On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Stop the circus acts

WE have got to get used to it – a real democratic society can be a noisy one as each and every one of us has the right to speak and is free to exercise this right.

And this is something that some of our politicians and self-proclaimed race and religious champions need to also understand, and accept.

A true democratic society is never quiet, unlike authoritarian and theocratic societies where only the leaders have the right to speak.

But this is Malaysia. We may not yet be a shiny example of a democracy but it is maturing. Malaysians have become more educated and are not only more exposed to differing opinions and information, but know how to seek them out. We are no longer like the proverbial katak di bawah tempurung but have travelled far and wide to see the world. And we are certainly better off.

No one should expect middle class Malaysia, especially, to pay homage and reverence to politicians, as in a feudalistic society. Our leaders should no longer think they are all mighty and powerful, where the people must submit to their every command, and that no one can have an opinion except themselves.

In a true democracy, we should respect, and accommodate, every view even if they are in direct contrast to our own. That’s how democracy works and it is still not too late for some of our politicians to accept this new reality.

As The Nation’s columnist, Supalak Ganianakhundee, rightly wrote, “A society in which people have to comply with their leader’s commands is an authoritarian one.

“The process of reform towards demo­cracy needs to be an inclusive one and for this process to be efficient, it should allow every faction in the system to participate.”

In his message to the Thai military govern­ment, Supalak reminded them that “maybe the junta should stop and realise that bringing about reform will be very difficult if it forces all the citizens to have just one political opinion”.

Meanwhile, in our own backyard, we are still grappling with certain personalities who cannot articulate and argue their case convincingly to win over the electorate. The easiest way out, to make up for their lack of grey matter, is to continually spew remarks that intimidate or instil fear among the people.

In any democracy, we can expect such an approach from the really fringe groups or ultra lunatics whose views are often ignored. But it is sad that in our country, political bullying gets national prominence, whereby certain groups and individuals with their political links not only shout down those who do not share their views, but also play the race and religious cards to threaten them.

The country’s political future is determined by Malaysians of all races and religions. Politicians who think they are the only ones who shape and decide Malaysia’s future need to see their shrinks quickly. They need serious help.

All of us have the right to speak up and tell our politicians and government officials what we desire for our country now and in the future.

We have the right to tell leaders, politicians, officials, and journalists off if we think they are not doing their jobs right. It is fundamentally wrong to think that elected representatives and civil servants cannot be told how to do their jobs.

Our job, as concerned citizens, is not just to mark a cross on the ballot paper. The people we vote into power must be held accountable all the time. The civil servants may be unseen but they exist to serve the people in the correct manner, all the time too.

For sure, the media has a right to comment on current issues and to also allow ordinary Malaysians to articulate their views – so long as it is within the boundaries of the laws.

They must be responsible for what they write or say, and if it affects the nation’s security, then they must be prepared to face the consequences, be it via the Sedition Act or other laws. But expressing an opinion is surely not seditious.

Opinions need not be right, or popular. And even if it is the opinion of one person, it is still his right within a democracy. Because of the ever-changing scenario, especially in the political domain, the media has to allow room and space for decent and rational debate. Views from opposing sides should be encouraged, provided they are not racist or extremist.

Some of the politicians in our country have still not woken up to the reality that “government” and “opposition” are no longer labels that apply only to specific parties. Barisan Nasional, for example, is the federal government, but in Selangor, Penang and Kelantan, Barisan representatives are in the opposition.

There are still politicians from the Pakatan Rakyat coalition parties, even though they are now government leaders in the respective states, who are still talking like opposition underdogs in a ceramah.

But more worrying is the increasing number of voices outside the mainstream political arena who are challenging the accepted norms of public discourse with their strident and extremist views.

These uncouth personalities may not be directly linked to any political party but their antics occasionally give some politicians aspiring to be noticed by their party leaders the opportunity to jump onto the bandwagon.

In the process, these individuals actual­ly make the few MPs who are known for their controversial outbursts in the Dewan Rakyat look like harmless angels. At least, their circus acts are good for laughs in the sombre settings and they get their two minutes of fame to justify their MPs’ allowances.

But the increasing number of personalities and ordinary Malaysians, of all races, spewing hate comments is seriously worrying.

Some have argued that it is better to ignore these political weaklings but many Malaysians are worried over where the country is heading, where seemingly powerful characters who taunt the public with their skewed racist and religious remarks seem untouchable.

The country’s leadership is sending the wrong signals to the people.

To be moderate, open minded and liberal seems to be politically incorrect now. How things have developed in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s democracy is growing up fast with some of us even arguing that it is maturing. But we hope some of our politicians would start growing up equally fast, and stop throwing tantrums like spoilt kids.