Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 12 March 2020

After the leadership fiasco of the last two years, it is amazing that the same jaded “yesterday’s men” are still being nominated as the “saviour’s of the nation”. For many progressive people in Malaysia, the most shocking news before GE14 was Pakatan Harapan’s choice of Malaysia’s infamous autocrat Dr Mahathir as their “interim Prime Minister”. Besides being a slap in the face of the Reformasi Movement that had emerged in 1998 in response to Mahathir’s sacking of Anwar Ibrahim and his 22-year autocratic rule, the appointment of the nonagenarian ex UMNO politician as their candidate for PM revealed the political bankruptcy of Pakatan Harapan. It was certainly the obverse of what they had meant by “the audacity of hope” for the nation.

Well, after their unexpected victory, the “interim” PM decided that he would unpack his suitcase and hang around just a little bit longer. Then, just when he seemed to have lost the plot, he handed over the reins of power to the other side by unilaterally resigning the premiership. Just like that (finger snap).

Now, just as Kak Wan had announced that Anwar would be the likely leader of Pakatan Harapan, some Amanah members of the PH coalition decided to call on our nonagenarian former PM apparently to coax him out of retirement! Is there no end to this sordid soap opera? When politicians say ‘politics is the art of the possible’, watch out – they are ready to sell their grandmothers!

Now that the torch is about to be passed to Anwar in the Pakatan coalition, what exactly is Anwar’s “differentia specifica” when we compare him to Mahathir or Azmin? Throughout the Anwar-Azmin feud in PKR all these years, the party failed to even bother to let the people know what they were fighting over. What were the ideological or political-economic differences between the two camps? No one from either of these two factions thought it was important to let the people know the basis for their righteousness. All we witnessed then was a feud that seemed to be all about grabbing political power and influence within their party, regardless of the people’s interests, the environment or climate change.

Don’t they know when to get off the stage?

“If you don’t know when to get off the stage, then you know you have stayed too long…”

This piece of show business advice should be learnt by our elderly politicians. It is no coincidence that such political leaders maintain a tight rein of patronage over their own political parties in which all prospective candidates are beholden to them. They also hog the federal as well as the state seats under the assumption that they are indispensable.

Clearly, many Malaysian politicians still do not appreciate the meaning of democracy. In ancient Greece more than 2000 years ago, many offices were term limited so as to limit the power of individuals, a practice that was seen as vital for the greater good of society. Even in other democratic countries, we see responsible and honorable politicians resign at the slightest failure of judgement on their part or when their term has reached a convenient point for some other younger leaders to take over the party.

The democratic justification for this term limit is simply that elected officials can over time obtain too much power or authority and thus makes them less representative of all the citizens. The democratic principle behind term limit is that no one person should have too much power nor for too long. Thus, the concept of term limits minimizes the amount of power any one person can gain over a period of time.

As we have seen only recently, even within a two-term service, corporate interests including those in property and finance can provide inducements to an incumbent Chief Minister especially when they have developed familiar relations over time. There is clearly a correlation between the length of time a politician serves and the degree to which he/she has opportunities to engage in corruption. The principle of term limits has always been applied to the civil service which is why civil servants and police personnel are transferred every so often to prevent the acquisition of power and inducements to corruption in any one post.

Let’s face it, the number of available seats in the federal parliament and state assemblies is strictly limited. To have served four terms in parliament is a reasonable limit and allows new candidates to make themselves known to their constituents and have a go at representing the people. Term limits will create the opportunity for younger people to get elected to public office. Modern society needs service-oriented young people in different elected positions, providing diversity and strength to the citizenry. A wider pool of candidates also gives voters a bigger choice of new people and new dynamic ideas.

Time for fresh young green democrats to lead

After the disappointments over the last two years, it is time for jaded politicians to make way for new young green democratic leaders. The climate crisis demands a commitment to addressing the urgency for change, now – to reverse greenhouse gas emissions, and to collectively co-create a regenerative future. We must thus make way for and encourage our young leaders with the requisite values and drive to co-create representative Citizens’ Assemblies on climate and ecological justice.

Because our electoral system functions on a five-year time frame, this limited time frame tends to put the brakes on serious efforts to tackle the big questions like climate change and deal effectively with our global ecological emergency. Political parties and MPs are lobbied by powerful corporations, seek sympathetic media coverage, and calculate their policies based on potential media and public reactions, as measured by opinion polls. This means politicians often feel unable to propose the bold changes necessary to address the emergency. Some are induced by developers to pass environmentally destructive projects through corrupt methods. It is clear that Malaysian politicians and political parties have a long history of being in the pockets of the big developers when we see how many of these socially disruptive, environmentally destructive and economically dubious projects are passed by the respective authorities.

Citizens’ Assemblies on climate and ecological justice have proven elsewhere, to break through the ceiling of “business as usual”.  How does it do this? Well, essentially it is a system respected by all, in which a broad spectrum of the population including the marginalised, are randomly selected to review and make proposals in key areas. It has been found that such a process can offer fresh and objective public judgements on public projects that are seen to have been reached in a fair and informed way. Citizen’s Assemblies promotes transparency through sharing information regarding experts, stakeholders and the materials given to assembly members. This can only result in informed and democratically legitimate judgements. Thus, the current controversies over the Penang Transport Master Plan, the Third National Car, ECRL, Lynas, etc. can all be arbitrated by a Citizen’s Assembly.

Communities throughout Malaysia have carried on the fight for a safe living environment with water, air, soil and food free from radioactive and toxic contamination. Their commitment to the struggle, leadership and community solidarity should be emulated by all Malaysian communities. They have shown us that direct action is about empowering people to unite as individuals with a common aim, to change things directly by our own actions. More importantly, it is time for people in communities to form a solidarity and activist network for a ‘People Before Profit’ green movement in Malaysia. I believe the young who will inherit the earth can drive this movement. Jaded politicians whose delusion of grandeur makes them cling to power for years on end should step aside for fresh young democratic leaders focused on the green agenda.

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