Opinion

Democracy at work, maybe

We are seeing democracy’s rough edges 

LIKE it or hate it, it is a relief for the majority of Malaysians that we finally have a government a week after the elections. 

Congratulations to the winner and of course, we hope the non-winners accept the outcome with dignity and try again in five years. 

However, an enquiring mind asked me a question. “Was that democracy? What just happened?” 

After five nights of interrupted sleep over the outcome of this election, I have little energy to consider this question and was looking forward to return to watching “Jason Bourne” on Netflix or leafing through the reviews on DIY Monthly. 

However, it is a question that has been asked before when an impasse is resolved outside of the field of play. 

Because the politicians, and by extension the rakyat, couldn’t collectively make up its mind, the King had to step in and arbitrate. No one planned it that way, but circumstances presented it as a resolution. 

That we would have a hung Parliament had been widely expected, as this column has suggested a couple of times, but even hardened political watchers were taken aback by the shenanigans that were revealed as the situation prolonged — as politicians traded horses, armed with contracts signed before the elections. 

The speed by which the competing winners announced that they had the numbers after the elections is usually an indication of pre-existinging deals between parties and even individual MPs. 

All those deals are now moot when Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim clocked-in at Putrajaya last Friday because I don’t think anyone will be sued for breach of contracts on a secret deal that is probably illegal anyway. 

But even at the 11th hour, it could have easily been the blue of Perikatan Nasional (PN) instead of the red of Pakatan Harapan in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) today. 

The uncertainty of the results unfortunately allowed us to see what our youths really think. Some of them were quick to say what’s on their minds through that accursed app — TikTok — urging actions that are far removed from the ideals of a multiracial country like Malaysia.

Anecdotal reports from parents show that even among children some of the bigoted lies are prevalent, in fact amplified. 

The rise in hate and bigotry shown openly was frightening for many of people like me who were born in the 1960s and we are assured when the police mounted its “omnipresence” roadblocks. 

My ever smaller circle of friends consider general elections as gloriassociation, and treat it like waiting for a bus. If you missed one, another will come in five years. Prime ministers (PMs) come and go, but we’re still here. 

For first-time voters, however, the whole process was a front-row seat to how the democracy system worked in the real world. 

The automatic voter registration that was implemented in this election resulted in high voter turnout. Freed from the bureaucracy of registration, many first-time voters exercised their ballot, for “better” or “worse”. 

My own children, who never even once discussed politics with me, surprised me when they openly declared their chosen colours on social media. One of them voted for the first time and said it was enlightening, but confusing. 

“So, what about those promises they declared before the election, are they still going to keep them?” 

Well it’s like this, all those election promises have always been on a “best effort” basis. They’ll try to get something done, but they are not beholden to it. Yes, some politicians actually went to court to prove that they don’t have to keep election promises. 

“But before the elections they all said they hated each other and rejected all cooperation, now they’re sitting together and apologising.” 

I’m glad then that Anwar said the first agenda of his premiership would be to test his support in Parliament as soon as possible. This is a feisty response to a challenge from PN’s Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, no doubt made in a knee-jerk reaction to being pipped at the post. 

As we venture into the unchartered waters of a unity government, the questions arise on the PM’s role in an unfettered way, free from obligations outside of Parliament. 

What about pending court cases? How will he carve up the Cabinet? Will there be a reconciliation programme? 

Now we also await how the PM is going to reconcile the opposing pre-election positions of the opposing groups, now slated to be included in his inclusive government. 

Is this democracy? 

Yes, warts and all, this is democracy. We are seeing its rough edges. 

  • ZB Othman is an editor at The Malaysian Reserve.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition
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