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Monday, May 11, 2009

Opinion : BN's suicide attempt in Perak

MAY 11,2009 — John Lee | malaysianinsider

Barisan Nasional has committed political suicide.

No political strategy can save it now; only a miracle can.

Regardless of what Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s consultants can come up with, nothing can paper over the empirical reality of how Barisan has casually run roughshod over everything important which we Malaysians value.

Whenever Malaysians talk about what we are most grateful for, being able to live in peace and harmony with one another tops the list.

Regardless of what we may disagree on, we appreciate the fact that we can resolve our differences through words instead of fists, and institutions instead of mob rule. We expect our government to facilitate these discussions and these institutions — not to stymie and crush them.

The reason Barisan suffered such heavy losses on March 8 is that it has betrayed this trust we put in our government.

What we love about Malaysia is that in spite of our differences, be they ethnic, religious or political, we have found ways to get along and live together.

We aren’t on the best of terms, but what matters is that we are progressing, not falling back.

And over the past decade or two, we have only seen continued regression at the hands of our Barisan government.

Malaysians look at scenes from wartorn countries in the Middle East and Africa and give thanks that we are not a tinpot democracy or beset by racial rioting.

But under Barisan’s leadership, we have seen the police arrest elected representatives and ordinary citizens for simply daring to disagree with the government.

We have seen the courts turned into slaves at the rule of convenience, instead of the rule of law. We have seen tens of thousands of average Malaysians, like you and me, tear gassed by the police we expect to defend us.

We have seen a government led by men more interested in fanning racial and religious tensions than interested in pursuing reasonable dialogue between different communities. Why should we vote for a government that cannot deliver the harmony and harmonious institutions we demand?

This past week was one of the worst imaginable for Malaysian democracy and the Malaysian nation.

The government locked up an academic for giving out fashion tips.

They arrested dozens of Malaysians for drinking teh tarik in the vicinity of the Perak state assembly. They arrested many more just for expressing their opinions. And perhaps most unforgivably, they violently intruded on the proceedings of the Perak state assembly, giving the lie to their claims of standing up for the defence of democracy and harmony.

Yes, Pakatan Rakyat was obstructing the now Barisan-controlled state assembly from going about its business.

I can accept that argument — I don’t think the case for Pakatan is as open-shut as some seem to believe it is.

But the whole fact of the matter is, the Sultan broke with centuries of parliamentary tradition in refusing to return the question of control of the state assembly back to the rakyat.

And more importantly, all the institutions we count on to give us justice, from the courts to the civil service to the police, violently intruded on the sanctity of the elected legislative assembly, and blatantly interfered in favour of and partiality to one side.

In the 17th century, England was ruled by King Charles I — a firm believer in the principle that might makes right, and that the executive reigns supreme. Parliament increasingly refused to go along with his oppressive taxes and repressive policies.

Infuriated, Charles led a band of armed men to Parliament to arrest his opponents, violently entering the House of Commons.

Finding that the MPs had fled, the King displaced Speaker William Lenthall from his chair, and demanded to know where they had gone.

Lenthall’s words, much like former Perak MB Nizar Jamaluddin’s “Patik mohon derhaka,” have gone down in history as a brave defence of the right of elected legislatures to deliberate in peace, without heed for the executive’s wishes: “May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.”

The pictures of plainclothes policemen violently dragging Speaker A. Sivakumar from his chair out of the assembly will go down in our history, as surely as the image of Charles’s forced entrance into Parliament has gone down in British history.

Even if Barisan is technically and legally in the right, which it well may be, it has lost any right to claim that it stands for democracy and the preservation of harmony in our country. Barisan has perverted every institution and every value we hold dear so it can hold on to power.

When the executive oversteps its bounds, people remember. 17th century England was much less democratic than we are today, but not since that day in 1642 has any British monarch dared to cross the threshold into the House of Commons.

Till this day, the pomp and ceremony of the British Parliament focus on asserting the right of MPs to deliberate and discuss independently of the executive. The people of England knew what Charles had done, and they knew it was wrong.

The people of Malaysia know what Barisan has done, and we know it is wrong. No public relations campaign can change this. Releasing a handful of activists and political criminals to atone for violently murdering democracy is like trying to rebuild a house by giving its ruins a fresh coat of pain.

Yes, the bloody thing looks nicer, but nobody is going to live in it.

Yes, we’re glad we have men like P. Uthayakumar and Wong Chin Huat back—but like any individual, they pale in importance to the principles they stand for. We want our democracy and our harmony back.

And democracy and harmony are something Barisan clearly cannot give us.

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