Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 27 May 2016

Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has said there is a need for more Non-Malays to join the police force as they currently make up only 5% of the 133,212-strong force:

“Of the total, 80.23% or 106,871 are Malays, while Chinese make up only 1.96% (2,615), Indians 3.16% (4,209), Punjabis 0.21% (275) and others 14.44% (19,242),” he said in reply to a question by Raja Datuk Kamarul Bahrin Shah (Amanah-Kuala Terengganu).

He added that taking care of the nation’s safety was a collective responsibility and not to be “shouldered by one particular race”.

This has become a familiar refrain by UMNO leaders who pretend not to understand how such a situation has come about. We heard this in 2013 during the Lahad Datu incident when several security force personnel lost their lives and the same aspersion was cast on Non-Malays for not joining the armed forces and defending the nation.

  1. Is it true that Non-Malays are not prepared to defend the nation?

In our nation’s history, the Second World War during which our country was occupied by Japanese fascist forces was perhaps the best test of who were prepared to defend the nation in the event of foreign invasion and to give their lives in the process. Cheah Boon Kheng in ‘Red Star over Malaya’ assessed that,

The Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) – which was made up of mainly ethnic Chinese Malayans – claimed to have eliminated 5,500 Japanese troops while losing 1,000 themselves.

  1. Non-Malays did not shun the security forces after Independence

After Independence, the non-Malays in Malaya did not shun the security forces. While we were at school, my eldest brother applied for a scholarship to the naval academy while my second brother had a passion for the Army. When he became a doctor, he did become an Army doctor for a period in the seventies. In fact, during the Sixties the top sportsmen and athletes in our school also participated in the Cadet Corps and quite a few joined the police and armed forces. The Air Force was definitely the most glamorous of the Armed Forces and the Non-Malays were certainly keen to compete to become pilots in the Air Force before 1969. The statistics for Non-Malays in the Air Force before 1969 will certainly prove my point.

When the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) was first formed in the Sixties, it was made up largely of Non-Malays. I can testify to that since we watched them going through their paces on our way to school. Perhaps the Home Minister could show us the statistics of the ethnic composition of the FRU before and after 1969.

  1. But May 13, 1969 and the NEP changed all that

In my 2007 title, ‘May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969’, we see a testimony to the situation in this British High Commission telegram:

There is no doubt that some of the security forces are discriminating in favour of the Malays. For example, Malay troops are guilty of this whereas the Federal Reserve Unit (ie. riot police) is not. Discrimination takes the form, for example, of not, repeat not, enforcing the curfew in one of the most violently disposed of the Malay areas in Kuala Lumpur (Kampung Baru) where Malays armed with parangs, etc. continue to circulate freely; with the inevitable result that gangs slip through the cordon round the area and attack Chinese outside it. In Chinese areas the curfew is strictly enforced.”

In my 2015 publication ‘Racism & racial Discrimination in Malaysia’ I have produced the statistics for the ethnic composition in the higher ranks of the police force before 1969 to prove the point that the racial discriminatory polices after 1969 changed all that:

Table 8.3: Ethnic Composition of the Police Service, Division I, West Malaysia (in %)

Year          Malay          Chinese          Indian         Expatriate

1957          26.7             9.0                 6.7                          67.6

1962          51.1            29.0              16.7                          12.2

1968          45.1            32.0              22.9          —

Source: D.S. Gibbons and Z.H. Ahmad, ‘Politics and Selection for the Higher Civil Service in the New States: the Malaysian Example’, Journal of Comparative Administration, 1971, 3:341.

Thus, we can see from the table above that before 1969, there were as many as 55% Non-Malays in the top rank of the police force.

  1. Do the Non-Malays shun the civil service too?

The truth is that after 1969, institutional racism has been across the board including the civil service in which Non-Malay composition is also below 5 per cent. In the civil and armed services, racial discrimination applies not only to recruitment but also access to promotion and other aspects of the services.

Thus, the supposed logic of “Non-Malays shunning the police and armed forces” would have to apply to the civil service. And if we apply this logic to the civil service, especially to the education sector, it would be totally ridiculous to likewise maintain that “Non-Malays shun education” would it not?

Conclusion: Only a truly equal Malaysia can reconcile the nation

Only a race-free policy can convince the people that the government is socially just, fair and democratic with a new socially just affirmative action policy based on need or class or sector. The cost and consequences of the racially discriminatory policy in Malaysia have been immense, especially since the NEP in 1971. It has caused a crippling polarization of Malaysian society and a costly brain drain.

If the government is serious about wanting to return to greater participation of all Malaysians in the uniformed services and in the civil service, the institutional reforms to eliminate racism and racial discrimination are actually quite straightforward. The question is whether the government has the political will to carry them out since the Bumiputera policies are a convenient populist tool to keep the ruling party in power and enrich the elite. Such reforms include:

  1. Basing affirmative action on need, sector or class and certainly not on race;
  2. Enacting an Equality Act and establishing an Equality & Human Rights Commission;
  3. Outlawing racism and incitement to racial hatred with a Race & Religious Hatred Act;
  4. Ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR);
  5. Providing non-racial alternatives to national development based on justice, equality and human rights;
  6. Promoting unity based on integration through greater democracy and shared facilities among communities.
  7. Since the civil and armed services are already comprised of more than 95 per cent Bumiputera, recruitment should now be based on merit.

Once we succeed in putting these policies in place, we have a foundation on which to begin the task of national reconciliation and reconstruction. In such a truly equal Malaysia, issues of ethnic composition of the civil and armed services will become history.


Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 14 May 2016

Who can forget the number of times the DAP have called on BN wakil rakyat to “vote according to your conscience” and not the party whip? Whether it was for the formation of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) or voting against the Hudud law or over countless other BN-proposed motions, this admonition to BN representatives has been the stock-in-trade of debates in the Malaysian Parliament for decades while the DAP has been in opposition. The prime example of the DAP’s call for all wakil rakyat to breach the party lines and to “search your conscience” is seen in the current attempts to “Save Malaysia” from the corruption-stained Najib administration.

Now that we have a DAP-led state government in Penang, the tables are turned and such timeless admonitions to vote according to one’s conscience seem to be lost on the DAP leaders. Five Penang PKR backbenchers had abstained from voting in the motion supporting the state government’s land reclamation project at the last state assembly sitting in November and this has led to charges of treachery against them by the Chief Minister. Consequently, this has even led to two of these PKR leaders being relieved of their posts in the State-owned companies.

The PKR deputy president Azmin Ali has since waded into the controversy by saying that it is important for backbenchers to play a role in supporting the state government’s policies. But we do not know whether the PKR president concurs with her Deputy President on this issue or with his invitation to PAS to join Pakatan Harapan, and also his working with Mahathir to “save Malaysia”.

Land reclamation is a public interest issue

What is at stake for the people of Penang and Malaysia is not inconsequential. The motion on the impending land reclamation in Penang is too important to be belittled as an “UMNO motion” for this massive infrastructure project is of great public interest. It will not only bring serious environmental, economic and social consequences to Penang Island but will further erode land assets belonging to the people by transferring into private hands. This trend of increasing “privatization of the commons” by both the BN and Pakatan state governments in the name of neo-liberal necessity must be stopped as it is contrary to the interest of the people. Already access by the people to public beaches in Penang and elsewhere in Malaysia, has been restricted through private development of luxury hotels and other such properties.

Full and transparent public consultation

At this late stage of the project, the Penang state government has still not released in full the report done by the SRS on the Penang Transport Master Plan. Instead, it has only made available to the public very selective and superficial parts of the study.  As the Penang Forum has pointed out, this is not acceptable for a state that professes to practice “competence, accountability and transparency” (CAT) given that the report was given to the state in November 2015. The Penang NGOs have complained that the public sessions conducted are mainly top-down briefing sessions by the consultants with little follow-up on how the questions and concerns raised are to be addressed:

When several NGOs provided written feedback, instead of getting together to professionally discuss the concerns raised and going through the objections and facts scientifically, a press conference is called to debunk the NGOs who are accused of not doing their homework. There is no positive engagement. Among the fundamental issues raised are the population and ridership assumptions, the costs of the different public transport systems, and the lack of financial feasibility studies for each of the proposed public transport systems

“it is more difficult to manage and run them efficiently and in a financially viable manner so as not to plunge the public into huge debt as has happened in many places, including the LRT system in Kuala Lumpur, that had to be bailed out by the government. Hence, we have been asking that a detailed financial feasibility study be provided to the public for each of these proposed systems. This includes not only the construction costs, but the operation and maintenance costs, the depreciation costs, the replacement cost, the ridership forecast, the projected revenue, the financial break even analysis, the expected profit or loss, how much the state would have to subsidise yearly, etc.”

What participatory democracy Pakatan?

‘UBAH’ was the cry in the general election to vote out the BN. Thus, under Pakatan, the public has every right not only to know what is happening but also to participate meaningfully in such decisions that affect their lives. In return, the State has every obligation to provide accurate and full information and to make the process as transparent as possible. This is the true meaning of the participatory democracy that we expect from the Pakatan government.

Given the multiple potential impacts of such a massive land reclamation project, it is imperative that a thorough process of dialogue via public hearings takes place long before any projects are decided upon and finalized.  And all NEW reclamation projects must be postponed until detailed oceanic, environmental and social impact studies are completed and made public. If such a huge land reclamation project is found to have a negative impact, it should be abandoned.

This land reclamation issue in Penang is clearly one that cuts across party lines. It calls for the each wakil rakyat to vote according to his/her conscience after weighing up the facts in order to uphold good governance and to safeguard the peoples’ interest in sustainable and equitable development.

Reform the legislative process

How often have we seen articles by Pakatan leaders full of sound and fury, pontificating about the need to reform Parliament? And yet they are speechless when their Dear Leader blasts these PKR leaders for having voted according to their conscience!

If voting in the legislature is based on the conscience of an individual, it will reform the legislative process into a more meaningful decision-making vehicle. Under such procedures, the lawmakers would need time to study the law or bill and to listen to the views of the people. They can then vote according to the wishes of the people and based on their own judgment and conscience.

People who want to see authentic democracy in practice wish to see lawmakers exercise their votes according to conscience. Such a “conscience-based” culture and environment is in fact what Pakatan parties have been courting Barisan politicians to support in their call to eliminate corruption and for Najib to resign. It is thus patently an indication of double standards that when some of their members chose to support or abstain from the Umno motion, they were criticised and punished.

There is indeed an urgent need for more public hearings and participation on this important issue concerning land reclamation in Penang and the right of the wakil rakyat to make decisions on the basis of what is best for the public. We urge the state government to honour its CAT promise and not to rush into signing this multi-billion project that will destroy Penang’s natural endowments, sell off the peoples’ assets to private hands and burden Penang rate payers for generations to come.


May Day Message by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 1 May 2016

On 1 May 2008, I wrote about the ‘days of hope’ following the 12th general election in Malaysia. The Pakatan Rakyat coalition comprising PKR, DAP and PAS had effected the ‘political tsunami’ by winning 89 of the 222 parliamentary seats, its biggest electoral victory yet. The marginalized and racially discriminated communities in this country had finally revolted, fired up by the Hindraf demonstrations. It was a long time coming. The masses in the Indian community have long suffered dispossession, evictions and low wages. They have witnessed the neglect of Tamil schools and disrespect for their places of worship. Indians have borne the brunt of police violence, with an average of 1.3 police shootings per week and Indians making up 60 per cent of these shootings. Until the 2008 elections, they had dutifully voted for the MIC.

The Chinese electorate, especially in the cities, had traditionally voted Opposition but had become inscrutable in the preceding ten years or so when they had plumped for the BN instead. Why they had voted BN since 1995 had a lot to do with their perception that an Opposition alternative government was unlikely.

The Malay electorate, coaxed as the “princes of the soil” with special privileges in various aspects, had consistently voted for UMNO ever since the first general elections. But this time around, a substantial proportion of Malay voters (5% swing against BN) decided they were not prepared to accept the status quo.

Most important of all, the two-front system that we had called for in the 1990 general elections finally came about, producing the desired result of an alternative, namely Pakatan Rakyat (PR), to the Barisan Nasional. After the political tsunami of 2008, DAP did not have any problems being in the same coalition with PAS and PKR given their overwhelming support from the Malaysian electorate in the 12th Malaysian general election. In fact, during GE13 in 2013, there is a video in which the DAP Secretary General accepted PAS’ own commitment to the Islamic State while abiding by the common platform of PR.

Barely eight years later, those days of hope have been dashed by the recent split between DAP and PAS in 2015 and now, the bickering between DAP and PKR and their failure to present the BN with a one-to-one challenge in six seats at the Sarawak state elections. The name calling by DAP leaders we thought was only reserved for the PAS leaders has now been used against PKR leaders as well.

Dearth of leadership & alternative policies in PR
Without a doubt, the PR coalition was held together at the start by the PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim even though their alternative policies to the BN were never entirely clear. Their neo-liberal tendencies led to BN-type policies in the development of the states they controlled, ie. Selangor and Penang, policies which have produced little change in the living conditions of the lower income groups. Private developers have had a field day in these PR-held states since 2008 with the promise of more multi-billion projects in reclamation, undersea tunnels, highways and luxury development.

Policies aside, Anwar’s leadership in holding the PR coalition together started to suffer a setback possibly because he was deflected by his sodomy trial and/or self-centred opportunistic tendencies among the component parties in PR. This was clearly seen during the asinine ‘Kajang Move’ in 2014 when there was a “resignation of convenience” by the incumbent PKR Adun there. This seemed to be aimed at solving the internal politicking between the PKR Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim and the PKR strong man Azmin Ali who was opposing him.

The cost of this short-sighted ‘Kajang Move’ was to force a by-election and leave constituents without representation for weeks. Worse still, it exposed an irresponsible attitude of PR in taking the Malaysian electorate for granted by forcing a by-election just to facilitate the entry of Anwar Ibrahim into the Selangor state government. It was a most cynical violation of the public trust.

More costly for the PR coalition, the Kajang Move had been carried out without adequate consultation with the other PR partners and fissures soon began to appear between them. Most significantly, the three decades of engagement with PAS, the largest Malay-based party in the coalition, was about to come asunder.

The dearth of leadership in PR was clear when we saw the former Menteri Besar being openly maligned as inept and corrupt by lesser DAP politicians as the justification for his ousting as Menteri Besar. It was also clear the PAS President was not consulted over this irresponsible political move. The Kajang Move showed not only contempt for the voters in Kajang but also insensitivity toward the PAS leaders who were part of the PR coalition.

Bad mouthing the PAS President
After months of name calling by DAP leaders against the PAS President Hadi Awang which can only be described as ‘kurang ajar’, Pakatan Rakyat was officially disbanded on 16 June 2015 after the DAP declared it could no longer work with PAS. It was a sad day for all Malaysians who had hopes for a viable alternative to the Barisan Nasional. The long-term effect of such uncouth bad mouthing of the PAS leader by DAP leaders in the eyes of PAS followers remains to be seen. The DAP will have to measure the relative weight of their token Malays in the party against the loathing towards DAP among not only UMNO supporters but now also PAS supporters.

Is this behavior the result of insensitivity, the lack of wisdom or naked opportunism that has blinded the DAP leaders to common sense needed to engage with PAS leaders and members if they are genuinely interested in “winning over Malays to the DAP”?

The DAP is now willing and able to work with the man who has been responsible for privatizing practically all of Malaysian industry and destroying whatever semblance of democracy we had in his 22 years in office…all because of the stated need to “save Malaysia”.

Naked opportunism the main culprit
It is certainly a sad day for Malaysians who have hoped for an alternative to the BN and who have carefully nurtured a working relationship with PAS since the Eighties, to see this Alternative Coalition wrecked by total lack of sensitivity to coalition principles, human relationships and dearth of leadership.

This is a significant political turnaround by the DAP. Their current readiness to work with the erstwhile oppressor and autocrat of Malaysia requires a more responsible political economic analysis by the DAP leadership to justify this volte face. They also owe the Malaysian people an analysis of class oppression in Malaysia today and how this ties in with their new agenda to “save Malaysia”.

The DAP leadership is now banking on their token Malay entrists and the former PAS “New Hopers” to get by. No doubt the DAP will be complacent to rule Penang but succeeding to drive PAS out of PR is undoing more than thirty years’ work engaging with PAS to build the Alternative Coalition. The positive aspect of the last thirty years included PAS’ participation at so many May Day, anti-war and Bersih rallies. This has been an important contribution to inter-ethnic integration in Malaysia and the attempt to build an alternative to the BN.

What is to be done?
The squabbles within Pakatan Harapan over the apportionment of seats have to do with naked opportunism and the lack of higher principles in their respective party ideologies. The politics of opportunism can also be seen with the party elite monopolizing federal seats and state seats in the same term and with no fixed term set for the party leader. Nevertheless, with leadership and an adopted procedure as can be seen in the BN, even that naked opportunism can be managed with due diligence.

For now, we are back to square one as far as engagement with PAS is concerned. It remains to be seen how DAP’s alliance with PKR will hold. It is time for progressive Malaysians to take stock of the political situation and to consider what is to be done in the struggle to make Malaysia truly democratic, free and just for all Malaysians, and especially for our working peoples.

Building the socialist alternative
While there was hope of an alternative coalition to challenge the Barisan Nasional that has been in power for nearly sixty years, Malaysians were prepared to be patient until BN was deposed. It is now clear that some of these opposition parties are ideologically similar to BN in their commitment to neo-liberal capitalism evident in their own state policies.

With our hopes dashed, it is time to build a Third Force that is people-centred, free and equal and led by those who are committed to a common platform set on an alternative road to development. It is time to reclaim the national assets that have been sold to private magnates and to ensure there is fair redistribution of income to the people. There is a need for state intervention and nationalization of basic resources such as oil and gas; utilities such as water, energy; health, education and social services. We need progressive taxation to check unfettered capital transfers by speculators and finance moghuls and to balance rampant income inequality. Such a socialist alternative differentiates itself from the Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Harapan.

Save Malaysia from Neo-liberal capitalism
Malaysia needs to be saved from neo-liberal capitalism that was unleashed by Mahathir when he came to power in 1981. Mahathir is indeed the “father of neo-liberalism in Malaysia” after selling off our national assets through his privatization policies in the 22 years he was in power. Our national resources have been hived off to crony capitalists under the guise of affirmative action. Mahathir thus succeeded in creating private Malay capitalists out of the erstwhile state capitalists who had entrenched their power after May 13, 1969.

The record of privatization in Malaysia since the Eighties have not demonstrated that increase in efficiency, productivity, or competition, the elimination of sources of state deficit as privatization has been purported to produce. The failures of MAS, Proton, KTM and other corporations testify to this fact. In most cases, privatization has merely substituted a private monopoly for a public one without producing any of the benefits that are supposed to come from competition.

Neoliberal policies represent the political requirements of global capital, harmonizing the national with the global economy, freeing capital from social forms in which it is under or open to state control and thereby turning those forms into corporate private property as Mahathir succeeded in doing. It will be more and more difficult to maintain a public sector to alleviate the living conditions of workers and the poor when all these public services have been privatised.

Save Malaysia from racism and racial discrimination
Malaysia needs to be saved from racism and racial discrimination. For years now and especially since the New Economic Policy, “race” (“bumiputeraism”) has been used to divide the Malaysian masses so that they cannot unite against their common oppressors and exploiters. Racial discrimination further worsens the plight of workers in the non-Bumiputera communities. Neither the BN or PH have categorically pledged to abolish the New Economic Policy that has been the racist/ populist strategy to try to win over the Bumiputeras and to enrich the well-placed Bumiputeras.

Powerful capitalist interests control our resources and markets and thrive on the cheap labour of Malaysian workers and migrant labour even in the states run by Pakatan Rakyat. The price has been paid by workers and the poor whose living standards continue to be pushed downwards.

‘If voting changed anything, they’d have made it illegal’
This resistance to neo-liberal capitalism can only be led by a Third Force that tries to empower oppressed people in the process of democratic participation. Popular democratic participation is not just in economic but also political institutions. Real democracy will never be attained merely through periodic general elections and relying on parliament alone. As Emma Goldman put it, “If voting changed anything, they’d have made it illegal!”

Peoples’ power comes about through direct action, based on the self-organisation of workers and other communities in their struggle against capital, with directly elected workplace and community councils taking responsibility for their own affairs and linked to decisions for society at large. The idea is to create an entirely new form of politics centered on direct popular power. When working class people are organized, they can start to believe in their capacity to change the world.

This is the task before us. Can you see any alternative?


Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 26 April 2016

Penang NGOs should be commended for alerting us and especially denizens of Penang about the dire consequences of the multi-billion transport master plan (PTMP) and demanding more consultation and transparency in this project that will affect the lives and landscape of this pearly isle. The NGOs lamented that priority in the plan is given to private vehicles when the purpose of an integrated public transport system in a modern city should be to reduce, not encourage, private vehicle usage.

Apart from its cost which is estimated at RM40 billion presently and the consequences of the reclamation plans, undersea tunnel and highways on traffic on the island, Penang should avoid the unsightly monorail system we have in Kuala Lumpur.

Protect urban landscape from unsightly monorail infrastructure

I still cannot understand how the Kuala Lumpur city planners, heritage protectors and even the Malaysian Chinese community could have allowed the construction of the concrete monorail monstrosity to obstruct the views of the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, the Chen Ancestral Shrine, the Guan Yin temple and the entrance to Petaling Street. These are some of Kuala Lumpur’s oldest heritage sites which should have been protected from being obscured by the unsightly monorail infrastructure. The Guan Yin temple was built in 1888, the Chen Ancestral Temple in 1896 and the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in 1934. There are other heritage sites along the monorail route which are likewise needlessly obscured from view.

It will only be a matter of time before the City Council will allow even more unsightly billboards to be plastered all over these concrete monstrosities in an attempt to raise revenue.

Although a bit late in the day, Penang has the advantage of being able to avoid the mistakes made by other city planners. It is worth noting that the less imposing steel infrastructure that supported the Sydney monorail system was dismantled in 2014. When it was finally taken down, Sydney denizens were relieved that the unsightly eyesore of the monorail was removed and their urban landscape reclaimed.

Introduce an efficient & affordable tram system

Having just returned from a most pleasant trip to Melbourne, I was impressed by the charming and seamless tram system in the city – a free circuit round the city centre and an affordable tram service radiating from the city outwards to the suburbs.

Penang used to have a tram system in the early 20th century and so did the other former Straits Settlement Singapore. I believe the old tram rails have been preserved so there is no reason for the PTMP to limit the tram system to the Unesco world heritage site in order to cater to the larger Penang commuters.


Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 11 April 2016

The Citizens’ Declaration calls upon all Malaysians “… to join us in saving Malaysia from the government headed by Najib, to pave the way for much-needed democratic and institutional reforms…”

Just how serious are the politicians who signed the Declaration in wanting to see much needed democratic reforms? A party such as the DAP should not need much convincing to carry out democratic reforms because they are the only party in the Malaysian landscape with “Democratic” in their party name. Yet when DAP state assemblyperson Teh Yee Cheu proposed a motion in the Penang State Assembly to limit the office of the Chief Minister to two terms, it was soundly rejected and he seems destined to oblivion in the party. Incidentally, he had also done what the DAP has often challenged BN legislators to do, namely, to vote according to their conscience and not bow to the party whip. In this, Teh had also supported an opposition motion to review the reclamation projects taking place in Penang. For that politically courageous act, he has likewise sealed his fate in the party.

Let us look at this issue of term limits in perspective. We are not talking about radical democracy such as was practiced during the Paris Commune of 1871 when elected officials were subject to immediate recall.  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. Here in 21st century Malaysia, we are merely proposing that for much needed democratic reform, the terms of ALL elected officials should be limited – not just the Prime Minister, Chief Minister or Menteri Besar (to two terms) but also Members of Parliament and ADUNs (to four terms).

MP since the era of the Tunku!

We are living in a rapidly evolving age of change as the DAP are so often reminding us. Yet we still see the old DAP leaders hogging their seats for more than four terms and some having been in Parliament since the era of the Tunku – half a century ago! During that time, UMNO (surely not the paragon of democracy) has changed party leaders five times!

Is the DAP so bereft of capable leaders that they need these old leaders to cling onto their seats ad nauseum using the trite excuse that they are still needed? I remember when I was in the Selangor DAP, “HQ” insisted that the DAP leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly had to be an old leader who held office in the Federal Parliament as well as the State Assembly. A number of us revolted against this decision and we were proven correct when another young DAP State Assemblyperson took over as Opposition Leader and did the job creditably. We were revolting not so much against the lack of term limit as the absurdity of a DAP leader holding both a federal and state office.

The late Karpal Singh, whom DAP leaders all say they admire, was a stern opponent of this grabby practice by established leaders to hog federal as well as state seats. His famous line when a former DAP stalwart left the party was: “No one is indispensable.” That surely applies to everyone in the world. Or are some people exempt from this mortal truism?

The democratic justification to limit the term for elected officials

Many modern republics employ term limits for their highest offices. The United States place a limit of two terms on its presidency while some state governors and state legislators also have term limits. The Russian Federation also limits the head of state to two terms; any further terms cannot be consecutive.

The democratic justification for this term limit is simply that elected officials can over time obtain too much power or authority and thus make 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. The concept of term limits minimizes the amount of power any one person can gain over a period of time.

Preventing chances of corruption

As we have seen only recently, even within the two-term service, corporate interests including those in property and finance can provide inducements to the incumbent 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.

Term limits would make this less likely since there is less time that a politician can be influenced by the power of the office that they hold. Corporate interests cannot become as entrenched when term limits are in place. With term limitations, corporate influence still happens, but not to the extent that it can when such interests develop unhealthy relationships with career politicians who are in office for a long time.

Preventing careerism

In a democracy, elected representatives are supposed to represent the interests of the citizens. As most politicians will tell us when they are interviewed, their work is supposed to be a service to society as a whole. Being a Member of Parliament or State Representative is not a profession even though it has become a career for many people. In fact, elected officials should operate on the understanding that they are only serving the people for a period of time until it is someone else’s turn. Term limits ensure that their representatives focus more on representing the public than on hogging the office and power.

Providing leadership opportunities for others

Democracy and organizational development are about providing opportunities to as many people as possible and especially to the young, women, indigenous people and the marginalized. In our society, there are so many individuals with untapped potential for leadership as if that is not clear for all to see. In recent years, we have seen the surge of many young capable leaders in the DAP, including women from non-Chinese origins.

Let’s face it, the number of available seats in the federal parliament and state assemblies are 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.

A long awaited democratic reform for Malaysia

Thus, this principle of not allowing any one person to hold a position of control or power for an indefinite period of time is for the common good and should be an urgent democratic reform for Malaysia.  The terms of ALL elected officials should be limited, namely, that of the Prime Minister, Chief Minister or Menteri Besar to two terms, and that of Members of Parliament and ADUNs to four terms. For reminding us of this long awaited democratic reform, we have the DAP state assemblyperson for Tanjung Bungah to thank. Let’s hope he is rewarded by his party for this public service.