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Democracy in peril

Publication Date : 20-12-2013


Malaysia's former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is a wise man so when he gives advice, we should not take it lightly.

He said that democracy will only work if the party that loses an election accepts the people’s decision. It is assumed here that the people have been sensible in making their choice; otherwise, there would be chaos and mayhem in the political system.

The economic cost of such chaos would be immense, as would the damage to the government machinery and national political stability.

In Malaysia, we are fortunate that, despite massive protestation of irregularities and fraud in the run-up to the last General Election, the Opposition accepted the results with equanimity.

This is the kind of acceptance that in the long term will bring stability to the country whenever the electoral process is put in place. This is the real test of a democracy – whether the loser will accept the result – and this year we passed this test.

What has happened in Thailand is from another planet altogether. It should never be allowed to take root in this country.

It would be a disaster to our future as a nation if the sentiments and flawed political logic of Thailand’s Democratic Party and its cohorts were adopted here.

They demonstrated for weeks to topple the duly elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

They resorted to using all kinds of language and tactics to camouflage their true intention, which was to paralyse the government and remove the Prime Minister from power.

Their leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is a well-educated man from a reputable university in England. That has not prevented him from wanting to topple a duly elected government and Prime Minister.

When asked why the demonstrators were acting as they did, he said the government had broken the trust of the people.

Now this well educated man seems to think that when it suits his political agenda, there is no reason to wait for the next election for the people to reject the prime minister for “breaking their trust”.

They have to do it now, which means of course that Abhisit had nothing to do with bringing the people out on the streets for this purpose.

In the latest twist to this drama, this highly educated man had all his Members of Parliament resign en masse so that Parliament itself was paralysed. By so doing, he hoped Yingluck would resign and a new government would be installed.

His explanation for his actions clearly showed his thinking: he said he had to resign with all his party members because they could no longer wait for the government to take responsibility for what it had done.

What did the government do that was so wrong to the people of Thailand, and that was so offensive to this politician? The government had tabled a law to give amnesty to all those who had been involved in the riots of three years ago.

It also tabled another charter to amend the composition of the Upper House, i.e. for the Senate to be elected by the people, as opposed to the present system where there are many appointees, not unlike what we have here.

Both laws were ruled by the Constitutional Court as being in violation of the Constitution and had to be withdrawn.

The prime minister, like any other sensible leader, withdrew the bills and even asked the king for a personal pardon, in case he found her actions wrong and offensive.

What has since transpired in Thailand, however, reveals that in this so-called democracy, leaders who were elected by the people cannot carry out their mandate in the way they feel is for the good of the country.

With respect to the Constitutional Court, it may have been right to rule that the two laws were in violation of the Constitution, but that surely did not warrant having the people march on the streets to topple the government.

The Thai prime minister does not seem to have done anything untoward. In fact, in some countries reforms are expected from leaders so that the country can move forward.

Abhisit said that he believed Parliament had violated the Constitution, and that the only way to maintain the political standard was to resign.

He may have higher standards than most of us but surely he knows that as the body of the people’s elected representatives, Parliament has a duty to legislate on any matter it thinks is appropriate.

It is for another government body – the Constitutional Court – to rule on its legality. Parliament itself does not become disrespectful or dishonoured by passing laws that ultimately run foul of the Constitution.

I am sure that Prime Minister Yingluck’s decision to dissolve Parliament and call for a snap election in February will not prevent Abhisit and his followers in Bangkok from rejecting the result of the election if he loses again.

They will not be short of reasons why Yingluck is unacceptable as prime minister and why yet another wave of demonstrations will be necessary.

I hope this kind of politics does not take root in our country, for the sake of our own future. We need to accept the results of the General Election, with all its imperfections and irregularities.

Having said that, we must also keep improving on election laws and processes so that people are willing to accept the results without feeling the need to take to the streets.

For this to happen, we need leaders who will honour their promise to keep this country, to keep it safe from harm and to respect the wishes of the people. The prime minister of Malaysia is such a leader.


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