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While the Mahathir regime might be technically correct in saying that it is a legitimately elected government, it certainly falls far short of any claims to be elected in a true *democratic* spirit.

The Malaysian people may have gone through the motions of registering their votes through the ballot box, but that does not necessarily mean that the Barisan Nasional government can claim to have the “people’s mandate”. A fundamental requirement of democracy was amiss in all of the past general elections: “truly fair and informed selection process”.

The true essence of democracy is not merely about *elections* of people's representatives. The actual act of voting is but one small aspect of a true democracy. It is about the fundamental right (hak asasi) for a society to *choose* its own destiny.

Now, in order for the process of "choice" to be done in a truly fair fashion, there must be a completely fair and open exchange of ideas, viewpoints, and positions. Every single citizen must have the right to see and hear all of his/ her legitimate alternatives before he can make an *informed* and *conscious* decision. The key here is INFORMATION. Information must be free. It must be accessible. It must not be denied...

If you *deny* or *hinder* the process of voicing of ideas, viewpoints, and positions; if you hinder the free flow of information; you would be denying the voters their fundamental *democratic* right to choose. To make an informed decision. To make a conscious decision. If this does not happen, can a person or a party truly claim to have the *people's mandate*? Can you claim to be * democratically* elected?

Which is why, democracy is more than just the *act* of voting. It is about:

• Freedom to express your views and position

• Freedom to assemble and demonstrate to make your position visible

• Freedom of association, to organize and mobilize your collective position

That is why these are *inalienable* *democratic* rights enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, 1948. They are all equally important aspects of a democracy. And together, in full practice, they are the manifestation of a democratic society. These aspects are INDIVISIBLE. You cannot pick and choose.

Perhaps the European Court of Human Rights articulates this well, when it ruled that...

"Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man…… it is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favorably received, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society" .

While Malaysia can claim to embrace these notions, as enshrined in Article 10 of our constitution, the actual practice, through a variety of official and unofficial laws and their enforcement, we actually seriously *hinder* the actualization of these basic democratic rights.

Some quarters here argue that freedom is not absolute. The interest of collective society comes first. That peace and stability should take precedence over one person's "rights". Fair enough.

In fact, the English House of Lords recognized this, when they observed (in James vs. Commonwealth of Australia, 1936):

"Free’ in itself is vague and indeterminate. It must take its colour from the context. Compare, for instance, its use in free speech, free love, free dinner and free trade. Free speech does not mean free speech: it means speech hedged in by all the laws against defamation, blasphemy, sedition and so forth. It means freedom governed by law…."

However, we already have laws for these. We have sufficient defamation(contempt) laws to protect people from being "insulted" by others. Just ask Tan Sri Vincent Tan, he made a bundle. We also have laws to charge people for causing property damage, or even to block the flow of traffic.

So we do not need the repressive laws that, so call "prevent" incidents before they happen: "The Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA)" and the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 (EPOPCO)" are two examples.

Let the people truly speak out. Lift this veil that creates this state of fear and self-censorship that we live in. If people abuse their rights, by all means, prosecute them. But don't stop people from expressing, on the grounds that you want to "prevent" things from turning ugly. Because in reality, as we have seen with the enforcement of the ISA, it has been abused to silence legitimate political views. The original draftsman for the 1960 ISA law, R. H. Hickling, had this to say (1962):

"I must hope that the practice of imprisonment without trial, charge or conviction admitted by the Act 1960 will not be regarded as a permanent feature of the legal and political landscape of Malaya or for that matter of Asia generally."

There's more. Its more than just the right to have and express opinions. For a democracy to be legitimate, the channels of information must be made absolutely fair. This is where the media comes to play. All political parties must have equal access to media/ information channels. The media should not be politicized as it is being done now. Its bad enough that UMNO owns, and evidently, manipulates TV3 (to the extent that they are now not reporting facts but positioning editorial opinion as fact - i.e. manipulating the
public). Worse is the abuse of RTM. RTM belongs to the government. It is funded by our taxes. It should not be the exclusive political tool of Barisan Nasional simply because they are the government of the day. RTM belongs to the people, not BN. They should give equal exposure the other political parties, particularly as elections draw near...

Sadly, the media is being monopolized. The burden imposed by the Printing Press and Publishing Act (1984) requiring Minister approval renewed every year, * without judicial review* is a glaring hindrance to the *democratic* process of information flow. The current government has already demonstrated its bullying of the media, including closing down The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh after Ops Lallang 1987. They continue to do it today, from dismissing executives who are not aligned with the political masters, to outright censorship of Wan Azizah, Marina Yusof, and Rahim Ghouse on CNBC. (This was confirmed by Astro’s customer services department).

Because the media is being manipulated (Utusan's very own chairman, Senator
Zainuddin Maidin told Asiaweek recently, “Yes, we're biased, but we don't tell lies"), and if people (especially the lesser educated ones in the rural areas, which happen to be the majority) only get one "side" without getting an opportunity for a fair representation of other sides, can you say that people are making INFORMED CHOICES? The answer is no.

"A free press can, of course, be good or bad; but certainly, without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad" - Albert Camus

(Example: when Malay Mail published a late edition to print SAC Musa's affidavit in regards to Nalla, which strongly implicated a third party (Anwar), before the affidavit was tendered in court. Subjudice and in contempt of court?) Or how about the Utusan article claiming that the women in tudung singing in protest outside the Istana were prostitutes? Even when KL CID Chief Kamaruddin denied that they were prostitutes, Utusan didn't even retract...)

Therefore, I submit to you, that, to say that the current government is "democratically elected", is, at best, highly debatable.

And we haven't even gone into issues concerning the actual elections process. As Tun Suffian (of Election Watch) commented on the 1995 elections, there are several issues concerning the fairness of the general election process. Among them are:

• Gerrymandering of electoral areas. This is evident in the fact that the percentage of BN *seats* won is significantly higher than the number of *votes* garnered (as percentage of total voting population). i.e., In dense population areas such as KL and Penang, less seats are allocated because these are risky areas, compared to safe areas in the rural. So some Opposition MPs actually represent more than TEN times voters in the
constituents compared to some rural BN MPs

• Use of police and military votes in areas which are "hotly contested". Police and military votes are "deployed" where convenient. There is also evidence of the police and military personnel not actually voting, but have votes made in their name.

• Not wanting to use IC no. as a reference. Elections Commission only relies on names, and not IC nos. so the possibility of someone voting twice or more is possible.

• etc.

Of course, because those were the boom times, they can sweep these under the carpet without getting flak. Yes, the people were happy, but because money was pumped out (which we had to borrow to fund trade deficits resulting in our vulnerability to currency fluctuations).

As active participants at the demonstrations, we DO want a democratically elected government. We want to *vote* Mahathir out of office, but through a fair democratic process, not one which is rigged or biased.

Furthermore, there are two main functions of having demonstrations and why they should be intensified:

• First, to SHOW other Malaysians that there are people who care enough to voice dissent. Most Malaysians are afraid to voice their displeasure at the present government, but because of the climate of fear, they are afraid to discuss. Thus, they might feel alone and isolated in their views. By seeing other people come out an express the same views, it gives them more confidence that their views are not isolated and thus futile.

• Secondly, by making it visible internationally, it will put pressure on the government to go out of their way to prove that upcoming elections are not only fair, but seen to be fair. If we don't demonstrate and attract international attention, the current political masters will take for granted and continue their current practices.

All demonstrators want democracy. They want elections, fair elections.

But we are now seeing how the ISA has been misused, how the media has been
cowered and manipulated, how the judicial process is highly questionable.

It is a moral hazard not to demonstrate and voice dissent. Because it will legitimize the downright criminal management of this country.

The correct government response would have been to set up a special place (e.g., Merdeka stadium) (and score brownie points internationally) for the demonstrators to protest, listen to their grievances and address them. But if all you do is try to violently squash any dissent, you only aggravate the whole situation. Clearly the government is not interested in listening.

To use the excuse that the demonstrations do not have legal permits is downright lame. First, to have such a law that makes any gathering of more than 5 people without a permit illegal smacks of fascism. No Malaysian can claim to have never been in a group of 5 without a permit. We have a law that makes all of us criminals. This includes Mahathir himself. He has many times been in gatherings of more than 5 (on TV) without police permits.

Then to be hypocritical and selective in enforcement makes it all the more ridiculous.
Why should the Kampung Baru demonstrators have a permit when Ibrahim Ali's
demonstration against Estrada at the Philippine Embassy did not (he even used
school kids and women), or what about the "demonstrations" by the fake Kampung
Baru women? No permit?

Yet, people are genuinely concerned that if they tried to apply for a permit, they would be marked as inciter of violence and be detained without trial. No one can argue that that cloud of threat is not hanging there...

To say that demonstrations are taking away the livelihood of hawkers is also weak. First if the government gave an open space to demonstrate, it wouldn’t happen. More importantly, the lost hawker revenue pales tremendously in comparison to the billions that the government has squandered.

The person responsible must take the heat for this travesty. That person is the Minister of Home Affairs. The Minister of Finance (albeit unconstitutionally). The Prime Minister of Malaysia (albeit without true democratic support of the people).

p/s Datuk Hishamuddin Hussein: I accept your offer (see The Star 27 November
1998) to debate this openly - with any BN Youth Leader. You know who I am.. I
am sure your team has received my offer. Without fear or favor.

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