We need leaders not just politicians

July 18, 2011
Singapore Democrats

This post is at least a year old. Some of the links in this post may no longer work correctly.

Singapore Democrats

Malaysians understand

It is only when elections are free and fair can the people’s voice be genuinely heard. Most people understand this. Malaysians obviously do. That is why they held the Bersih Rally 2.0 on 9 Jul 11 to press for reform of the election system. (It’s first rally was held in 2007.)

The country’s opposition parties also understood that it is only when elections are free can the people make their lives better and more secure. That is why former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and other opposition leaders were at the forefront of the rally.

But why did the opposition parties get involved at all? Politically speaking, they are in a very comfortable position, enjoying all the power and trappings that come with elected office. They hold 37 percent of the seats in parliament and Mr Anwar knows that he will become prime minister if the opposition wins the next elections. Participating in the protest could jeopardise all this.

But the leader of the opposition knows that under the current system with the media and civil service under the control of the Barisan Nasional government, election rules can be manipulated and the system tilted even more in its favour.

The result is that the people will again be denied of their voice and their lives will not be any different even as he and his colleagues enjoy their status as parliamentarians.

The opposition leaders knew that they, like the people they led, needed to make sacrifices and get out from their comfort zones if they were going to win freedom for their country. They knew that if they did not press for reforms, they would be going about a process that had all the form but not the substance of a genuine democratic election system.

They knew that at this crucial juncture of their country’s political development, they had to be leaders rather than mere politicians. The former had to make tough choices and render sacrifices, the latter played along in a system that benefited them rather than the people.

The situation is not unlike the one here in Singapore. Yes, GE 2011 was a watershed. Never before have we elected so many opposition MPs and never have so many voted against the PAP.

Anwar Ibrahim (in yellow) knows he must lead

In reality, however, nothing substantial has changed. All the policies that act to the detriment of Singaporeans are still in place. The handling of our reserves are just as secretive as before. We continue to live on the edge where all our wealth and everything that we own are kept away from our control and scrutiny.

The cost of living that has burdened the people all these years looks set to rise yet again. HDB prices continue to spiral beyond our reach, public transport fares look set to increase, and the Minimum Sum of CPF rise unabated. What has changed?

Many think that we are well on our way to democracy where we will elect more opposition MPs in the next GE and some more in 2021 until we displace the PAP as government.

That’s the theory. The reality is that the PAP still retains all the power and can change the rules ever so easily. The chopping and changing of the president’s powers and the elections that govern it are a perfect example.

The regime is not about to sit by and just watch while the people wrest back political power from it. The PAP doesn’t have to roll back the gains that the opposition made. All it needs to do is to fine-tune the system to maintain status quo which could buy it another 10 or 20 years. One sobering statistic is that it still controls 93 percent of the seats in the house.

In the meantime with every election that is held, another five years pass. But unlike elections, crises don’t happen in 5-yearly cycles. With the globalised system and the speed with which crises envelope the world today, we could find ourselves caught in a very dangerous situation in a very short time.

DAP chief Lim Kit Siang also participated in the rally

If a crisis that has a direct impact on our financial reserves hits us, we will find ourselves completely helpless in a matter of weeks for we have absolutely no control over the reserves.

The SDP has been urgently calling the people’s attention to this insanely risky position. Unfortunately, the mass media continue to lull the people into a dangerous state of political stupor.

The Malaysians are aware of the dangers of leaving politics to the autocratic-mnded and they know that sacrifices have to be made in order that they can protect what they have built up.

Civil society and NGOs know that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is a potent tool in their work to bring about a free and fair election system without which nothing changes. Just as significantly, Malaysian opposition parties know that they must do the necessary, not just the popular.

In Singapore we, too, need people who will make the sacrifices, not just parliamentarians who go along with the autocratic system. We, too, need leaders not just politicians.