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Democracy as a narrative: The Malaysian protest experience

Posted by theonlinecitizen on November 15, 2007

By Kamal Mamat

Many writers have offered the view that the recent demonstration in Kuala Lumpur reflected oppositions’ (including NGOs) dissatisfaction with the current Malaysian government.

In commentaries written of the protests, including Ooi Kee Beng’s latest in the Straits Times, dissatisfaction as the raison d’être has been used to account for the protest. While this is not untrue, the greater narrative that one can discern here is of democracy. I shall elaborate.

The protest is a show, a constructive show, of an affirmative action that applies the conventions of true democracy. Opposition member Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, well known as a champion of democratic reforms, knows precisely that this mechanism can work when it is well-organised, has a clear objective and a solid representation from a united opposition front. The very precise objective means that the protest did not drag on pointlessly, which would inadvertently produce other side-effects.

In addition, what sets it apart is the relative peaceful nature of the protest, barring the few incidents where water cannons and tear gas were used to disperse protestors. In that respect, we have to give credit to the organisers for firstly, achieving their aims through the use of a well-known democratic mechanism and secondly, for not inconveniencing the general public for a prolonged period of time.

The majority of the protestors deserve to be applauded also for acknowledging that the demonstration is a peaceful call for action and used it for their causes to be heard. It is not a platform to incite violence.

The demonstration ended with the activists cleaning up the palace compound, an action that was largely not analysed by political commentators. It is of course in line with the name ‘Bersih’ (clean in English) adopted by the coalition. This can be seen as a symbolic allusion to the electoral process, or rather the need to housekeep it. Consciously or unconsciously, the protestors have used a metaphor that has been, by and large, effective in expressing their dissatisfaction.

While this cannot be seen as a reference to Asian predilection to anything restraint and sublime, it can be seen as advancement of an Asian-inflected form of democracy. Malaysia, through its opposing forces, has shown its maturity in using protests, and a sublime one at that, to advance democracy as a political narrative. For that, it has to be given due credit.

In Singapore, however, the word protest and demonstration are taboos which have to be avoided at all costs. We are wont to think that any form of assembly would lead to violence and other undesirable consequences. We are quick to reference Davos, Hong Kong and other cities where protests and demonstrations are equated with general disorder and other disruptions.

Of course the Malaysian experience has proved that it is not necessarily so. Theirs is an example of protests that serve as a check-and-balance tool. A tool that, when used correctly, can galvanise both the government and the protesting parties into a dialectic action which would benefit the society at large.

Picture from Malaysiakini.



6 Responses to “Democracy as a narrative: The Malaysian protest experience”

  1. Robert HO said

    1. I had written a quatro of musings on the fundamental nature of Law and its direct relation to Power and ITS own direct relation to Democracy and Protests. In these 4 essays, I argued that Law is NOT the handmaiden of Justice but the handmaiden of POWER. And because Law is the servant of Power, Law is almost inevitably abused — by dishonest men — into a convenient tool for the perpetuation of power and even ‘legitimises’ corruption, even when such corruption is on a huge and massive scale, as in our Ministers’ salaries, bonuses, concurrent pensions and other perks of office.

    2. I had argued that all the trappings of Law, such as rising to our feet when the judge enters the courtroom, our deference in addressing him as “Your Honour”, his often regal dress in robes and wig, etc, are all part of a charade of Godlike Infallibility and Fairness and Justice when such are almost totally absent as in Singapore. LAW IS POLITICS IN ANOTHER GUISE. LAW IS POLITICS IN ROBES AND WIG. LAW IS THE WILL OF THE RULER AND ALWAYS SUBJUDICE TO HIS SELF INTERESTS IN LONGEVITY OF POWER AND THE ENJOYMENT OF THE CORRUPT MONIES THAT POWER BRINGS.

    3. Ultimately, Law is predicated on Force and even Violence. You only have to look at the policemen in any court to realise this, and their weapons of Force and Violence, from handcuffs to stun guns, batons and the handgun. In more exciting scenarios against protests and demonstrations, for example, they are even armed with automatic rifles, tear gas, water cannons, plastic shields and razor-wire barricades, etc. Thus, Force and Violence are never far from Law and Law is the handmaiden of Power, which in Singapore is expressed in total suppression of any protest or demonstration.

    4. Thus, in any article or discussion of Democracy, Protests, Demonstrations, Civil Action, etc, you cannot overlook Law and how it is practised and abused. When elections are rigged as in Singapore [ see here ] the whole edifice of Law is totally bastardised, as is every institution in Singapore, and we are effectively LAWLESS let alone DEMOCRATIC. Thus, in a totally lawless city state, protests and demonstrations may be the only way to demand our rights to life and liberty and social justice and fairness, as well as representation of our interests by truly elected members of parliament. With that, I leave you this clutch of 4 essays:

    RH: How Law began

    RH: : Philosophy of Law all wrong and how to put it right

    RH: Why Law is a disreputable subject

    RH: Father Figures and the Moses Complex

  2. […] through its opposing forces, has shown its maturity in using protests, and a sublime one at that, to advance democracy as a political narrative.” says Kamal Mamat. […]

  3. […] Discourse – The Online Citizen: Democracy as a narrative: The Malaysian protest experience – Singabloodypore: A Protest for Free and Fair Elections in Singapore – Just Stuff: The Day After […]

  4. extrapreneur said

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  5. We respect Malayasia for its democratic practices, the moderate attitude towards all communities and towards all nationals is commendable.

  6. ET from Seattle said

    This country needs a level 5 leader as Jim Collins called in his book from Good to Great. Is there any communication between the organizer and the authority on the protests?
    Where do you draw a line between threatening the public safety, and a safe protest? Who is to decide that?

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