You Have Been Challenged, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi!
M. Bakri Musa
“Saya pantang dicabar!” (lit: “I am allergic to challenges;” fig. “Don’t challenge me!”) declared Prime Minister Abdullah in an uncharacteristically bold assertion to the media on the eve of BERSIH’s massive street demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday, November 10, 2007.
You have now been challenged, Mr. Prime Minister, openly and publicly by your own citizens, and you have emerged impotent! That huge street rally may be illegal to you, but the King had consented to receiving its leaders and their petition. In effect, the King too has challenged you, Abdullah! In case you did not get the message, you had just been served a very public royal rebuff.
I too, challenge you, Abdullah! Instead of arresting those ordinary citizen demonstrators, I dare you to arrest their leaders, Anwar Ibrahim, Hadi Awang, Lim Kit Siang, and Raja Petra Kamarudin. Those ordinary folks were merely exercising their basic rights as citizens of a democracy: the right to free assembly and to petition the authorities.
As per the refrain of the Ghostbusters theme song, “Who are you gonna call now!” Mr. Prime Minister? Your fabulous Fourth Floor boys? Your son-in-law who is using you as his “protection?” Imagine being considered as such by your son-in-law!
Khairy Jamaluddin obviously had not heard of your “demonstrations are not part of our Malay culture” bit. Either that or Khairy had blissfully ignored it as when he led that pathetic street demonstration against your official guest, US State Secretary Rice.
In a speech earlier in the week, Khairy demanded that the authorities “come down hard” on the BERSIH demonstrators. While there were some water cannons and tear gas canisters unloaded, the demonstrations went ahead smoothly and successfully to the palace. The police even released most of those arrested. Your son-in-law challenged you to be tough on the demonstrators, and you came out lembik (limp).
Dim Wit Understanding of Democracy
In denying the BERSIH demonstrators their police permit, Abdullah demonstrated only a dim wit understanding of democracy, akin to that held by Saddam Hussein and Pervez Musharraf. Both were voted in with over 98 percent of the votes, and they took that to mean they could ride roughshod over their country and citizens. Never mind that their elections were anything but fair and free.
Democracy means rule of the people, but it does not mean mob rule legitimized through the ballot box. Electoral victory is not a license for tyranny of the majority. As Fareed Zakaria wrote so eloquently in his book, The Future of Freedom, democracy is more than just elections. Even if elections were fair and free (far from the reality in Malaysia, hence the demonstrations!), obsession with or sole reliance on them would threaten the other far more important aspects like the rule of law, private property rights, separation of powers, and the right to free speech and to assemble freely.
Elections regular or otherwise, honest or rigged, do not guarantee these; only independent and impartial judges could. An independent judiciary is thus the hallmark as well as the guarantor of democracy and freedom, certainly much more than universal adult suffrage.
As for the state of the Malaysian judiciary, the Lingam tapes painfully showed what a sorry mess it is in. Even if BERSIH were completely successful with its petition and the Elections Commission completely overhauled, there is still the monumental task of cleaning up the judiciary and restoring its long lost integrity.
These points are elementary and obvious to all, save the dim witted.
Time to Deliver The Next Lesson
There is another feature of the dim witted; they are slow learners. It is unlikely for them to have learned a lesson from Bersih’s successful rally, or if they did it may not have stuck.
Since the only lesson that would register on their thick skulls is election returns, my friend Din Merican had started a campaign to register voters. The next step would be to ensure that they will vote against the Barisan coalition.
It would encourage voters to do that if there were to be substantial and effective co-ordination among the opposition parties to ensure that there would only be a one-on-one battle with the Barisan in every constituency. The objective here is rather modest, to inflict enough damage to the Barisan coalition such that it would precipitate internal squabbling especially within UMNO to trigger its implosion.
Selecting the best candidate, meaning one who would most likely defeat the Barisan’s nominee, involves studying the demographics of the constituency as well as the Barisan’s candidate. Since race is never far from voters’ considerations, the best avenue to neutralize this crucial factor would be to field candidates of the same race as the Barisan’s nominees. This was the clear lesson from the recent Ijok by-elections. Thus the opposition must be ready to change candidates on nomination day depending on who would represent Barisan.
For example, if Barisan were to re-nominate the current MCA candidate but at the last minute the seat were to go to UMNO, then the opposition must be ready to substitute a Malay candidate. If that party (like DAP for instance) cannot come up with a Malay nominee, then it should be willing to give the slot to a Malay from one of the other parties.
BERSIH’s victory should embolden the citizens to impart to the Barisan government the other equally important lesson: cleaning out the rot in the judiciary. No less than a full Royal Commission with full powers to subpoena witnesses and grant them immunity should be the objective. As Fareed Zakaria noted, an impartial and independent judiciary is the best guarantor of our freedoms and democracy. We must keep drumming these lessons lest they forget easily.
We must keep mencabar (challenging) Abdullah until he comes to his senses and realizes the obvious: the job of being a Prime Minister of our great nation is way above his head. If he does not, others either within or outside his party should be emboldened enough to tell him so.