuzzy feelings all around.
But there are a few things those who support Bersih need to know.
1. 50,000 people do not make the majority. As with any large demonstration, they do make a hell of a noise, enough for the international Press to take notice, enough for the nation to be talking for weeks over the issue. But, it is still a relatively small number. Bersih should not count their chickens until all the eggs are hatched, how many people changed their minds about voting for a "oppressive" Government "opposed" to electoral reforms will only be obvious during the next elections. How many people who once supported the Opposition, but feel disgusted that they have hijacked a good cause and used a good woman as a vehicle to further their position, is also unknown.
How many people who between now and the date of GE13 will change their minds again for whatever reason that might come up. It's too soon still to tell if the primary impact of the rally yesterday will hold true till the next time voters are asked to visit the polls. A lot of water remains to pass under that bridge, including how both sides react in the aftermath of 9 July.
2. The rally yesterday was illegal. As much as the Opposition say they want the rule of law to prevail, it seems rather convenient that when the rule of law goes against them, they choose to ignore it, then cry foul when the authorities enforce it. No, you can't have it both ways, i'm afraid. Clause 2 of Article 10 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution says that Parliament (through the passing of law) has the right to regulate the freedom of assembly. One law that does exist as a result of Clause 2 is the law that requires permits for assembly. The rally yesterday did not have a permit, and is therefore illegal. By breaking the law to reform the law, it does create an oxymoronic situation of sorts that a clear-thinking person will take pause to consider.
And in case anyone asks, laws requiring permits for assembly are not unique to Malaysia. New York City, London and just about any major city in the world has the same. It's about maintaining public order, and safety. Just like their police brothers in KL yesterday, NYC police had to use force to break up an illegal assembly in 2007. See Seoul, South Korea in 2007 when 15,000 riot police were deployed to control 10,000 marchers against free trade.
When Bersih asked for the rickety Stadium Merdeka of 30k capacity to be the venue of their 50-100k rally, what would have been the responsible thing to do? It's almost as though the request for such a small venue was made in bad faith, calculated to be denied so that Bersih could regain the moral high ground after losing some during the King's surprise intervention.
No freedom is absolute, that's a fact often forgotten.
3. Taking into consideration #1 and #2 above, Bersih does not represent the majority and the fact that the rally was illegal, for the Government to agree to the 8 electoral reforms (several of which have absolutely nothing to do with the elections but are more political in nature, some of which the Opposition themselves can't claim to be free of, see PKR's recently concluded internal "elections"), would set a dangerous precedent for the future. A slippery slope in the wrong direction.
The moment any Government allows itself to be blackmailed ("do this or else we take to the streets"), it legitimizes the strategy of the mob. Get the mob onto the streets and the Government will give in. That's just wrong, no matter how valid the demands.
Therefore, in retrospect, the Bersih rally was actually counter-productive to the adoption of electoral reforms. By taking to the streets in an illegal demonstration, it virtually guaranteed that the Government needs to take a hard stand against the demands made. Wrap your mind around that.
I shared by thoughts about the rally tomorrow on my Facebook page, then realized it's a waste to confine it to just my friends. It's a national issue with wide reaching implications and repercussions for us all, not just the ones who will be there tomorrow.
For once, i hope that i'm wrong. (click to enlarge)
- Bersih 1.0, 2007: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Bersih_rally
- Siege Mentality: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_mentality
- What have you done for me lately? http://www.aizuddindanian.com/voi/2011/07/what-have-you-done-for-me-late.html
After reading Praba Ganesan's excellent "The immovable 10pc", it got me thinking about the value of a democratic system of government. If only 10% of the electorate make up the kingmakers of our nation, does that mean that we are beholden to the choices they make? Hardly seems fair that 90% of the electorate have to live with the choices of the 10%, in our electoral systems where "first past the post" wins.
*Of course 10% is a completely arbitrary number. It could be 5%. 15%. Anywhere in between or thereabouts. It isn't a big number, but it exists.
I've always had a grouse with democracy -- and that's it often turns into a popularity contest, and by being as such, votes are cast for the wrong reasons instead of the right ones. Of course, "right" and "wrong" are completely subjective terms. What is right for one voter may invariably be wrong for another. The anonymous ballot is the shield against the conspiracy of stupidity.
Case in point. Thaksin Sinawatra who came to power on the wave of the "popular" ballot in 2001, only to get kicked out after a slew of scandals and allegations of corruption in 2006. It's telling that both movements, the one that brought him to power, and the one that got rid of him, were extremely popular "people power" movements. And now, in 2011, his sister (i'm a firm believer that apples rarely fall far from the tree) has come to office in a major show of popularity. History teaches us the same about Joseph Estrada. The Bushes. The Tories (who screw Britons over every time they are elected, but never fail to come to office at least once every couple of elections). All fine examples of democracy, working at it's finest.
The adage goes that we get the Government that we deserve. That's so true. But surely there is a better way of doing things.
It's something that i've advocated on the VOI many times over the years -- vote the candidate, not the party. As sure as the rain falls from the sky, this world is full of two types of politicians. One type is the Guy (or Girl) Who Gets It Done. The other type is the Guy (or Girl) Who Talks About Getting It Done (but Doesn't). And i'm not referring to the Big Things. I'm talking about the Small Things. The things that matter in the day to day lives of the people, the improvement of our surroundings, tangibles rather than airy fairy talk about GDP, per capita incomes and corruption indexes.
I have much less faith in the politician who promises to fix our economy and put more money into our pockets than the politician who promises to fix the traffic conditions near where i live or fights to reduce the tolls i pay everyday to go to work. The difference? One promise is empty. The other promise is achievable.
For the Immovable 10pc Praba spoke about, it's not about the Big Things. If the country suddenly became corrupt free, or if models stopped getting blown up, or if submarines found the ability to submerge, or fighter plane engines didn't disappear -- these things mean nothing to the 10%. It doesn't make their life better or worse in any demonstrable way. They will still be slogging to work everyday, picking up their paychecks, rotting in traffic jams, watching Astro when we get home, dealing with crying babies and nasty diapers. The 10% are not necessarily affluent, they come from all walks, and that's just how they lead their lives (and are happy to do so). Governments, just like Thaksin's, Estrada's, the Bushes, the Tories -- they come and go, and the lives of the 10% will stay (more or less) the same.
So for them, what makes the difference? What determines their votes? Let it be with their own eyes, and what they can see. Sadly, politicians often get blinded by the Big Picture, they forget the Small Things.
Take Tony Pua, for instance (i have nothing against the guy, he's probably very smart and an uber-nice fellow). While his speeches and releases to the Press are awesome headliners and offer chest-thumping-freedom-fighting feelings of momentary goodness, he could have done much better for his constituency. The Atria is a mess, roads are choked to hell, and a host of other local complaints. Is it his fault? Perhaps not, because he is fighting the Bigger Fight, the struggling for the Big Picture. He can't clone himself and be everywhere at once.
But that's exactly why the Immovable 10% will remain, "immovable". I put to you that if politicians did more for their own communities, and fixed their own backyards first, that should be the basis for them to earn your vote. Don't vote them out because you dislike their party (many good politicians lost their jobs this way despite serving their communities well for years). Don't vote for the candidate just because he promises to Fix the World and make Gold Rain from the Sky. Ask him, challenge him for what he has done for YOU today. Can he make your life better?