Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Deny them a two-thirds' majority

BY P RAMAKRISHNAN, Aliran president.
As polling day draws closer, we are reminded that the only way to stop politicians from manipulating issues of race and religion is to deny the ruling coalition a two-thirds’ majority. After hearing the moving personal tragedies of some unfortunate Malaysians, it would appear that we are heading for turbulent times.

It is rather sad that religion that is responsible for our inner spirituality and our common humanity should be the centre of the storm. We really cannot fault religion for this. It won’t be fair. After all, doesn’t religion instil and inspire in all of us the good values of living a decent life that reflects our compassion for one another, our love for justice, our craving for human dignity, our search for peace and harmony, our desire to fight corruption, our longing to be treated without discrimination?

This is very much so if we reflect on our past and recall our own experiences. I come from a tiny town in a rural setting. We, the people, got on very well. My classmates – Chinese, Indians and Malays – had no qualms in visiting me and sharing our food and spending the night under our roof. Religion never got in our way. It did not form a barrier and did not keep us apart. We used to call one another in jest, "Dei Hindu, Hoi Cina, Hei Melayu" and nobody got offended.

In that tiny town lived a Malay boy. I’m sure he also remembers the peace of the place and the uncomplicated life that bound the people of the town as a community.

I still recall those wonderful days with a tinge of sadness and fondly remember the easy mingling of the races and the friendly faces of people. Race never had any consideration and friends were just people.

Those were the days when you could eat in front of a fasting Malay friend who did not mind it at all. PE lessons were not suspended. Fasting Malay friends then seemed to have boundless energy and we used to play football immediately after school in the hot sun. They were none the worse for it. It would appear that my Malay friends then were made of sterner stuff!

That tiny town is Kepala Batas and that Malay boy is today the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Coming from such a background, I find it so disturbing when race is manipulated and religion is used to cause discord among us. I am not referring to any particular community because every community is guilty of this in one form or another.

What went wrong, you may ask. Well, over the years some religious zealots have become very vocal and very demanding. And when they realised that nobody dared to question them, they became bolder and their voices got shriller.

We have reached such a stage that the state now intrudes into our privacy and dictates to us on almost everything. We are told what to believe and how to pray. But isn’t religion something very personal between you and your God? Has the state any business to intrude into that area?
The state intrudes into your freedom and decides what you can see and what you cannot. It treats you as if you don’t have any common sense and can’t think for yourself.

Now – and this is difficult to believe, mind you – of all things, it says you can’t vote according to your conscience. How can you talk about morality and integrity and honesty when you are forced to fall back on herd mentality? How can you be religious and not be conscionable?

It is this turn of events that has affected the body politic of this nation. The majority of sane and sensible Malaysians not only failed to stand up and be counted but they chose to withdraw into their cocoons paving the way for these zealots to take over completely and have a field day.
Today we are reminded of that saying, "We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another."

So we have this situation in certain circumstances when you are unable to bury your kith and kin according to your beliefs and rites. Where does that leave you?

It would seem that Muslim judges in civil courts find it a problem to adjudicate when Islam is involved, as was the case of someone who wanted the word "Muslim" to be changed in her MyKad. But Justice Gopal Sri Ram, who sat in the same court, had no problem in taking a legal position based on justice.

Then we have the case of Moorthy’s widow whose case did not go through the full trial for a verdict. The judges who sat on this case merely abdicated their responsibility and ruled that it was beyond their jurisdiction to try this case.

When one finds that the doors of the judiciary are shut in one’s face where does one go for justice? Can a civil court refuse to sit in judgment and deny justice to a litigant? Isn’t the court the last resort for justice? If judges cannot dispense justice, should they be sitting on the bench?
When the AG’s Chambers and the court ignore the constitutional provisions and act contrary to their constitutional oath of office, they leave us totally bewildered and frustrated.

We heard that there were rights and freedom for the citizens in the Federal Constitution. But what has happened to those rights and freedom that came with the Merdeka Constitution?

They have been whittled away by subsequent rules and regulations and subsidiary legislation. Our rights and freedom have been stolen from us.

But don’t blame the government for this. They only did what had to be done. Over the years there have been 600 amendments made to the Federal Constitution.

How did the 600 amendments come about? How is it possible for the government to dilute and make meaningless those very rights that were promised and guaranteed to us?

It’s really simple. To amend the constitution, a two-thirds majority is required. Who gave them that two-thirds majority?

The overwhelming majority support given to them has eroded our fundamental rights, thus denying us relief and justice.

They will tell you that they need a two-thirds majority to govern effectively – mind you, not justly – but effectively.

What have they achieved that cannot be achieved by a simple majority? Do you need a two-thirds majority to wipe out corruption, to be transparent and accountable? Do you need a two-thirds majority to provide housing and health care?

Look how they have squandered our money with mega projects. Do the tallest concrete towers mean anything to any of us here? The builders of the twin towers basked in the glory of being the tallest building in the world. Only for a while though - for we no longer enjoy that prestige. But how much money has been squandered away at the expense of the needy and the deserving? Why do they need a two-thirds majority when they can’t even build a crooked bridge with a 90 percent majority?

It is this two-thirds majority that has been the curse of our democracy. It is this two-thirds majority that is threatening our civil liberties and our freedom of religion. It is this two-thirds majority that makes a mockery of Article 8(1) which reads, "All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law". And friends, what we have now is rule by law, and not rule of law.

How do we win back our legitimate rights and put a stop to this erosion of our fundamental rights? The next time you cast your vote think carefully. Ask yourself if you are casting away your rights?

We should henceforth never give a two-thirds majority to any government. We should work collectively to reduce this majority and rescue our stolen rights. What we are proposing to accomplish is nothing new. It is an on-going eternal struggle. Way back on May 27, 1834 – over 170 years ago – Daniel Webster was quoted as saying, "The contest, for ages, has been to rescue Liberty from the grasp of executive power." That’s what we are going to do: Rescue Liberty.
If we want to claim our right to be "equal before the law" as promised under Article 8, if we want to safeguard the freedom of religion as guaranteed under Article 11, then we must be prepared to walk that extra mile to win those rights.

"Democracy," observed Plato, "is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people." Plato was actually referring to us. We are the ordinary people with extraordinary possibilities.

If you want to be further motivated, perhaps this quotation may help: "Since the beginning of time, governments have been mainly engaged in kicking the people around. The astonishing achievements of modern times... is the idea that the citizens should do the kicking."

Friends, I fervently believe that we can do two things: Do something or do nothing. I choose to do something. If you choose to do nothing, it means that you have no grievance and no rights.

P RAMAKRISHNAN is Aliran president. This article first appeared in Aliran Monthly. It was an address that was meant to be delivered at a forum on ‘The Federal Constitution: Protection for all’on May 14, 2006 in Penang. The forum was disrupted by an unruly mob.
Source : Malaysiakini.Com