After a very long wait, finally Parliament was dissolved on 3rd April and the dates for nomination are on 20th April and polling on 5th May, 2013 respectively for the 13th general elections. Christians would have preferred a Saturday rather than a Sunday as the polling day.In view of communication problems and the lower literacy rate, Sabahans and Sarawakians would prefer a longer campaign period. In any case, political activities immediately intensified and shifted to a higher gear.
Malaysia has chosen a democratic system of government based on and inherited from the British model. One of the main features of a democratic system of government is that the people are given the opportunity to change the government at regular interval, although Malaysians from the Peninsula have only known the same federal government for the last 56 years and those in Sabah and Sarawak for 50 years, a very long time indeed, by any standard. However, elections have been held at regular interval. But democracy goes far beyond this, especially during the period between general elections as well as how they are conducted.Human rights & Democratic Values
Respect for human rights is very much part of democratic values. Human rights imply treating political opponents in a humane way. It involves human decency and observance of the golden rule, namely ‘do unto others what you would like others do unto you.’ Politicians vying for political office should refrain from mudslinging behavior and activities. They should focus on issues and avoid inventing imaginary events designed to destroy the personal reputation of political opponents. Politicians operate within the framework of established democratic institutions which I regard as part of the guiding framework. To what extent they are followed and respected depends on the people in the position of authority and influence as well as the public at large. Their maturity, literacy standard and awareness of democratic principles are important influencing factors.Human rights also require the observance of good governance. Human rights, good governance and democracy are complimentary to one another. Governance is the process of decision making and how decisions are implemented or not implemented. The main characteristics of good governance include that it should be participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. Good governance helps to ensure that corruption is minimized, if not eliminated, minority views are taken into account and the voice of the vulnerable groups are heard and considered in decision making. It is responsive to the present and future needs of society. Democracy requires clean electoral rolls, free and equal access to the media, a level playing field, clean free and fair elections, no abuse of government funds, machinery and assets, absence of money politics, no abuse of power, amongst others.
13th General Elections & Two-party systemThe 13th general elections will be the most hotly and tightly contested elections the country has seen so far. It could be referred to as the mother of all general elections. Before the 12th general elections it was fairly easy for the incumbent to win with two-third majority. Things changed drastically during the 12th general elections on 8th March, 2008 in which the BN government failed to obtain the usual two-third majority and the opposition captured five states. Perak was subsequently lost to the BN amidst a lot of controversies.
I feel sad and disappointed to see the federal government always appearing to belittle the good and sincere efforts of the state governments which are under the control of the opposition. At least it should give credit where credit is due.The 12th general election results indicate a move towards the development of a two-party system in the country. This is a step in the right direction and a refreshing change from the political culture dominated by racial and religious sentiments for far too long. It has polarized the country like never before and not conducive to the creation and maintenance of genuine national unity and integration so vital for a plural society.
Now we see much more multi-racialism in the membership of political parties. We also see PAS, an Islamic party, fielding a non-Malay and non-Muslim as a parliamentary candidate. This was unthinkable before. These are all very healthy political development and present a brighter future for the country and its people. At the same time the people especially in the Peninsula are getting more sophisticated in terms of educational standard and computer literacy and other modern means of communications. Their expectations are also higher. Unlike in the past it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the government to hide the truth. They are now in a better position to assess the performance of the government more objectively. Sabah and Sarawak are slowly catching up.Therefore the government cannot afford to ignore these changes failing which it will be changed instead. With a much stronger opposition, at least the conduct of a care taker government is now being discussed which was unheard of in the past. This is another indication of positive and welcome development.
I notice people are generally upbeat and feel that for the first time in the country’s political history, there is real possibility of changing of the guard taking place. It is felt that the probability is greater if there is clean, free and fair elections. Generally people wish to see change taking place, not change for its own sake, but change for the better. Human nature is such that too much of the same thing for a very, very long time tends to make people hope for a change. After all, variety is the spice of life. If an actor performs too long on the stage, the audience tends to get bored and look forward to the next performer. It is the same with the government. If the new one is no better than the previous one or worse, it can always be changed at the next elections. This will be truly democracy in action in which the power really is in the hands of the people and this could be a pattern for the future.Understanding the Role of the Government & Opposition
Now that the 13th general elections are only days away, it is very important for members of the public to understand and to be aware of the main functions and role of the government as well as the opposition particularly in Sabah and Sarawak where the literacy standard is still very much lower.
People must realize that the government is merely the trustees of the people. It is duty bound to take care and not abuse government fund and assets. That is why there are so many rules and regulations involved in the management and administration of public fund. They are meant to minimize, if not eliminate, abuses and irregularities. It is the duty and responsibility of the government to bring development to all parts of the country, irrespective of whether they are represented by government or opposition representatives.It is not the duty of the opposition to formulate and implement development projects because it has no access to public fund, only the government has. I often hear politicians from the government side telling people that there is no point electing the opposition because it cannot bring development. To the illiterate rural people this makes sense. Thus, they must be made aware that the function of the opposition is to provide constructive criticisms to keep the government on its toes. It provides the necessary checks and balance. The opposition provides an alternative government for the people. This is the essence of democracy. The opposition has an important role to play in a democratic system of government.
Political Situation in SabahLet me briefly say something about the political situation in Sabah. The presence of the unusually large number of illegal immigrants has permanently changed the economic, social, cultural and political landscape of the state. They are now considered the mother of all problems in Sabah and represent a very sensitive issue especially during election time. It is alleged that hundreds of thousands of them have been granted citizenship status as well as the right to vote in return for votes for the BN government.
Ironically, many local Sabahans who possess no proper documents are stateless yet they have never left the place where they were born. This indicates a very cruel and uncaring attitude towards the interest and welfare of genuine Malaysians of Sabah origin. This is very hurting, to say the least. This is the Malaysia I never expected.The invasion in Lahad Datu was something which was only waiting to happen. I am quite surprised it did not happen earlier. This problem will not go away overnight for the simple reason that there are already hundreds of thousands of Tausugs in the state at the courtesy of the government. There is no way of knowing with certainty where their loyalty lies. Their people have been fighting against the Philippine government for more than 40 years. Fighting is in their blood. Being Muslim did not prevent the invaders from killing members of the Malaysian security force who were all Muslims except one. After killing them they continued to mutilate their bodies. It was an inhuman act of cruelty. It appears that the government was caught off guard. The invasion indicates how vulnerable Sabah is from outside forces.
The actions taken by the security forces consequential to the incident may be perceived as harassment on their community. Such perception could be imagined or real. This being the case the so called fixed deposit may not necessarily be kept in the same bank.Barring last minute change, it appears that the 13th general elections in Sabah will see a free for all contests among BN, PR, SAPP, STAR, KITA, independents etc. It will be a crowded field. However I still do not rule out the possibility of 1 to 1 contest, at least not until nomination day. I also notice a number of leaders changing party allegiance. Such incidents always appear to take place just before the poll. It is alleged that money is involved associated with party hopping. Another reason could be failure to be nominated as a candidate. Money politics appears to be the order of the day. A friend told me that he knew of someone who attended a BN political gathering and he was given a BN t-shirt and a sum of RM 250.00.
There are also reports of in-fighting within political parties. Some are more intense than others. I believe this is due to the demand to become candidates. There are so many hopefuls compared to the availability of constituencies. Sabah has 25 parliamentary constituencies and Labuan one. It has 60 state seats. Generally the incumbents want to be retained. Those who did not get the opportunity in the past are more than keen to replace them. It is very common for many hopefuls to change political allegiance once their wish is not fulfilled. This is quite typical behavior of so called political leaders.What the situation indicates is they entered politics with personal and vested interests in mind more than public interest. Publicly they often declare that they entered politics to serve the people as if there is no other way of serving them other than through politics. I have involved in several charitable organizations in my life and I have yet to meet a politician interested in them.
Let me stop here. I will be delighted to respond to questions, views, comments and suggestions during the question and answer session. I thank you for your kind attention.-----------------------------
Paper presented at the Proham RTD on GE 13 & Human Rights on April 17, 2013