The rise of China as an economic power supports the claim by some that democracy may not necessarily bring greater prosperity to the people.
The Arab Spring has dragged many Middle Eastern countries into a state of turmoil, lending force to the surge of terror outfits in the likes of IS.
In the meantime, chaos reigns in many democratic states. Thanks to populist politics, the election of Donald Trump has to a large extent hijacked the democracy in the world’s most powerful country.
Here in Malaysia, many have grown indifferent to politics and begun to abandon the ideals of democracy as a consequence of perennial political turmoil, sickening racism and theocratic discourse.
As for those in power, they care more about economic accomplishments and being in the exclusive league of top 20 economic powers, dismissing liberalism as extreme devil in so doing.
At a time of skyrocketing goods prices, Malaysians are way more concerned about their bread and butter, evidenced by the prioritized economic issues in various polls, as few give much heed to democratic issues.
Will democracy then take a back seat against the backdrop of a big environment dominated by money matters?
Democracy is a universal value pursued by humans for thousands of years and in no way should we give up democracy or deny its existence just because of some momentary setbacks. In a country devoid of democracy or where democracy is suppressed, the checks and balances functionality will be significantly debilitated. Our rights as citizens will come under tremendous threat and things no longer operate in full transparency.
For example, the UM chancellor’s office issued a notice to all the teaching staff and students through e-mail on November 27, warning them against openly making statements that could have negative impact on the university authorities or government, including comments made on the media, public gatherings, classrooms, radio, publications and social media.
The ban has violated the freedom of expression of individuals. Does it mean professors and lecturers can no longer comment on government policies during tutorials or in their theses or on newspapers? Does it also mean that the university authorities can now vet through student’s comments on social media sites? And what do they actually mean with “negative impact” on the university or government?
If lecturers and students are barred from criticizing the university or government, how would they see their own weaknesses and faults, and make amends?
The UM chancellor’s office has issued the warning citing Section 18 of Act 605 Statutory Bodies (Discipline and Surcharge) Act 2000. However, students are not employees of any statutory body nor public servants, and must therefore not be subjected to this law.
Now that the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 has given the universities sufficient power, why should they further clamp the freedom of expression of students under another law?
On November 30, the UM Chinese language society exco announced in a media conference that it had been suspended by the student affairs department for a semester.
As a matter of fact, the UM Chinese language society is not the only student organization that has been punished. Prior to that, the university’s Muslim students association was also suspended for one month.
The question now is: Will the Chinese language society be penalized further for voicing out to the press?
Universiti Malaya is the most established tertiary institution in the country and this alone should allow the university to become a role model of freedom of expression.
Unfortunately the university has had a notorious record when it comes to freedom of expression, having repeatedly taken disciplinary actions against “disobedient” students.
What we see today is the result of we constantly disregarding the importance of democracy. Sadly many have grown numb to the consequences of democratic regression in this country.
According to the latest Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI), Malaysia was ranked 144th among 160 countries, considered a failed state where electoral integrity is concerned.
The thing is: Will our election commission ever take a more serious look into this matter?
Because of a flawed democratic system, we are unable to put things back on the right track, including the rights East Malaysian states are entitled to, as well as the relationship between the federal and state governments, the status of vernacular education and the recognition of UEC certificate, among others.
If we only care about economic expansion without giving due attention to democratic values, we all will pay a hefty price for our negligence in the long run. Even if our leaders continue to fumble in decision-making, you can rest assured that no one will need to be accounted for as an effective checks and balances mechanism is practically non-existent.
The road to real democracy is a long and winding one, but we must not falter in our faith, for the future of this country will be in peril in the absence of democracy.