What is a “Proper” Government?

By batsman

By right a “proper” government whether democratic, communist or Islamic derives its legitimacy and authority from the people. Without this, a government turns oppressive and dictatorial and holds on to power without any legitimacy. So it should be critical that Malaysians must not only understand fully what a “proper” government means, but share these ideas in common. Below are my ideas for debate. 

It is quite a tragedy if Malaysians do not fully understand functions of government. If this is so, then manipulative, selfish and corrupt people can seize hold of the reins of power for their own selfish interests and still be supported by a good majority. One fine example is when our PM tells our good MB of Kelantan that if there is to be cooperation between rich and powerful Federal and poor and weak State governments, then the opposition state government must “take care” of the feelings of UMNO members in that state. 

To me this sounds so much like promoting cronyism. It is no longer for the interests of the people that governments rule, but so that the “feelings” of their party members are well taken care of. This is promoting the idea that people should join political parties only for selfish reasons, and not for the good of the people. So it really makes no sense for ordinary people to elect their representatives, because they are only electing people who will eventually cheat them as the constituents of more and more constituencies find out for themselves. 

Even in Britain, MPs are cheating the taxpayers. This can only be explained by the fact that government is getting bigger and more powerful and people are relinquishing more and more power to big government while their grass roots institutions become weaker and less supported (in a way it is like the dogs of Utusan being released while NutGraph is threatened with closure). 

Unfortunately, just like the term “proper government”, the term “for the good of the people” is also difficult to understand, because the people are often not homogeneous or united. It is bad enough that Malaysians are divided into 3 major races that don’t seem to be able to get along or compromise on their demands and ambitions, even within each race there are irreconcilable splits between rich and poor as well as good and bad. So a “proper” government must also be able to take care of the interests of the minorities and not just the majority and if this is not possible in the short term, then issues must be kept open and negotiated until a long term solution is reached. 

Since the people are not of one common mind and cannot negotiate their differences amicably, it stands to reason that our government can only be a referee in a political game and not a faithful representative of the people. The difference between a referee in a political game and a referee in a football game is one of limits of power. In a football game the power of the referee is limited. In a political game, the referee has no limits as long as it governs without the authority of the people – the people are sheep and cows while the referee can get to “play god” applying the power to detain without trial, defining sedition at their whim and fancy, muffling the press, etc. 

All the rights and freedoms of the individual and the people are taken away with the excuse of protecting national security. Meantime, it almost seems as if the government defines national security as the “feelings” of UMNO members. 

But what can be done? After all the people are undeserving and cannot their act together to control their own government, instead, preferring to let their government ride rough-shod all over them, stealing funds, oil royalties, water, trustee land and even a whole state government, stealing innocent lives, etc. under the excuse of implementing positive discrimination. 

The best that can be obtained under these circumstances is to get some goodies for ourselves. Idealism is a festering dead duck in the water supply even if the water has been stolen. That is why 1Malaysia is such a seductive slogan. If one parrots it long enough, one may get noticed and be offered goodies. In fact why wait at all? Why not grab as much as possible while shouting support for 1Malaysia? I am sure the authorities will turn a blind eye. After all, isn’t politics about self-interest only? 

What is the way out? After all even the people in western countries – the most civilized and most advanced, do not look really united. They seem to be united behind their governments only when their governments bully, sanction or invade other nations. 

In a way we behave just like them, we are behind our government when our government bullies and oppresses minorities and silences protests. We hope that we can get goodies when our government keeps minorities under control and the wealth flows in our direction, just as the westerners hope when their governments bully weaker nations. 

After all, humans are a predatory species which practices cannibalism when in a primitive state. Our institutions merely reflect upon our own predatory nature. So it should come as no surprise if our government is also predatory in nature. If the idealists who desire a more civilized “proper” government can be predated to extinction, then everything should go well for the future. The predators can reign supreme and the vegetarians can go extinct for all we care. 

Of course this is only a hope. Whether such a hope is more realistic than the hope for a “proper” government remains to be seen. This means that it still remains to be seen whether the hope for 1Malaysia is more realistic than the grievances of minorities both within each race as well as within the country as a whole. 

In the meantime, the sovereignty of the people can be made more real only if the people can negotiate their demands and ambitions with greater success and with greater equity. Only then is it possible for true national unity without an abusive referee to lord it over us. 

The people must be able to build such institutions and make them the basis for the sovereignty of the people, not traditional defend-my-own-backyard-first institutions that eventually disunite rather than unite. We must begin to build “proper” democratic grass roots institutions from the traditional communal institutions. 

The day we elect our faithful representatives rather than all-powerful referees is the day we are truly free. (BTW, not just from abusive and corrupt referees, but from our own sinful weaknesses – is this statement redundant? If not, I guess we might as well just support 1Malaysia.)