In our Selected Exhortations category, we republish interesting stuff such as must-read articles and essays not originally written exclusively for the blawg, and which have come to our attention. Please feel free to email [email protected] if you would like to reproduce your writing, but first follow our Writer’s Guide here.
A version of this article was published in The Star Editor’s Choice which can also be found here.
To some of us, democracy means casting your vote once every 5 years to elect persons to represent you in the legislative process. For them, democracy begins and ends at the ballot box. Once votes are counted, seats determined and governments formed, democracy is to remain dormant until the next elections.
To some of us, democracy is rule by the majority. The rights of minorities are subservient and dependent upon the all-encompassing interests of the majority. The majority decree prevails, even at the expense of the minority.
But such notions of democracy and democratic governance are flawed, a distorted understanding of demos (people) and kratos (power).
The education system is to blame. In school, we are told that we live in a democratic country. As proof of this, we are pointed to the fact that we elect our government. But democracy is not just voting. We are not educated on the notion of rights, the limits of the State and of other characteristics of democracy. The system does not encourage differences in opinion. Disagreements are frowned upon. Dissent, protests and even debates are taboo as they are not part of our so-called ‘Malaysian culture’. We are told that Malaysia is unique in our diversity, but this diversity must fit into convenient little, pre-set boxes. Malays, Chinese, Indians and ‘others’. Muslims and non-Muslims. West Malaysia and East Malaysia.
Also to blame are our decades of docile acceptance. Our years of ‘guided democracy’, i.e, a democratic country where the government knows best. A government that decides and defines what measure of democracy we are allowed to enjoy.
Upon such a backdrop, it is little wonder that some of us cannot fathom democracy. Democracy, true democracy, is foreign to some of us, even more than the purported foreign funders of our local civil society movements.
But democracy is the rage these days. It is as if the nation woke up from its long slumber of submissiveness, to breathe the intoxicating scent of demokratia. The Rakyat is relishing in freedoms they always had, but had not always enjoyed. We are breaking our mental chains of suppression and embracing our rights like never before.
Slapped in the face with this new concept of democracy, some of us recoil. Democracy becomes too hot to handle. Dissent is seen as disloyalty, disagreement as treachery, and protests as moves to destablise the nation. The audacity of these people, to actually practise democracy outside of the ballot box! How dare they disturb the neat little boxes that have defined Malaysia thus far!
The response to this spring of democracy is characteristic of our inability to deal with democracy. Thus in response, some of us condemn, advocate regulations and control, and ultimately, clamour for crackdown.
Democracy becomes the enemy. Everything becomes a zero-sum game. If you are not with them, it means you are with their enemies. There is no place for the middle ground, the in-betweeners and the neutrals.
They caution against ‘freedoms’, talking about the dangers of unbridled freedoms and unchecked democracy. Too much democracy will lead to chaos, they say. Too much democracy will be the ruin of us all.
This resistance to democracy reeks of hypocrisy. They pray to the altar of Athena every 5 years to acquire legitimacy and mandate. Yet, it is Eris whom they seek in the years between.
Democracy is chaotic. Democracy is messy. Democracy is the absence of neat boxes. In a democracy, a libertarian can support subsidies. A feminist can support polygamy. An Islamist can support freedom of religion. Democracy is that naked man on the street, holding a placard and urinating all over the place. Homogeny of thought and opinions? Conformity and uniformity? Go to North Korea.
We need to start desensitising ourselves to democracy. We need to start embracing this democratisation of the Rakyat. The mainstreaming of activism, the spread of social media, the increase in awareness of constitutional rights and the rise of pro-democracy movements have cut across traditional ethnic, social and even political divisions.
Democracy is upon us and it is here to stay. Resistance, as they say, is futile.
(Featured image accompanying article on main page courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen, source: Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain])