My response to Ng Kee Seng


Pakatan Rakyat controls 44 of the 56 seats in the Selangor State Assembly (Kajang included). You need only a simple majority or 29 votes. Hence 44 votes are way in excess of what you need. Just abolish that enactment, which is a state civil law, and Christians can go and use Allah in the Malay Bible. 


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Ng Kee Seng, the Executive Director of The Ant Daily, wrote an article titled The perils of democracy-nomocracy mix-up in ‘Allah’ dispute in response to my article So you think you know democracy (READ HERE).

I would like to address some of the points that Kee Seng raised.

Philosophers since the time of Plato almost 2,500 years ago have debated the issue of democracy versus nomocracy and until today philosophers, both modern and ancient, have yet to come to a consensus on the matter. That was why Plato was critical of democracy and called it the ‘tyranny of the majority’ where the will of the majority is imposed on the minority.

Hence I doubt Kee Seng and I can ever agree on this issue when for 2,500 years the greatest philosophers in history have failed to do that.

Kee Seng said democracy and nomocracy are not the same. Of course they are not the same, just as autocracy is not the same as democracy and nomocracy as well. The question of which is a better system is an academic discussion. The pertinent question would be: which is the system that Malaysia has adopted?

And that is the difference between Political Science and Political Philosophy. Political Science discusses ‘what is’ while Political Philosophy discusses ‘what ought to be’. ‘What ought to be’ and ‘what is’ are two different animals altogether, the difference between theory and reality.

Does Malaysia practice rule of law or rule by law? Kee Seng says rule of law should prevail. The opposition says Malaysia does not practice rule of law but rule by law. Hence Malaysia is not the ideal situation as far as true democracies go.

This is the problem with democracies that practice indirect rule as opposed to direct rule of the country’s citizenry. In direct rule, all the citizens go to the polls to vote on the laws they want. This we would call a referendum. In indirect rule, the citizenry do not vote on the laws that they want. They vote on the people they want to represent them in the Senate (but not in Malaysia, though), Assembly, Parliament, or whatever, and these representatives vote on our behalf.

In other words, we forfeit our right to directly vote on what laws we want and mandate that to our representatives to do. This is the sort of Social Contract that we make with the government. We mandate the government to act on our behalf and the government becomes our trustee. Hence it is a Social Contract that we enter into with the government.

Therefore, when Kee Seng talks about ‘majority’, are we are on the same page here? Does majority mean more than half the 28-29 million Malaysians? Does majority mean more than half the 14 million or so registered voters? Or does majority mean more than half the 222 Members of the Malaysian Parliament (meaning at least 112).

(In the Selangor State Assembly it would mean more than half or at least 29 of the 56 State Assemblypersons).

The majority of the citizenry choose their government (but, with gerrymandering, popular votes do not translate into majority seats). However, the majority of the citizenry do not choose the laws. The majority representatives do that on behalf of the citizenry.

“But then what about the constitutional and moral right of all Malaysians? Throw the Federal Constitution in the garbage bin?” asked Kee Seng.

Constitutional right and moral right cannot be mentioned in the same breath because one does not translate to the other. What is constitutionally right may not also be morally right. The Constitution outlines the letter of the law. Morals are subjective and debatable.

The Constitution says non-Muslims cannot propagate, say, Christianity, to Muslims. That is constitutionally right. Muslims, however, can propagate Islam to the non-Muslims. That is also constitutionally right. But is that morally right as well?

So, are we talking about nomocracy here or are we talking about democracy? There is nothing undemocratic here because the majority of the 222 MPs have decided that this is a good Article in the Constitution (by the very act of not repealing that Article). But just because it is not undemocratic that does not make it fair as well when Muslims can do it but non-Muslims cannot.

Okay, you may argue that this is not fair to non-Muslims. Muslims can get away with murder but non-Muslims cannot do this, that or the other. The Muslims will probably argue the same thing. Muslims cannot drink, gamble and womanise and if they do they would get arrested.

But drinking, gambling and womanising are immoral activities so why grumble when you are not allowed to do all this?

That is not the issue. As I said, morality is subjective. When you say drinking, gambling and womanising are immoral activities, what standards are you applying? Biblical standards? Qur’anic standards? Atheism standards?

Why must your religious morals be imposed on me and then you pass laws that make it a punishable crime if I violate your ideals and interpretation of morality? Where has freewill gone to? Does democracy mean you lose your freewill?

Unfortunately, it does. Democracy does not always allow freewill. Even Kee Seng’s nomocracy does not always allow freewill. Once you are born a Muslim you stay a Muslim till the day you die. That is the law. That is the rule of law or nomocracy. And more than 112 MPs will not change this. Even the opposition Pakatan Rakyat MPS will not change this if they ever get to form the government.

What is the purpose of a state? In a stateless society you are considered to be living in a state of anarchy or a state of nature, although some would call it a state of lawlessness.

Today, a state of nature cannot work any longer because of the complexities of modern society. Hence we need to live in a nation-state, which means an organised society. And the purpose of a nation-state, argue the philosophers for more than 2,000 years, is so that we can be guaranteed happiness and our safety would be protected.

That is how philosophers argue in defence of the state.

So that is the purpose of a state — to give us happiness and to offer us protection.

And to make sure that the people are happy and protected, laws first need to be passed and then we need the mechanism to enforce these laws and punish those who break these laws.

That is how philosophers have explained it.

“Again, hypothetically, if the majority votes to say it is not a crime to commit murder in Malaysia, is that what democracy is about?” asked Kee Seng.

But that is just it. The majority (meaning more than 222 of the Members of the Malaysian Parliament) have voted to say that murder is NOT a crime. If you are caught with a gun you get put to death. If you are caught with drugs you get put to death. If you ‘wage war against the Agong’ you get put to death (like the Al Maunah chaps). And, of course, if you murder you get put to death.

Hence Malaysia practices murder. The only thing is we legally murder people. And it is legal because Parliament has passed a law to make it legal.

What right does Parliament have to take a life? It has every legal right to take a life even if it is immoral to take a life because the law says it is legal.

So, yes, Kee Seng, to answer your question: that is what democracy is all about.

Oh, and one last thing, Kee Seng, since you are so unhappy about the Selangor state law or enactment that forbids Christians from using the Allah word, why not practice, as you said, the rule of law? In fact, that state enactment complies with Article 11(4) of the Malaysian Constitution so there is nothing illegal or non-nomocracy about that state enactment.

Pakatan Rakyat controls 44 of the 56 seats in the Selangor State Assembly (Kajang included). You need only a simple majority or 29 votes. Hence 44 votes are way in excess of what you need. Just abolish that enactment, which is a state civil law, and Christians can go and use Allah in the Malay Bible.

Simple, right? Then you would see the nomocracy that you are talking about.


The perils of democracy-nomocracy mix-up in ‘Allah’ dispute

Ng Kee Seng, Executive Director, The Ant Daily

Democracy and nomocracy (rule of law) are not the same. If that is agreeable to all, then there is a need to put in perspective Malaysia-Today’s Raja Petra Kamarudin’s (RPK) lecture on democracy in relation to the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims in Malaysia.

Apparently, RPK has taken offence to The Nut Graph Feb 3 posting titled “The importance of Allah” penned by Jacqueline Ann Surin.

RPK’s beef with Jacqueline is this: “Yet, there is much more at stake than the Christians’ constitutional right to peacefully worship in whatever way they choose. This fight over a word (Allah) that has denoted God to both Christians and Muslims for centuries is critical for all Malaysians. Why? Because it will determine whether we subject ourselves to autocratic rule or whether we continue to live in a democracy.”

RPK’s pick with Jacqueline is on the word “democracy”. This is apparent with RPK’s Feb 6 posting titled “So you think you know democracy“, highlighting: “And that, Jacqueline Ann Surin, is my response to your lament regarding whether Malaysia is still a democratic country if Christians are not allowed to use the Allah word (not that I think Christians should not be allowed to use the Allah word).”

In both postings by Jacqueline and RPK, the rule of law was conspicuously left out in their arguments on the “Allah” dispute, though some of their comments did insinuate along this line.

I have no beef with RPK’s take on “democracy” because “democracy” is neither equal nor fair, and it never will. There’s also no such thing as a “perfect democracy”.

However, to confuse “democracy” with “nomocracy” is dangerously ignorant. Throw in the constitutional rights of the rakyat, it gets even more complex.

Let’s take this hypothetical example: If the majority of Malaysians vote to ban non-Muslims from using the word “Allah”, will that be democratic? Technically the majority rules, which is democracy.

But then what about the constitutional and moral right of all Malaysians? Throw the Federal Constitution in the garbage bin?

That is why democracy can never be always right or fair.

Again, hypothetically, if the majority votes to say it is not a crime to commit murder in Malaysia, is that what democracy is about?

The rabid lunacy of the Allah dispute is clearly perpetuated by politicians and political parties to serve their selfish agenda at the expense of national unity.

This is supported by the lack of nomocracy, with the authorities too timid to act or perform their duty against the fancy of their political masters.

RPK is right when he wrote that “Democracy may be legal but that does not always make it moral (or right)”.

Take for example the protesters in Penang who used the May 13 violence and bloodshed to threaten Malaysians? The police have failed nomocracy. Why?

Take another example. A group of protesters offered a RM1,200 bounty to anyone who dared to slap Seputeh MP Teresa Kok? Again police have failed the rule of law by not acting swiftly.

One wonders how the police would act if another group of protesters also offered a RM1,200 bounty to anyone who dared to slap Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

By not acting, the police have failed in their basic duty of enforcing the law fairly and to ensure public order, not forgetting the criminal aspect of the perpetrators.

In his arguments, RPK wrote: “Democracy became a catchword back in 1999 when Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim tried but failed to topple Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and was instead ousted. Anwar then hit back with the vengeance of a woman scorned and claimed the moral high ground and used the democracy platform to rally the people against his nemesis, Dr Mahathir.

In 2008, the ‘democracy fever’ became full blown when the people imagined themselves as standing on the side of virtue and this resulted in the best election performance ever for the opposition. The people had swallowed hook, line and sinker that at last their beloved country had found that magic formula for a better Malaysia, democracy.

Actually, democracy is overrated and even Plato thought so. He felt that the people really do not know what is good for them. It needs an autocratic ruler or a benevolent dictator to rule the country. The people should never be entrusted with this job of ruling …”

Hello RPK! We know which side of the political divide you stand. But you are certainly underestimating the intelligence and choice of the 51 per cent of Malaysians who voted against the likes of Dr Mahathir, Perkasa and Barisan Nasional.