Debating democracy

The government, according to a Bernama report, is mulling over the possibility of holding ‘debates as a platform for discussing and explaining issues to enable people to understand the issues’.

Yes, it would be great if these televised debates become a permanent feature in Malaysia. But wait a second! 

Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek also has a different idea about holding such debates. He feels that these debates would help prevent ‘certain quarters from holding protests or demonstrations which would worsen a situation’.

Looks like the honorable minister has overlooked the fact that peaceful protests and demonstrations come with the package called democracy. Surely debates are not promoted in lieu of peaceful demonstrations. In the United States, if one were to take that country as an example, you get televised debates as well as street demonstrations.

If we need reminding, in a democracy there should be not only freedom of expression, but also freedom of assembly and of association.

Public debates certainly are valuable in a democracy because, as the minister rightly pointed out, they provide a useful space in which the ordinary citizens are expected to get a better understanding of a particular issue being discussed by politicians and others.

That said, we must also not forget that the ordinary citizens also have the democratic right to express their own views on issues that they consider important via the mass media. Citizens cannot afford to be mere spectators on the sideline.

This is why people in a democracy must have equal access to the media, apart from other social institutions, so that they can engage themselves, directly or otherwise, in the democratic process.

This form of participatory democracy is crucial to ensure that civil society groups and other stakeholders — not just politicians — are involved in deciding how their society ought to be run in the most effective and just manner possible.


3 Responses to “Debating democracy”

  1. 1 sunwayopal 3 August 2008 at 11:27 am

    BeeEnded will be too chicken to engage in debate lah.

    Can you imagine Lim Kit Siang vs Najib Razak in debate??? My God!!!!

    Or say Lim Guan Eng v Badawi?

  2. 2 KK 3 August 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Well said, Mus, for reminding the honorable information minister that freedom of assembly and association is but another basic component of democratic rights. How pathetic that a minister in this day and age needs to be “reminded” of such a basic idea. Underlying the assumption of the minister is that street protests inevitably threaten peace and stability.

    But almost all of the recent protests in the Klang Valley show how unwarranted the assumption is. Indeed, when some in a protest crowd turned unruly and disruptive, it was sometimes, according to eyewitnesses ignored by the MSM, caused by plainclothes members of the special branch provoking such behaviour in order to justify the use of force by uniformed police.

    I would not be surprised that if the information minister has to further elaborate on his view, he would glibly say that street protests are not the Asian way or not part of Asian values. But we already have those street protests because our publicly sanctioned forum or cultural space, like access to the MSM to offer views that do not agree with the BN, has been restricted. It is nothing but ludicrous to say street protests are not part of Asian values, just as ludicrous to say that restricting media to serve establishment interests is part of Asian values. Either case is nothing but an insult to Asian cultures.

    But the Information Minister is, sadly but predictably, not alone in harbouring such an inadequate view of democracy. Consider what the Higher Education Minister had said as reported in the NST of Aug. 3:

    Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin yesterday said the government still does not want the involvement of university students in partisan politics despite the proposed amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971.

    “We believe that this kind of political affiliation restricts the development of students into holistic first-class human capital,” he said at the opening of the Malaysian Student Leaders’ Summit 2008.

    So, what about all the students in US, UK, India and many other democracies that have none of this restriction on their students? Do they lack students becoming holistic first-class human capital? On the contrary, haven’t these countries proved for far too long now they have no problems at all turning their students into first-class human capital.

    In recent months following the March 8th election, there has been much talk about the BN government’s willingness to review and revise the Universities and University Colleges Act in the name of allowing university/college students more political freedom. However, all the government has come up with is to allow students the freedom to have contacts with political parties but only in a formal setting for academic purposes, including seminars. This is allowing students more political freedom? What nonsense. By still disallowing students their basic right of affiliation with political parties, the BN government is still operating on the long-standing assumption that students just cannot think on their own.

    There have been reports that far too many graduates of local universities lacked creativity or could not think on their own, not to mention that many of them were gainfully unemployed. Does this not mean that these students had not been turned into holistic first-class human capital? How then can future university/college students become holistic first class human capital if the BN government continues to assume and treat students as lacking the ability to think on their own?

  3. 3 Samuel Goh Kim Eng 3 August 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Don’t just merely debate democracy
    We need to embrace and live democracy
    If we want citizens not to be stupid and crazy
    Then we all need to work hard on democracy and not be lazy

    (C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng – 030808
    Sun. 3rd Aug. 2008.

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