Hope Springs eternal | Selangor Times
Issue 118


Hope Springs eternal
Writer: Azmi Sharom
Published: Fri, 30 Dec 2011

THIS year, the most amazing political event to have occurred in the world could very arguably be the Arab Spring. Popular uprisings all over the Middle East have seen dictatorships fall like ten-pins in the centre of of a camel race. The process continues still.

This phenomenon demolishes stereotypes like “Arabs don’t care about democracy”. There are also lessons to be learnt for the rest of us who live in authoritarian societies. And please, do not let the recent flurry of activities from Putrajaya fool you. We live in an authoritarian society.

Attempts made by the ruling coalition to give themselves a more liberal face do not pass close examination. The Peaceful Assembly Act basically bestows upon us the “wonderful” right to gather in stadiums.

The proposed amendments to the University and University Colleges Act simply does not understand at all the concept of student autonomy and freedom. Joining a political party at the age of 21 is not the be all and end all about student autonomy. And don’t get me started about the potential horrors that the replacement for the ISA is going to bring.

However, I digress. My point is that although we may differ in degree, Malaysia, just like the Arab regimes brought down by revolution is authoritarian in nature, and there are lessons to be learnt from the Middle East as to what to expect when a transition is made from an authoritarian regime to a democratic society.

When the Arab Spring occurred, the Malaysian government and mainstream media fell over themselves to say that such a thing could not occur here. Strange as this may seem, I feel that I have to agree. But my agreement is conditional.

People only take to the streets in such numbers and with such intensity and determination when they are suffering greatly (usually from poverty), and when they feel they have no voice. As long as the election process can be trusted in this country, then people will not feel the need to change governments through methods such as those used in Egypt.

Which goes to show that it is of vital importance that our electoral system is trustworthy. As such, significant reforms had best be made before we go to the polls again.

Another major difference between Malaysia and countries like Egypt is that if the current government loses (I won’t use the word “toppled”, because it sounds so harsh), there won’t be a power vacuum. In Egypt, the military has always had tremendous political clout, and there was never a significant “government in waiting”.

Hence the problems they are facing with trying to reduce military involvement in government as they start this new phase in their country’s development.

Here, we have had the fortunate experience of seeing someone else in power, albeit at the state level. The military has kept out of politics (and hopefully will stay so), and we cannot say that there is no alternative to BN.

The last time I looked, Kedah, Penang, Selangor and Kelantan are still standing and prospering. Thus if BN loses Putrajaya, it wouldn’t be difficult to fill those well-padded seats. Likewise if Pakatan forms the next government and they lose in the future.

This brings me to the final lesson that we can learn from the Arab Spring. What matters is not who governs. What matters is the system of governance. It must be democratic, it must be just, and it must be trustworthy.

Western commentators have been wringing their hands at the prospect of an Islamist government democratically elected in Egypt. So what if they are? If they are democratically elected then the wishes of the Egyptions must be respected. The key here is that it must be possible to elect them out.

The same goes in Malaysia. Our democracy is pratically foetal in terms of maturity, and it must develop in order for us to fully enjoy the fruits of a system that respects our inherent dignity as human beings. It does not really matter who holds the reins of power as long as we the people can take those reins away from them.

It feels like that is a long way away, but it does not need to be so. Who knows what 2012 will bring?

Happy New Year.


 Selangor Times



Also by Azmi Sharom:

Ethics, morals needed more than ever

SOMETIMES reading the news makes one rush to the bathroom for a long hot shower. 


We live in warped logic

DON’T get it. I just don’t get it.

Greater professionalism in police

Peaceful is as peaceful does

1AI was sitting in Merdeka Stadium on Saturday with a couple of friends, watching the venerable old lady of independence fill up with people, I playfully wondered if  photographers from the mainstream media had been there earlier to take a photo of an empty stadium to be used as “evidence” that no one turned up.

Rotating parties for better governance

IN my last article I wrote about the importance of changing the system of local government that we have. By that I meant we should reintroduce local government elections as well as overhaul the Local Government Act in order to ensure a more transparent and accountable local authority.

Importance of local government elections

THE Batu Caves condominium project has raised some interesting talking points. The most obvious of these, the one taken up by the many comments I have read on the internet, is the sheer bald faced cheek of the BN government.

Can bully boy tactics win?

Oh what a glorious night! Twenty-three years of humiliation, with nothing but self-deprecating humour to comfort oneself, finally laid to rest on that one glorious night.

New wine, old wineskin

It is telling that during the Suhakam inquiry into the Bersih 3.0 rally a police officer revealed when questioned that he did not know that the right to assemble was constitutionally guaranteed for the people of this country.

Really, you can’t make it up

Rais Yatim should be given a present from people like myself who write current affairs articles. 

Scripts for Tinseltown

Hollywood, having run out of ideas, has turned to Malaysia for inspiration. Below are two potential blockbuster movies which draw their plots from the pages of Malaysia’s newspapers.

And so it begins...

The scare tactics that are so beloved by the ruling coalition. We have seen it before of course. Like an evil babysitter, the BN has constantly thrilled at telling horror stories to keep us in our place.

Only the uncaring will not care

If the government is not quaking in their boots after last weekend, then they must be in total denial.

Informed, not phony, reasons work better

There have been two consistent arguments used by the Barisan to persuade the electorate to vote for them. The first and more popular claim is that we should vote for them because they have experience.

Nation of idiots in the making

We are on the brink of becoming a nation of idiots.

When silence implies consent

Lack of respect for the Constitution

It’s quite apt that it was during a mass circumcision ceremony that Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz made his announcement that Section 27 of the Police Act 1967 is going to be removed. We, the people of Malaysia, just like the poor little nippers at that ceremony, are going to be rid of something.











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