Democracy hijacked?

Young people need to vote. They need to get out there. Every vote counts. Educate yourself too. Don’t just vote. Know what you’re voting for, and stand by that.

– Nikki Reed, American actress

Even during ‘normal times’ our national politics can be perplexing.

It is hard to discern what policies a politician is supporting, other than perhaps those based on race and religion.

In fact, at the present moment, it is hard to say whether any one of them believes in anything anymore, except political power.

When it comes to policies, the perception of the public is that there is no deep thought given to policies or their implementation. The politicians of the day seem to make up policies as they go along.

This ongoing ‘Hit and Run’, ad-hoc approach to governance over the years is creating a chaotic and dysfunctional system that is detrimental to our lives and does not bring value to Malaysians.

In addition to this, the gradual erosion of checks and balances in our system of governance is an unhealthy trend. Checks and balances in any democracy refer to the concept of separation of powers.

The concept of separation of powers refers to the division of government responsibilities into separate branches or organs. The purpose is to limit any one branch or organ of government from exercising the core functions of another.

Traditionally, the three branches of government are characterised as the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

The legislative branch is responsible for enacting the laws and in Malaysia this is parliament made up of the Dewan Negara consisting of 70 Senators and Dewan Rakyat consisting of 222 members.

Then we have the executive branch, our Cabinet led by the prime minister, which is responsible for implementing and administering the public policy enacted and funded by the legislative branch.

This is followed by our judicial branch that is responsible for interpreting our constitution and laws and applying them to given situations.

The ultimate aim of the separation of powers is to prevent the concentration of power in any one branch and or a person.

In the United States of America, it was indeed due to the embedded separations of powers and strong democratic institutions that President Trump was prevented from assuming a dictator’s role.

In Malaysia, the executive branch has been able to introduce laws and rules that have brought the other two branches of government into its sphere of influence thereby compromising their role as a check and balance on the executive.

This can be detrimental to democracy, as it then concentrates power in the hands of the executive and via the power of patronage; the power of the executive branch is exercised by the prime minister.

This could be perceived as an ‘elective dictatorship’ in between elections depending on how power is exercised by an individual.

According to Wikipedia, the phrase ‘elective dictatorship’ (also called executive dominance in political science) describes the state in which parliament is dominated by the government of the day. This phrase was popularised by the former Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom, Lord Hailsham.

That our nation is facing a major health crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic is not in dispute. However, now the questions being asked are is our democracy in crisis and is our nation still practising the precepts of democracy?

The recently ended nationwide emergency rule proclaimed to ostensibly manage the Covid-19 pandemic is now discredited as it did not achieve its aim. Indeed, the ever-increasing death rate due to the pandemic is used as evidence of failed implantation.

The earlier allegations that the emergency was actually used to hold together a fragile PN majority and the suspension of parliament used to prolong the PN rule gather credence.

The absence of clear and rational political philosophy in Malaysian politics whereby a voter can identify a candidate by their belief also makes it difficult for the voters to choose for change even if a general election were held now.

Perhaps the present political and democratic crisis will bring to the forefront a new breed of candidates who would be more concerned with good governance and democratic values.

It is sometimes said that it is from crises that big changes can take place and let us hope for the better in this case.

The increasingly and alarmingly acrimonious nature of politics now has to cease.

A course correction is indeed urgently required and soon, before the current nature of politics becomes the new normal.

We are in dire need of mould-breaking politicians in the future if we as a nation are to have sustainable peace and prosperity.

Let us also hope we start having more mature voters who have a better worldview with an eye on economic and multiracial stability via democracy.

The views expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.