There is democracy and there is democracy (UPDATED with Chinese Translation)

Minorities too have rights and their views also matter. Did not Saddam become Iraq’s leader with almost 100% of the votes? So he murdered the minority Kurds. So what? Is that reason to remove him when the minority view does not matter and only what the majority wants count?


Raja Petra Kamarudin

1. Many people think that as soon as you accept democracy, then you will be practising democracy.

2. Unfortunately, mere acceptance is not enough. It is not enough because everyone, from the top most person to the ordinary people, be they from a political party or of a nation, can find ways to abuse and frustrate the true democratic process. As a result we see democracies failing to work in most organisations or political parties and in many nations.

3. Basically, democracy is about giving power to the majority. It is assumed that the majority knows what is best for the whole. The minority should therefore be prepared to accept the rule of the majority albeit after presenting opposing views and criticisms. The minority must be prepared to wait for the next election in order to make another bid.

4. In a mature democracy almost everyone respects the results of national elections. The majority forms the Government and the minority take their places in the legislature and try their best to influence policies and laws introduced by the majority Government. And so for the four or five years before the next elections, the legislature debates, approves or disapproves the proposals by the Government. But the minority and even the individual legislator may also move proposals or laws although in most instances they will not get through for lack of majority support. Playing their parts, both the majority and the minority would contribute to the proper workings of a democratic Government.

5. Political parties love democracy, as it seems to be fair to everyone. Anyone can bid for any place in the party, including the top most. That is the theory at least.

6. But the reality is that only certain people could aspire to lead because of the support of a substantial number of the members.

7. Ideally in a contest the one with the biggest number of supporters should win. Ideally, as with Government, the loser and his supporters should accept the decision of the majority.

8. Unfortunately, the loser or losers may not want to accept the results. This can ultimately lead to the party being split and weakened.

9. The process may have been very democratic but the objective of choosing a leader by majority vote has not been achieved. The losers must also remember that when they win they same can happen to them. In other words a democratic contest can only lead to the break-up of the party (I am speaking from experience).

10. I would like to cheer on the candidates who are contesting for any post anywhere through the democratic process. Obviously, only one would win. If those who lose cannot accept the decision of the majority of the members, then it is better not to talk about democracy. You really do not know what democracy is about (of course I am assuming the contest is fair).

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his Blog posting called DEMOCRACY


Most people want me to ignore whatever Tun Dr Mahathir says or writes. Many are quite upset that I give Tun the time of day and layan (entertain) him or ‘dignify’ him by talking about him. These same people are perplexed that I am still able to look at Tun with respect after he had arrested me a few times and detained me without trial under the Internal Security Act (plus after what he did to Anwar Ibrahim).

Well, maybe this is my mother’s side in me revealing itself. Asians normally practice a winner takes all and loser loses all culture. You wipe out all your enemies and their family members for seven generations. The British prisoners of war, however, salute their German captors who are higher in rank than them. Yes, you might be a prisoner of the Germans, but if that German officer is senior in rank to you, then you salute him. That is the British way.

Dr Mahathir is a Tun (equivalent to a Sir) and I am not. He is the ex-Prime Minister of Malaysia and I am not. He is also a fellow Blogger, although ‘the enemy’, and I give respect to fellow Bloggers — even to people like Rocky and all those other Umno Bloggers whom I personally know but who have now declared me ‘the sworn enemy’.

Yes, I would still like to sit down and treat my ‘enemy’ Bloggers to a meal if the opportunity ever arises. They are still my friends even though we are on opposite sides of the political divide. Tan Sri Sanusi Junid can testify to this (he knows what I am talking about). We can do battle in the gelanggang politik (political arena), but outside ‘office hours’ why can’t we sit down and buy each other a drink and act civil towards each other?

Nazri Aziz is another ‘enemy’. But we treat each other with respect and when we met for dinner more than a year ago I sat beside him and we treated each other like old buddies. After dinner, we debated various issues in front of an audience of 80 or 90 ‘Old Boys’ of the MCKK. We of course disagreed on almost all the issues but we debated like gentlemen and addressed each other with nothing short of the highest respect. And this was no show. This was sincere and for real.

In his Blog, today, Tun Dr Mahathir talked about democracy. So, today, I too want to talk about that subject. I do not, however, want to agree with everything that Tun Dr Mahathir has to say. I shall disagree with him. But I shall do this with civility.

The previous Information Minister, Zainuddin Maidin (Zam), told Al Jazeera back in November 2007 that Malaysia is a democratic country because we have elections once every five years. Hitler won the elections as well and became Nazi Germany’s leader. Saddam became Iraq’s leader when he too won the elections. Does this make Nazi Germany and Iraq democratic countries?

Democracy is more than just about winning elections. Hitler became Germany’s leader with less than half the votes while Saddam garnered almost 100% of the votes because no one dared vote against his party lest they disappear in the middle of the night. Just because someone gained power through an election (whether by fair means or foul) does not make that particular country democratic. It takes more than an election to declare a country democratic. After all, elections can be won though many methods. And not all are fair.

We must not just talk about free elections, like how Malaysia argues. Elections must be free AND fair. Most times, elections may be free but they are far from fair. This is what most Malaysians do not understand. And they do not understand this because they just can’t figure out in what way Malaysian elections can be classified as not fair.

In Malaysia, the political arena is not a level playing field. The media is controlled. You need a licence to start a newspaper, magazine or radio/TV station. And if you ‘violate’ the terms of your licence then you lose it. And so-called ‘violations’ are not clear. There is no hard and fast guideline. It is within the powers of the Minister to decide what constitutes a violation. And if the Minister, and only the Minister, is of the opinion that you have violated the terms of your licence then he can cancel it.

The mainstream electronic and print media gives space or airtime to only the government. The opposition is not given equal space or airtime. And if the opposition is given space or airtime, the ‘offending’ news agencies will lose their licence.

So they do not give space or airtime to the opposition for fear of incurring the wrath of the government. And whatever publicity the mainstream print and electronic media gives the opposition it is always in a negative light. Only bad news about the opposition is featured. The mainstream media never says nice things about the opposition. If they do, they will lose their licence.

No doubt, you have the alternative or ‘new’ media to counter what the mainstream media says about the opposition. But how many Malaysians have access to the Internet? More than 90% of Malaysians have access to the government-controlled TV stations. So TV is by far more effective than the Internet. And the TV stations are used as the main propaganda arm of the ruling party. The opposition is fighting a losing battle in trying to counter what the TV stations report.

In a true democracy, the TV stations would give equal airtime to the opposition. This does not happen in Malaysia. In Indonesia, surprisingly, it does. Therefore, in spite of elections being held once every five years, Malaysia has a long way to go in achieving the status of a proper democracy.

Do I even need to talk about how the legal process is being abused to target the opposition? We have many archaic laws that are being used against the opposition. Government supporters can get away with murder, sometimes literally as well. But the opposition supporters face all sorts of investigations and indictments, even key leaders from the opposition.

I really do not need to expand on this point, as most Malaysians know exactly what I am talking about. Prosecution has been fine-tuned to persecution. The government hides behind the legal system in its attempts to drive the opposition out of business.

Let us deliberate on one point, how the Prime Minister is chosen.

Now, the Prime Minister is not voted into office, like the President of the United States. His party is voted into office and the leader of that party automatically becomes the Prime Minister. This is because Malaysia follows the British Westminster system. But how does the Prime Minister become the leader of his party, and therefore the Prime Minister of Malaysia?

Barisan Nasional won the most number of seats in Parliament. So the Chairman of Barisan Nasional would automatically become the Prime Minister of Malaysia. But is the Chairman of Barisan Nasional voted into office? No! The President of Umno automatically becomes the Chairman of Barisan Nasional and, in turn, automatically becomes the Prime Minister.

Does this make him the legitimate Prime Minister? Legally, yes! Morally, no! But we are talking about legal and not moral here. And what may be legal may not also be moral.

How does the Prime Minister become the President of Umno? Since the President of Umno automatically becomes the Prime Minister of all Malaysians this is an important point to consider.

Umno is supposed to have three to four million members spread out over more than 20,000 branches in 191 divisions throughout Malaysia. The 20,000 or so branches nominate their division leaders. Most times the three or four million Umno members have very little say in this. The branch elections are rigged and those not in ‘the gang’ are locked out from this exercise of choosing their 191 division leaders.

Then the 191 divisions send their 2,500 or so delegates to the Umno annual general assembly. Again, those who get to attend the general assembly will be decided by the division leaders. Those not in their gang are, again, locked out. So a mere 191 Umno leaders decide the fate of the entire country.

The 191 Umno division heads will tell the 2,500 or so delegates whom they should elect as the Umno President and Deputy President. These two will become the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister respectively. For anyone to even contest the Umno Presidency and Deputy Presidency they must first obtain nominations from almost 50 of the 191 Umno divisions. This is almost impossible to do.

The 191 Umno division heads will ensure that their divisions will block any contenders to the post of the Umno Presidency and Deputy Presidency. All other aspirants will be blocked and they will receive no nominations. At best they can receive just one nomination, from their own division. They can never receive more than one, let alone 50.

In short, 191 people chose the Prime Minister of Malaysia. It is not three or four million Umno members or 11 million voters or 27 million Malaysians. It is just 191 people. And these 191 people can be bought, controlled, compromised, blackmailed, and so on. And these 191 can, in turn, ensure that their divisions ‘toe the line’.

Is this true democracy? Is it democratic that 191 Malaysians decide on behalf of 27 million other Malaysians who get to lead this country? This is the system. And it is legal. But legal does not make it fair or moral. It also does not make it truly democratic.

Tun Dr Mahathir says we should accept the decision of the majority. Okay, slightly over 50% of Malaysians voted for Barisan Nasional in March 2008. So, since the majority voted for Barisan Nasional, then we should accept the decision of the majority.

First of all, only 191 people decided on who should be the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. Do these 191 people represent the majority? Yes, it is legal. But is it democratic from the moral viewpoint? It is not 27 million Malaysians who decide this? It is not 11 million Malaysian voters who decided this? It is not three or four million Umno members who decided this. It is not even the more than 20,000 Umno branches that decided this. It is 191 Umno division leaders.

Now let us look at the system of general elections in Malaysia. The gerrymandering, which I have already written about before many times, is downright criminal. The variance between constituencies is just too large. The variance should be plus-minus 15% or 20% like many other countries and like what the Reed Commission proposed in the paper on Merdeka. Currently, we have seats as low as 5,000 voters, as opposed to the larger seats that have 120,000 voters or more.

Is it a coincidence that those low voter seats are pro-government while the high voter seats are pro-opposition? Is it a coincidence that the ruling party can win three or fours seats with the same number of voters that allows the opposition only one seat? This is called gerrymandering. It is of course legal. The question is, is it also moral? And do we decide whether it is democratic from the legal or moral viewpoint?

How can this system be considered one-man-one-vote? And the system of first-past-the-post makes it worse. It is seats and not votes that determines the winner. You can form the government with only 40% of the votes, or less. Did not Hitler become Germany’s leader this way, with less than 40% of the votes? And did this not result in tens of millions of deaths when Hitler took the world through another World War?

Yes, it is legal. But that does not make it moral as well. And whether it is democratic is a matter of opinion.

There are probably half a million or so Malaysians overseas. But these Malaysians can’t vote. To vote they must return to Malaysia on Polling Day. How many can afford the time and money to do that? Why can’t overseas Malaysians vote at the Embassies and High Commissions in their respective countries? Those who are overseas ‘on government service’ can. But the private citizens can’t. This is denying Malaysians their right to vote. Even Indonesian maids and labourers can vote in the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. And this represents two million or so Indonesian voters, just in Malaysia alone. Malaysians can’t do the same.

Of course, if overseas Malaysians vote via postal votes then this would raise other problems. As it is, the 250,000 or so ‘postal’ votes are a bone of contention because the ballot boxes are switched. But that is merely an implementation issue, which can easily be overcome.

Political parties can send observers or representatives to monitor the overseas postal voting and the votes can be counted ‘in situ’ in each respective Embassy or High Commission. Only the results need to be sent back to Malaysia, not the ballot boxes. This will ensure that the ballot boxes are not switched, hijacked, lost in transit, or whatever.

Aiyah, if I want to talk about true democracy, there are just so many points I can raise. Just these few issues I mentioned thus far have already made this article so long. Can we abolish the Official Secrets Act and replace it with a Freedom of Information Act? Can we abolish the Internal Security Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights? Can we abolish the PPPA and UCCA and allow publications and periodicals to operate without the need of a licence and allow university students to get involved in politics?

What about the Police Act that forbids an assembly of more than four people and forbids public speeches? Government supporters can attend public functions and can give speeches at these functions. Opposition supporters must first obtain a permit and, according to the permit, speeches are not allowed, even for dinner functions in a private hall. If anyone gets up onto the stage to deliver a speech then the police will step in and close the function down. The police will also confiscate the PA system and haul in the organisers and speakers for ‘interrogation’. The government supporters are not subjected to all this.

Yes, if you want to talk about democracy I can also talk. And I will have more to say. And to argue that what the majority wants count and that the minority view does not matter is not democracy at all. Minorities too have rights and their views also matter. Did not Saddam become Iraq’s leader with almost 100% of the votes? So he murdered the minority Kurds. So what? Is that reason to remove him when the minority view does not matter and only what the majority wants count?


Translated into Chinese at: