Change and hope

In a letter published in The Malaysian Insight, Ding Jo-Ann, a lawyer who was part of the legal support team on the Institutional Reforms Committee, wrote of the many important accomplishments of the PH government but swiftly moved to focus on her disappointments: ICERD, death penalty, Rome Statute, NSC Act, child marriage, Sedition Act, Prevention of Crime Act and Printing Presses and Publications Act, Securities Offenses (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA), Communications and Multimedia Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Added to that was the matter of Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) and the enactment of Freedom of Information Act.

To be honest, I am not at all familiar with the issues surrounding many of the Acts she cited. But her confidence that these reforms can and should be done swiftly stems more from the educated, reform-minded people that she is surrounded by:

I know that some of these reforms may not seem popular with certain groups of people, but I believe that the electorate will respect a government that keeps to its word and conversely, will disrespect one that gives in to bullies.

I think with all the problems that were thrown up with ICERD and Rome Statute she should realize that these matters cannot be rushed into (and there is absolutely no need to rush as they pertain to long term principles). The government backtracked on ICERD and Rome Statute not because it is weak and beholden to threats but because it had not done the groundwork to prepare the people for these developments and allowed them to be exploited.

And looking at the long list of reforms that she has, it is naive to expect these matters dealt with in a year. ICERD and Rome Statute were attempted and failed. IPCMC is under discussion. Child marriage was never on the cards; just an issue raised out of a specific incident.

But what set the impetus for this article is what she said, under the heading “Change and Hope”.

I believe that this government stood for change and hope when it ran in May 2018 – a change from the corrupt ways of the past, and hope for the future by reforming our institutions and ensuring that the abuses of the past can never take place again.

I do not know whether we will ever have this opportunity again to reform our nation’s institutions. We must do so, and dismantle all the tools of authoritarianism and put our country on a solid democratic footing so that whoever is in power, there will be sufficient checks and balances to keep them accountable.

I know that some of these reforms may not seem popular with certain groups of people, but I believe that the electorate will respect a government that keeps to its word and conversely, will disrespect one that gives in to bullies.

I acknowledge that economic conditions must have a priority, but I would like to remind the government that institutional and human rights reforms must have prime importance as well, as it is our future that is at stake.

I know that PH is understandably concerned about losing power in the next general election. But wouldn’t it then be safer to put in place the necessary institutional and structural changes now to safeguard our democracy in case you do lose power, rather than not?

Despite this year’s disappointments, I still believe and hope that you will be able to effect the changes necessary to make Malaysia a truly democratic nation. I hope you do, too.

Basically she is saying, “Forget about popularity with ‘certain groups of people’, forget about re-election, the important thing is to ramp through these reforms to safeguard democracy because this may be the only chance to do so.” But surely popularity and re-election are the mechanisms for government to gauge whether they truly reflect the will of the people?

It is democracy that she wants to safeguard, yet she is willing to ignore the wishes and sensitivities of “certain groups of people” who happen to be the majority. In other words, she understands the need for institutional reform but she brushes aside the need to educate and reform the community. Brings to mind a statement from Lucy of Peanuts fame,

”I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”

But institutional reforms can be rolled back. Community reform is the safeguard to ensure that institutional reforms remain.

She did say “I believe that this government stood for change and hope” albeit it was framed in the past tense. But she ended her letter with “I still believe and hope that you will be able to effect the changes necessary”.

My point is this, we need to accept that change in the community must necessarily take time and will not happen in a straight line. It will be messy and it will likely not end up to be what we imagine it to be. Very unlike institutional reform where we are in full control. If we accept that both institutional reform and community reform are necessary, then we need a government that we believe in and we need community leaders, including civil society, to educate and empower the values they espouse, rather than merely push for reform and criticise. And we should work to keep that government in power. Civil society wants to claim the high ground of being apolitical criticising everything they can criticise. And in doing so impede the reforms they want. We should empower those who wish to do right, and uphold the values they stand for.

Right now, with BN showing the classic symptoms of denial, and with all that has been said and done by PH, I’m with PH.

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