Regime v.s. The People: how to retain power/reclaim democracy.
Earlier in part 1, I analyzed and compared the Malaysian election to the Arab Spring. This is a continuation: How the regime manages to retain its power.
I. Divide and rule.
In this election, as Malaysians of different ethnicity are united against the ruling party, it has become apparent that what kept us divided for the past 5 decades was the ‘divide and rule’ strategy. Strong biases in favor of the Malay, such as public opportunities, scholarships, loans and housing prices, have angered the Chinese and Indians. This managed to retain the racial tension and corrode unity. Then the hegemon could harness the majority’s voting power, keeping itself uncontested by others. This tactic however, is starting to fall apart in the modern world as the population is subjected to globalization.
II. Control the public service:
When the government controls all the vital resources and services, a country inevitably falls to authoritarianism, for the regime has become too powerful. The vital services that our government owns or influences are: electricity (TNB), communication and internet (TM, Maxis etc.), water, education, publication and so on. Imagine, if one day an uprising occurs, we would be quickly choked off from the vital supplies by the regime, and the movement would be put down in no time. Having realized that, the people would be deterred from going on to the street against the government as well. This further anchors its power.
III. Control the media: censorship and brainwashing.
This is the singly most important issue.
Notoriously, Malaysia ranks 145 on Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. The censorship bill that was put in place surreptitiously from the background has guaranteed the regime’s control on the media. Newspaper agencies have to renew their license, therefore are controlled by the government. Major external liberal books, magazines and materials are checked and censored before allowed into the country. The opposition parties were never given the chance to campaign and compete fairly. Only opinions and news favoring the regime are allowed: in this aspect we are very much like North Korea.
Press media has been reduced from playing the sanctimonious role of facilitating knowledge exchange in a democracy. Now it is merely the sully propagandizing tool of the regime for brainwashing. Free press and publications are the brain of any democracy, because the people’s collective mind and will are supposed to be basis of the government’s ruling. If the brain fails to control the body, then the body is zombified and dysfunctional, and the democracy is meaningless.
Therefore, our civil society has fallen into its Dark Age, as the vibrant flow of ideas is curtailed. There is no active and free thinking in the population, and this disqualifies us as a genuine democracy.
Simultaneously, Western ideologies opposing the regimes conservative values were also disparaged as negative, thereby encouraging Malaysians to be anti-Western. We were taught to defend our Eastern culture, and to view the Western culture as arrogant and corrupt. Kids that go overseas and assume the liberal principles are commonly vilified as haughty betrayers of our society. Even now, I have to be careful while writing this very Malaysian essay while being that kid in the USA to not be perceived arrogant. The anti-Western view is one of the deepest flaws in our society, and it is the most successful brainwash that was performed on us.
Furthermore, The rightful activities that symbolize democracy, especially peaceful protests and freedom of expression, are instilled into the popular perception as being the illegal and negative elements that stirs chaos and threatens the society. With other framework such as the ISA and Peaceful Assembly Act, the regime made sure that the dissidents are ‘taken care of’ and all of its opponents are cleared off the path for its unchallenged rule. Bloggers, dissidents and even Human Rights Watch leader are detained on ridiculously trivial–at times totally unrelated–excuses.
The only place for the freedom of opinions and thoughts to flourish is on the internet, because it is unlimited and anonymous. Even though, some online bloggers still could escape the regime’s crackdown: the blogger of MiloSuam was recently arrested. Many Malaysians, angered but terrorized by the situation, start taking a smaller risk by writing anonymously to convey their opinions. I have been through this personally.
This is the most pathetic and shameful aspect of our society: having to fear for rightfully exercising your rights to freedom of thoughts. Malaysia is unworthy of its democratic status.
Let me tell you why the Western democracy flourishes, while ours dwindles.
It is not really because the West is more ‘superior’ and ‘civilized’ and the East is more ‘inferior’ and ‘uneducated.’ Look at us, we have the best engineers and scholars in the world, and are so good at business, science, mathematics.
The main distinction lies in the ‘brain’ of a democracy aforesaid: the Western civil society have the full freedom of expression, while we do not.
I had the honor to attend a lecture on April 8 in my college by Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. In his remarks, he highlighted the two crucial characteristics of a true democracy: open thinking influencing the government, and open mindedness.
No democracy does not include a mode of thinking into its society. Democracy is not just about open voting, but open thinking as well.
The main gap that separates the world today is between the open and the closed-mind.
Current global conflicts are ethnic or religious-based, because the closed minded cannot tolerate external culture and absorb new ideas. Racism and the hegemon-minority tension are caused by closed-mindedness.
In the US, one can publicly and daringly criticize the president without having to fear any reconciliation. People can openly protest on the street, and this is accepted as a sign of the government’s mistake, and policy makers reflect and react on it. Demonstration is a totally legitimate and normal way to convey people’s will, and this in turn gets reflected into the basis of governance.
In Malaysia, our leaders would get panic and dismiss the peaceful demonstrations as illegal, cracking down on protestors while emphasizing to international interviewers that we practice full democracy.
This is the main distinction, the prime factor that undermines democracy in Malaysia: our leaders do not understand liberty and democracy themselves.
In spite of that, after the recent chain of events preceding and following the election, I remain hopeful and optimistic.
The people get it!
The spirit of true democracy is growing and maturing in Malaysia, and I have no other reasons to be happier. The society has opened up, mainly thanks to online media and whistle-blowing efforts. Bersih demonstration helped to educate Malaysians about their rights. Globalization enabled the flow and exchange of idea between Malaysia and the international society. We are inspired by the spirit of the Arab Spring.
People have become more intelligent and open minded. The brainwash of the regime is starting to diminish and fail. We reject racism and put aside our differences. We unite as Malaysians, and take the actions to exercise our liberal rights. People are reacting strongly to the election fraud and abuse in a civilized and organized manner.
Despite continued adversities and crackdown from the regime, we stand up bravely for our rights. We will take to the street on May 8 and show the government that our will is to be the basis of its governance.
This is a real Spring in our country, more successful and peaceful than the Arab Spring. Finally, we can proudly claim ourselves as Malaysians, regardless of ethnicity.
At this critical time of our country, I am desperately hoping to be in Malaysia. However, being in the US, this essay my humble contribution to all liberal Malaysians. Nevertheless, my spirit will be in Stadium Kelana Jaya with you, on May 8. We will reclaim our Malaysia!
Ini Kalilah! ❧