Sabotaging a symbol, derailing democracy

Pauline Fan, guest writer “A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial: that is, when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud.” – George Orwell The Registrar of Societies’ (RoS) unprecedented decision not to recognise the Democratic Action Party’s (DAP) Central Executive Committee has dealt a severe blow to the already debilitated condition of democracy in Malaysia. Arriving two days before nomination day for the 13th General Elections, the letter announcing the decision seems providentially planned and timed to throw a spanner in the works of the DAP’s and, by extension, Pakatan Rakyat’s vigorous GE13 campaign. The decision of the RoS amounts to nothing less than a devious act of political sabotage, urged by Barisan Nasional’s deep-seated cowardice in the face of a robust opposition coalition. It is an utterly deplorable political tactic by any standards and calls into question the integrity of the democratic process in Malaysia. Non-recognition by the RoS effectively means that the DAP’s CEC has been suspended and thus has no power to issue the required letters authorising candidates to use the party logo – the iconic DAP Rocket. Unless the RoS revokes the letter, DAP will be forced to contest under the banners of its coalition partners – the full moon of Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the eye of justice of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). The RoS’ ostensible concerns, including a technical glitch that caused an error in the results of the DAP party elections at the congress held on 15 Dec 2012, are already under inquiry and this renders the decision of non-recognition unnecessary and superfluous. Never has the RoS been so keen to leap to the defense of ‘good conduct’ in party polls. Whatever the flaws of DAP’s CEC election may be, it is the self-serving timing of the RoS letter and decision that leaves a bitter aftertaste. The RoS has had at least four months to deliberate on a course of action; why the sudden haste to incapacitate the DAP now? DAP Secretary-General, Lim Guan Eng, expressed the situation perfectly in the press conference following an emergency meeting on 18 April: “This is despicable, this is dishonourable…This is political assassination.” Despite the praiseworthy and magnanimous gesture by PAS and PKR to allow DAP candidates to contest under their respective party symbols, this episode will go down as one of the darkest in Malaysia’s general election history. Despite the opportunity for Pakatan Rakyat to demonstrate true partnership and solidarity through the sharing of party symbols, the fact remains that the democratic process is being derailed before our eyes. This 11th hour manoeuvre leaves no time for recourse to legal channels to resolve the issue before polling day on May 5th. And the Election Commission’s verbal assurance that DAP can still go ahead and use the party logo rings hollow in a political landscape where the predominance of the unpredictable is the only thing one can be sure of. DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang’s comments on the RoS decision revealed a deep disappointment with the blatant bullying of the Najib administration: “This has never been done by any of the previous prime ministers, however authoritarian, draconian, unjust… Tun Dr. Mahathir – it has never entered his mind to try to resort to such arbitrary, unilateral, undemocratic and most disgraceful actions to knock out a political party by the ruse of denying the use of the party symbol.” The value of freedom If anything, the RoS decision reveals the extent to which supposedly nonpartisan public institutions have ossified into little more than state bureaucracies that serve the interests of the ruling regime over the wellbeing of the people. It also reveals just how devoid the Barisan Nasional is of strategies for true transformation, a term they aggressively parade in their national programmes, campaigns and propaganda. Perhaps they are simply incapable of change. As my late father and former DAP parliamentarian, Fan Yew Teng, wrote in an article for Harakah in October 2008: “Despite all the talk about change, Umno will not really change, because it is no longer a party of principles but one of interests…” The RoS decision shows that BN, particularly Umno, will stop at nothing to rob their political opponents of their rights and deny them a fair fight. It shows that, despite all the rhetoric, BN does not believe in earning the mandate of the people; they simply believe they are entitled to political power, and will cling to it no matter what the people want. This is a brazen mockery of the general election process and a shameless betrayal of democracy. It is also the mark of incipient totalitarianism. What, then, is to be done? If the political system remains a flawed one, the task falls to each Malaysian citizen to insist on another kind of politics while being guided by the fundamental values of the democratic process. We must remember that at the heart of democracy lies the flame of freedom. It is only by reclaiming the value of freedom in our collective consciousness that we may begin to build a society based on democratic ideals. In the words of Albert Camus: “We notice that everywhere, together with freedom, justice is profaned. How then can this infernal circle be broken? Obviously, it can be done only by reviving at once, in ourselves and in others, the value of freedom – and by never again agreeing to its being sacrificed, even temporarily, or separated from our demand for justice.” In the end, the ignoble sabotage of DAP’s Rocket symbol will come to symbolise something in itself – the derailing of the democratic process in Malaysia; the inability of the present ruling regime to engage in clean and fair politics; and the irrefutable need for Malaysian citizens to reclaim democracy and reach for freedom by rejecting outright the politics of deception and hypocrisy. Pauline Fan is a writer, translator and editor. She also works with the cultural organisation, PUSAKA. This article was also published in the Malaysian Insider. 

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