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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Democracy and freedom of expression

In The Wolf and the Silence of the Lamb, I said, among others:

“The core of democracy is representation. It is a system of governance where the people are represented by representatives who are elected by the people. These representatives then form a government. The government than governs the people. A state is then formed, consisting of the government and the people it governs.”

More importantly, I attempted to correct the popular notion that democracy was the cause of liberty. After alluding to Marx’ Utopian state, I opined:

“The obvious flaw in Marx's theory of a utopian society makes democracy a very alluring alternative. If at all, it pushes to the fore the false notion that liberty is the product of democracy, when in fact democracy is just but one of the many (flawed) ways of protecting liberty. Liberty is not caused by democracy. It rather is the cause for democracy.”

And I asked some sobering questions:

“That brings us to some sobering thoughts. Can liberty be usurped by democracy? Is it possible for a democracy to destroy liberty in itself? In that event, what will happen to democracy? Can it exist without liberty?”

I would like, in this article, to expand the theoretical postulation that the  basis of democracy is liberty and freedom, in terms of the freedom of expression of the people in a democratic state.

I feel that a deep understanding of this area of the democracy theory is important, more particularly due to the current climate in Malaysia, where BERSIH is planning a rally for electoral reform on the 9th July this year while at the same time, the usual suspects of horror and doom, Perkasa, Ibrahim Ali and their ilk are planning to create disturbances.

Democracy, to my mind, starts with an expression of will by the people or a group of people. The will which was being expressed was the will to be represented in the governance and administration of the state which the people formed.

That will was expressed through the process of elections.

It would not thus be far fetched to say that a state of democracy is anchored to, and in fact born, out of that expression of will. The expression of the people’s will is therefore the thrust of democracy.

However, the expression of the people’s will does not end with the casting of votes. A true and dynamic democracy requires continuous engagement of minds between the State and its people. The elected representatives are not angels. They are not gods. Being human who are garbed with  power robes, temptations lurk in every corner. Abuse of powers and positions are just but a finger snap away. Powers corrupts. Absolute powers corrupt absolutely, said a very wise man.

Furthermore, democracy is also tied up to mandate by numbers. Which means, the majority would win the right to rule. Regardless, the success of a democratic State is not in the manner in which the majority rules. It is measured by looking at how the majority balances and treats the rights and demands of the majority with the obvious desires and wants of the minority bearing in mind the general welfare of the State as a whole.

In such a dynamic and vibrant state of things, expression of the people continues – and must be allowed to continue – if a meaningful democracy were to exist.

The people express their will and mind. The State, via the government, listens and acts. The process continues. It is this continuous and mutual engagement of the will and mind, between the people and the State, which gives democracy its soul.

Democracy does not mean the people expressing their will by casting their votes once in 5 years and after that the elected representative could assume that they are “mandated” to do anything at their whim and fancy until their 5 year term ends at which time they come back for a new mandate. That is periodical absolutism. A benevolent absolutist – even a police - State masked as a democracy where democracy is used to legitimise the State’s  penchant for sadistic and diabolical intents.

When there is a general intention to express the people’s will, it is not for  the State to prevent such expression of will by citing security or economics reason. In a vibrant democracy, a responsible State should act to facilitate the expression of that will in a peaceful and orderly fashion. That is the duty of the State.

A State which act to prevent the lawful expression of will by the people which it governs is a State fearful of its own voice. That State loses its moral legitimacy to rule and to be respected.

The State must remember that the will of the people is insidious. That it exists inside their mind. What they wish to do is the express that will.

Even when such expression is supressed, either by the overt acts of the State of any of its machinations, the will still exists. It will not go away.

Although the expression of the will may be prevented, the will can’t.

13 comments:

Cruzeiro said...

Well said, Art!

It is a sad state of affairs today in Malaysia when the general public does not understand the word "democracy".

I've been faced with a lot of resistance from a certain group of people who actually believe that the "tyranny of the majority" can legitimately be used to justify democracy.

Even sadder still- when they wish to use this "majority rule" to suppress the minority for no obvious benefit to themselves, other than to feed their chauvinism/ego.
For that- they gladly surrender their rights to "little napoleons" who then dictate terms to the "people" as some sort of "benevolent tyrant/protector".

These things I say- after dealing with "people on the ground" .... in a community which we could regard as "less open" than the more affluent communities in Klang Valley- not too far away.

Any attempt to say the the things you mentioned here was met with much hostility from a "very vocal minority" (not unlike Perkasa).
(Needless to say- I have given up trying to educate them for now, to let the dust settle)

It is these communities which form the backbone of the support which the tyrants in Malaysia enjoy.

Zmas said...

EN ART
THE WILL SHALL BE DEPRESSED .......
GATHERING LIKE BERSIH WILL BRING OUT T WORST OF THE POLICE FORCE
MINORITY RACES MUST BE THREATHEN .....
DONT WE HV A CHARMING GOVT ROSMAH ......
KEEP ON DOING WHAT U DO BEST .....
KEEP THE MASS THE RAKYAT ANGRY .....
DO IT EVERYDAY .... DO IT OPENLY ....

THEN WE WILL HAVE PUTRAJAYA SOONER .....

Cruzeiro said...

Zmas- it isn't about getting the people angry (that can work both ways).
It's about educating the people, and getting them thinking ... again.

Anonymous said...

So Perkasa, when they claim that they are also rakyat, and they can also go to the streets; are they the thinking kind, or the kind that tries to suppress thinking?

And in answering this question are you swayed by anyone's will (and the perception it brings with it), or is it genuinely your own?

..there is will and there is herd mentality..

Naj

art harun said...

Naj,

Please do not try to impute any agenda on my part here. You do not know how I think.

PERKASA, UMNO Youth, Obedient Wife Club, the Volkswagen Car Club et al can rally as much as they want, come the 9th or any other date. I am all for it.

What do you think of Ibrahim Ali's sly reminder to the Chinese to stay homw and that he would not be responsiblle if anything happen on the 9th? What would you imply from that?

Are you expressing your will here or are you one of those who is possessed by the herd mentality which you mentioned?

Anonymous said...

I like you last line..." the will can't".

The WILL will express itself in other ways, perhaps in more forceful ways.
Unseen like the wind, it can still topple BN.

fauziah said...

Im all for expressing the people's will. But Im very afraid of 'where' the will is expressed...A walk/gathering to express oneself is okay but can it be done in an area like dataran merdeka where it is spacious and not inconvenience people like me....?? They can speak themselves hoarse and then let a few of their reps 'walk' to the palace or wherever they want to send their memo to, if theres any instead of thousands clogging the streets of KL.

Anonymous said...

Art,

Will you be on the street too come 9th July?

Hope to see you there ..


orangkampung

Zmas said...

MR CRUZEIRO

I AGREE ON THE PART OF EDUCATING PEOPLE , MAKES PEOPLE THINKING

HOWEVER GOVT ROSMAH IS NOT INTERESTED IN EDUCATING N THINKING
THESE 2 WEAPONS WILL CREATE MORE OPEN MINDED CIVIL SOCIETY WHO WILL DEMAND GOOD GOVERNANCE .....GOVT ROSMAH CANNOT BEAR THAT

THE MASS OF T VOTES OF 'EDUCATED THINKING' GROUP IS ALREADY WITH PAKATAN
YET PAKATAN IS NOT T GOVT OF T DAY RIGHT ?

T OTHER MASS VOTES COMES FROM THIS GROUP OF DIE HARD MALAY UMNO FANATICS WHOSE IQ FALLS BELOW 50 , THIS MASS WILL CHANGE THEIR VOTES IF THEY ARE ANGRY ENOUGH OF ROSMAH'S GOVT , MUST KACAU THIS GROUP EVERYDAY , KACAU ENOUGH SO PUTRAJAYA WILL CHANGE HAND

AS LONG AS PAKATAN JUST BISING 2 N STILL BEING IN OPPOSITION , WHAT IS T POINT ?

RPK IS DOING JUST THAT , STIR THINGS UP

DIFFERENT MARKET SEGMENT NEED DIFFERENT STRATEGIES

MUST EMPLOY ALL MEANS IF WE REALLY WANT A BETTER MSIA N FREE FROM GOV ROSMAH

THEN WE WILL HAVE PUTRAJAYA SOONER

BY T WAY WHOEVER IS T NEXT GOVT , DO NOT THREAT US RAKYAT AS 'STUPID AS STUPID DOES '

Anonymous said...

I'll be shooting a married couple on the 9th, and not in KL.

I cannot read minds, just that this posting and the Zul Noordin one made it seem like there's a trend. Apparently I interpreted the trend wrongly.

Naj

art harun said...

Dear Naj,

The Zul Noordin article is not about Bersih. It is also not about me promoting the rally or otherwise. It is about Zul Noordin as a man (as a man of God, as he so clearly claim to be). I laid out the facts and let my dear readers form the conclusion.

Speaking of conclusions, I rarely make conclusion in my writings. I would only do so if the theme of my writings require me to make a conclusion.

It is the same with this article. I set out what, in my opinion is democracy all about. I relate it to the Bersih rally so that there is a real life example and application.

I let my esteemed readers do the rest.

Any conclusion is okay by me.

But I despise imputation of a agenda on my part.

I have said it many time. I am not interested in whoever and whatever.

I am only interested in setting out my thoughts on things closed to my heart.

If the PR is the ruling party, I would carry on what I am doing. That time (if ever it comes), I suppose people would be calling me a BN stooge.

Cruzeiro said...

Zmas,
Be sure about one thing- the government is formed by politicians- and it is the tendency/nature of politicians to consolidate their power by whatever means.

So if these politicians can make "you believe in absurdities", they can "make you commit atrocities" in the name of "the greater good". Don't let anyone tell you that there is a benevolent/saintly political party out there with angels on their membership roll.

The greatest weapons any political party can wield are "apathy & ignorance of masses", coupled with "fear".
That is why "education" is imperative- if we want to empower the people to give rise to a mature democracy.

Even if we have a new govt, it will all amount to nothing if the the people aren't vigilant, and do not fiercely protect their legitimate rights.

Anonymous said...

there r too many ppl out thr who says to you "u r my brother as long as u carry my balls all day long...."
we need to tell them " around here, we carry our own balls....