Recent events had provoked outrage amid those that sympathized with the idea of individual liberty. With a stake of woods burning, BN-led government threw fuel into the fire, allowing it to burn more brightly than before. One of the more angering statements, to me personally, was made by a minister that had the cheek to claim that no force was used to disperse protesting crowd whereas on the contrary, clearly caught on camera, the police did fire tear gas and water cannon. Another claim which I wish to address here concerns claim that Malaysia is a democratic country. While many understandably would like to fiercely dispute that, Malaysia is a democratic country. What it is not, in practice, strictly speaking, is a liberal democracy.

When the minister made that assertion, my initial reaction was of pure disbelief. Frankly however, I need time to rationalize something and any reaction that comes immediately after an event may be prompted by emotion without proper consideration. As emotion subsided, as it always does with time, I began to impartially reassess at the minister’s assertion. My conclusion is that, Malaysia is a democratic country, in the purest sense of the word.

As written earlier, democracy in its purest form is majoritarianism. Many however assumes the term democracy is liberal democracy instead of, well, simply democracy.

To the defense of those that disagree with the minister, the term democracy and its underlying assumptions have evolved ever since the ancient Greek popularized it. The ideological triumph of liberalism over socialism in the 20th century later made the word liberal in liberal democracy redundant. Slowly as liberalism proliferates everywhere, many come to associate democracy with liberal democracy. Day in and day out, what was simply an act done in simplicity’s sake has become an act of redefinition as far as popular opinion is concerned. As liberal democracy becomes accepted norm and taken for granted but is referred to democracy instead, the fact that the word democracy today enjoys a polymorphic but inaccurate definition is forgotten. Those that take liberty for granted usually are less rigorous in rationalizing their liberalism. These people especially are unable to recognize the difference between pure democracy and liberal democracy.

But ignorance is no reason to erase that line that separates the two types of democracy. While I am uncertain if the BN-led government as a whole realizes the difference between the two, it is quite clear that the government refers to majoritarianism when it talks of democracy. Under this definition which is perfectly fine — and I would argue, the most accurate — Malaysia is a democratic country. Elections have been held on regular basis. There are serious flaws in Malaysian democratic processes but Malaysia fits the shape of crude majoritarianism. Nothing compels a society of pure democracy to respect liberty.

With that respect, Malaysia is not a liberal democracy; a democracy that respects individual liberty which includes free speech and freedom of assembly, among others.

One may argue that BN-government is stuck in the past and has yet to move along the evolution of ideas that transformed the popular definition of democracy but in all honesty, both definitions of democracy, of majoritarian and of liberal, are perfectly valid. The former appeals to majority rule while the latter fuses the best of democracy with liberalism.

In the end, what this highlights is the importance of definition. Without being on the same page, it is hard to move forward.

6 Responses to “[1463] Of Malaysia is a democracy”

  1. on 05 Dec 2007 at 10:24 moo_t

    IMHO, gerrymandering has make Malaysia a quasi-democracy country. And use NEP to indefinitely suspend local councils election, it give us another quasi-democracy status. How do you call a democracy system when it only left 1/8(one over eight) of its original functionality? Bi-quasi democracy?

  2. on 07 Dec 2007 at 00:58 johnleemk

    My position is that a democracy illiberal to the extent that Malaysia is cannot be a democracy for long. Once you give the majority the right to silence a minority, the essence of democracy – allowing the people to choose – becomes a farce, since they have denied themselves choice. That’s basically what’s happened in Malaysia.

  3. on 07 Dec 2007 at 21:00 Hafiz Noor Shams

    It’s not a farce. It’s just a primitive, original form of democracy.

  4. on 07 Dec 2007 at 22:23 johnleemk

    Not allowing the people to choose is fundamentally undemocratic, even if this outcome is accomplished by democratic means. For practical intents and purposes, it is indistinguishable from a tyranny tolerated by the people.

  5. on 07 Dec 2007 at 23:33 Hafiz Noor Shams

    “Tyranny tolerated by the people”, or I’m sure otherwise known as tyranny of the majority, is still democratic. That has been identified as the weakness of democracy by many. Democracy in the purest sense of the word is simple: majoritarianism. Democracy by itself is not prefect.

    As for Malaysia, I’m sure almost all have the rights to vote as well as the liberty to exercise that right without coercion. They may not have the access to free flow of information but it is still democratic. As indicated earlier, it is not liberal democracy however.

    Thus, while the Information Minister is a very disagreeable man, he has been unfairly criticized for stating that Malaysia is a democratic country simply because too many people overlooked the line dividing liberal democracy and majoritarianism. The minister is right through the latter idea but dead wrong according to the former system.

    My message is simple: when speaking of democracy, we need to keep the definitions of liberal democracy and majoritarianism clearly separated. Lay the ground rule first and then debate.

  6. […] Prior to the dissolution of the Parliament in February, we had an influential government with a shockingly strong mandate. In its aftermath, events in the past several years have proven that the mandate had enabled tyranny of the majority. Thanks to the result of the 2004 Malaysian general election, the inferiority of majoritarian democracy to liberal democracy is greatly apparent. I have repeatedly emphasized the superior of a liberal democracy to “democracy, Malaysian-style“. […]

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