Saturday, September 20, 2008

FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY AND RACE

All man was born free, and hence, freedom is a God given right to every human being. To be free, means no other human being can force upon another fellow human being to accept a certain set of belief systems, way of life, practices etc. – unless he/she, in his/her own free will voluntarily submits to it.

Democracy, among today’s existing political system is the only one that fully supports this notion of freedom. Race on the other hand, in a fully democratic and free society should carry minor or lesser consequence, as the rights of the individuals are enshrined in the constitutions (or the laws) and these rights preside over all matters. Therefore, in a free and fully democratic society – race should not be the utmost concern. The question is, after more than 50 years of independence and “democratic practice”, why race is still an issue in Malaysia?

The problem actually lies with the fact that Malaysia has never been a “fully free and democratic” society; our democracy has been at best “very limited” in its implementations. Therefore, if we want this race issue to be addressed properly, the major prerequisite is to shape and bring Malaysia to be a “fully free” (in the sense of human freedom), and “fully democratic” in the proper democratic sense. These are the two issues that I will address in this writing.

First, on the issue of freedom: We are lucky, that we have a well defined constitutions and laws in the country. Our rights have been properly defined in these documents. The Malays have their rights clearly protected under the “Hak-Hak keistimewaan Melayu” (“Malay Special Rights”) under the constitutions, and the other races have their individual rights sanctioned in it as well. Honestly, the fuss that’s going on today has nothing to do with the constitution and these enshrined matters – the issues at the core of it is about all of our rights and freedom being trampled, and abused by one group of people, namely – the UMNO ruling elites.

In fact, the UMNO ruling elites are the one that deprived the Malays of their own civil rights and freedom, through intimidations, threat, and abuse of the process of law (just see the record of how many Malays has been detained under ISA compared to the other races? More than 80% of the existing ISA detainees are Malays). Malays are not even free to practice Islam, as the Islam that can be practiced must falls under the strict definitions by the Jabatan Agama Islam (“JAI”). You are not free to organize Jumaat prayers on your own, unless you are authorized to do so; a number of good Ustaz are not allowed to give sermons or lectures in the mosques, as they do not subscribe to a certain brand of Islam defined by the JAI.

For most, we know that freedom of speech is something that never existed in Malaysia; the same thing goes for the freedom of the media. We can go on and bring a whole set of lists on this matter. The poignant message is: we are not really a free country; and freedom is something that we never achieved. And it is affecting all of us from all races and background.

The second subject is about democracy: The basic tenets of democracy is that we have a government that is elected through a democratic process, whereby each citizen elect them by way of one person one vote, through a “fair, open, and transparent” process. A democratic society also is about a functioning check and balance within the system. One of the most important parts of this check and balance is the media and information.

A democracy that is not supported by an open, free and fair environment of information dissemination – is a blind democracy. A blind democracy is never a properly working democracy, in the sense that leaderships and government are being appointed by a blind public, who firstly do not really know who they elect and why, and secondly, will not have any way to provide a check and balance on those whom they have chosen.


Pure democracy posits that society needs media that is: a) a rigorous watchdog for those in powers and for those who want to be in power; b) which can ferret out truth from lies; c) and can present a wide range of informed positions on all important issues of the day.

In Malaysia, what we have is that our media is at best a charade for the ruling elite. The Media (Press act) laws are pretty much structured that any dissent among the media, means that you will not have the license to continue printing or broadcasting. The government owned (and funded) TV stations (TV1 and TV2), plus the GLC owned (the Media Prima), as well the newspapers (NST, Berita and Utusan) – all become the propaganda arm for the ruling elite.

Of late, they have deteriorated even further: the media now a spinning machine for Pak Lah and his cronies (as explained by Tun Dr. M himself in his blog). We can just observe how relentless (or desperate) they became in attacking PR in last Permatang Pauh by-election. The media is no longer a news medium and abide by the basic ethics of journalism; they became medium of lies and propaganda.

The conclusion that I would like to bring forth here are as follows: Yes, we should address and discuss about race, socio-economic arrangements between the races, and other sensitive matters among the races and across religious divides. But the precondition is we must first ensure that Malaysia is a FREE AND OPEN SOCIETY and WE ADHERED AND PRATICE STRICT MEANING AND INTENT OF DEMOCRACY (even albeit a “proper” Malaysian version of it).

As I have started in the opening paragraph – UNDER SUCH ENVIRONMENT OF FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY, RACE WILL NOT BE THE DOMINANT ISSUE IN OUR SOCIETY. The problem why race is still important today is because we have failed on the prerequisites. Hence, the urgency now is to us get our priorities straight.

This is what ANWAR and PR is fighting for; and for this we must support and make sure that he can and PR will implement it.



Endnotes

On the status of TV1, TV2 and government owned and funded by tax payers money media.
My proposal is that these media should be “free from the government” hands if they want to continue to exists. In the same manner that PBS (Public Broadcasting Stations in the US, or C-SPAN networks), or SBS (in Australia), for that matter BBC – all are managed, operated, and organized “independent” from the ruling government. Their funding is enacted by law, and they are no longer under the Ministry of Information. Their editors and reporters are free to report under clear guidelines of journalism ethics.

The reasoning of this arrangements falls in line with what I explained above, about the role of media in a functioning democracy. Off course I am also against making it to be privately owned (privatized), as we know that the owners of these entities are then the one that will dictate the news. May be one of the way is to set it up as an independent entity, with the public at large on board (similar to an Independent Commission or Suruhanjaya Bebas) overlooking them. Any other ideas also may work; with one fundamental condition: they are no longer a subject of any one who is in power!

By:
Dr. Wan Muhamad Hasni Wan Sulaiman
Kuala Lumpur

20th September 2008

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