Political déjà vu before our very eyes

  • A familiar sense that government claims to listen to its people, but in reality doesn’t
  • Many unanswered questions still surround the review of the controversial Evidence Act amendment

Political déjà vu before our very eyesPeriscope by Edwin Yapp

A little over a year ago, I wrote in a column on The Malaysian Insider (TMI) on how I felt about Bersih 2.0, the civil society movement calling for freer and fairer elections in Malaysia.
Although I wasn’t there physically on that fateful day, I was led to write about it after hearing accounts of how some of my friends – and the tens of thousands who thronged the streets on July 9, 2011 – were targeted by the authorities clamping down on the movement’s constitutional right to gather peacefully.
In essence, I argued that in a fully functioning democracy, the democratic principle of “a government elected by the people, for the people” necessitates and demands that a sitting government listens to its people.
To quote from my essay on TMI:

“In other thriving and fully functioning democracies around the world, this is expressed through the polls when their citizens make their voices heard and have the power to kick out an incumbent government, just like what happened in Britain recently (in May 2011). In short, governments come and go as a result of the people's wishes through elections.
But such mechanisms only work if there are free and fair election processes and practices.
For us in Malaysia, how can the people change the government of the day through the polls when the current electoral processes and procedures are unfair, one-sided and not effective in the first place?”

A year later, I find that little has changed insofar as it concerns the Malaysian Government’s behavior towards the wishes of its people.
I’m speaking in the context of the recent fiasco where the Government insidiously gazetted a contentious amendment to the Evidence Act on July 31, which resulted in netizens, civil society, selected media bodies, A-list bloggers and Internet-related businesses coming together on Aug 14 to lead an online protest now aptly known as the #Stop 114A Internet Blackout Day Campaign.
By now, most of you, dear readers, would know the issue surrounding this debacle, but just in case you don’t, read what my esteemed colleague, A.Asohan, has to say in his exposition of the issue at length here.
The Blackout Day Campaign exceeded the expectation of its organizers, the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ), and the cries of the people, for a mere moment, did get the attention of the Prime Minister, who directed his Cabinet colleagues to relook at the issue, saying that “his government regards the people's views as top priority.”
But alas, the call to relook at the issue was futile from the get-go, as the Cabinet swiftly decided that status quo was the order of the day.
In fact, at second glance, it’s pretty much business as usual for the incumbent administration – when it continually acts as if it knows better and makes changes on its citizenry – this time by force of the law.
This is exactly what happened in Bersih 3.0 after experiencing version 2.0 of the event, and for me at least, this is where the sense of déjà vu lies.
Another salient question that comes to mind about this so-called review is this: Could one session of Cabinet discussions a few days before a major public holiday celebration, in the form of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, really resolve such a complex matter?
Whilst the PM may have ordered the relook of Section 114A as quickly as possible, why the rush to make a swift announcement that nothing needs changing?
Besides these questions, here are more unanswered queries:

  • Were the discussions at last Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting just paying lip service to the PM’s instructions?
  • How much political will was there to sincerely relook at the amendment, and assess its real impact on the people?
  • How exhaustively can this issue be discussed at a single meeting without the benefit of further research into what else could be done to address the anonymity of Net postings other than allowing this legislation to go through?
  • What of the technical solutions that may be available or acquired to help get to the bottom of anonymous postings that are illegal and undesirable, which the amendment ostensibly aims to address?

Political déjà vu before our very eyesOf course we will never know the answers as Cabinet discussions are official secrets which Joe Public is not privy to.
But what we do know is that Section 114A is now law and we the rakyat (citizenry) have once again been denied our right to be heard.
Sure, government officials can cite the fact that this amendment was passed in Parliament, through its proper due process, which resulted in it becoming a piece of legislation.
But as pointed out in my column a year ago, Malaysia can never be a true and fully functioning democracy when there is no level playing field, nor a chance to change its elected officials and the government of the day through a fair electoral process.
It’s akin to saying: “Heads the government wins, tails we, the rakyat, lose.”
And as long as there are no free and fair elections, inappropriate laws, including Section 114A, will continue to be drafted and passed in Parliament.
The ineffectual outcome of this review ordered by the PM sadly, but truly, represents a missed opportunity for him to stamp his authority and to fulfill his aspiration embodied in his all famous 1Malaysia slogan, “People First, Performance Now.”
For me personally, the people haven’t been “First” for a long time. But this latest inaction is the "last straw that broke the camel's back," as there’s no doubt in my mind anymore that the PM’s words have been empirically proven to be mere political campaign taglines.
And therein lies the greatest travesty for all Malaysians.

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