The age of the decline of democratisation
On Aug 10, 2015, which was Anwar Ibrahim’s 68th birthday, there were two groups of “big shots” in the international community demanding that the Malaysian government releases jailed former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
On the one hand there were famous politicians, worldwide, urging the Malaysian government to release Anwar from jail unconditionally and immediately, while on the other hand there were intellectuals, academicians and social activists condemning the “politically-motivated” charges against Anwar.
Among them, there was a Japanese American political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, who published his essay, “The End of History?” in the 1980s, which raised heated discussions.
In recent years, Fukuyama came out with his masterpiece, “The Origin of Political Order” and in the next book, “Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy”, it is stated that the three essential elements of modern political order are the state, rule of law and democratic accountability.
“The state” covers various dimensions but basically it includes state-building, state institutions, state capacity, governing ability, efficiency, clean governance, etc.
The comprehensiveness of the “rule of law” would depend on whether the implementation of the law can be easily hijacked by an individual. “Democratic accountability” includes the establishment and consolidation of various accountability and oversight mechanisms.
Concluding the chaos and development of 2015 by using these three elements for analysis, it shows that Malaysia is entering an uneasy situation in 2016.
Whether it is in terms of important fields such as politics, economy, religion or ethnicity, the development in the past year was showing an uneasy, declining situation which I believe would continue to happen in the months and years ahead.
While entering the year 2016, a basic question we need to ask is: was the political idling in the past year to sustain someone’s power and position, or rather destroying the credibility of the country for the sake of someone’s self-protection?
If the answer is the latter one, this country is obviously either stalled or moving backwards, and it means that the political system has been undergoing a non-stop destruction, up to the extent that it severely affects either state-building, the rule of law, or the accountable government. The severe collapse of either one would be disturbing.
In terms of the rule of law, in order to protect someone, as well as a political group, the credibility of this country has been severely damaged.
Among those severely affecting the rule of law would be the introduction of various controversial acts by the federal government, after the abolishment of the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA).
These include the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (Pota), and the National Security Council Bill 2015, which was swiftly passed by both houses of Parliament last year and is yet to be assented into law by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
In the recent years, social movements have been growing strong and in addition, there is the combination of political opposition movements, thus pushing Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to announce the abolishment of draconian laws in 2011, giving people hope that the democratic process would leap forward.
However, in the end, many controversial amendments were made to existing laws and new laws were introduced, which are contrary to Najib’s promises of reformation.
In December last year, the Parliament passed the National Security Council Bill in a hurry, which shocked the entire nation, and it is reasonable for the civil society to worry about this new law.
For instance, in 2012, Najib promised that Sosma would not be abused. On April 16, 2012, he promised various protection measures in the Dewan Rakyat, including not arresting anyone under Sosma for involvement in political activities, as well as the establishment of a committee to periodically review the Act upon its enforcement.
Despite these promises, after three years, the former Umno division vice-chief Khairuddin Abu Hassan and his lawyer Matthias Chang, who publicly reported the 1MDB scandal, were arrested under this law.
And since Sosma was gazetted on June 22, 2012, and was scheduled to take effect from July 31, 2012, till date there is still no progress on the committee that was promised – and despite pledges that the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) and the Malaysian Bar president would be invited to join the committee.
At this point, the BN government has lost its credibility. So, how is it going to gain the people’s trust? How is it going to persuade the people not to worry about the National Security Council Bill? Here comes a new controversial law, further destructing the judiciary, giving the prime minister alone the greatest power, together with his power bloc stampeding the rule of law.
This nevertheless predicts that the democratisation of Malaysia is declining in 2016, moving from a one-party-dominant authoritarian regime to a personal dictatorship.
Besides this, the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill 2015, for which the second reading was delayed last year, cannot be ignored too. Once the original amendment bill is passed, it will further force the court to surrender part of its right of judicial review.
Among the most worrying one is that the police may, without warrant, arrest someone who is involved in an “activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy”; thereby overturning matters that are subjected to court ruling, including, if someone is facing multiple charges and found guilty, the power of the court to decide whether to execute the penalty concurrently.
Many of the recent controversial bills were passed in the Parliament in the name of anti-terrorism, but the logic behind them is to gradually get the court to surrender the relevant rights of judicial review, and in terms of law enforcement, there would be more and more persecutions against detractors in the name of “detrimental to parliamentary democracy”.
And today, while someone is conducting a self-coup, the insistence of the entire cabinet and the state organ towards the constitutional spirit and the basic principles of judicial power is abnormally loose.
This political direction, led by the erroneous executive power, is clearly inconsistent with the direction of change and reform produced by the collection and releasing of the civil society forces, and they are full of contradictions and conflicts. Such political direction shows a sign of declination of the democratisation.
The year of 2016 makes people feel uneasy, and in my opinion, it is all because after the year 2015, Malaysia is entering the age of the decline of democratisation.
Political Studies for Change (or, Kajian Politik untuk Perubahan, KPRU)
6 January 2016