Bersih 28/04/2012: Governments Should Be Accountable To Their People ~ Free Elections!


To the Citizens of the World,

 ~

“People should not be afraid of their governments; Governments should be afraid of their people,” has been the battle cry of the people around the world in the year 2011. The people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have seen their governments overthrown and their leaders ousted, or worse, dead. Syria, Bahrain and Yemen continue to this very day to have sustained riots, protests and demonstrations. The people of Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Morocco have protested and forced changes to their governments.

And the wave of uprising did not end with just the countries involved in the Arab Spring! In the richer and bigger countries like the Unites States, Russia, China and in Europe, people of different races, beliefs and cultures have all marched to the streets and squares for different causes with the same underlying current: ‘Governments should be afraid of their people.’

The question remains, why now? Oppression, tyranny and corruption have been widespread long before 2011. Leaders like Mubarak and Gaddafi have been in power for decades. So why did the tide of time bring the wave of revolutions 11 years after the millennium?

Perhaps the answer lies in the tangled webs of the past. Winston Churchill once said that, “the further backward you look, the further forward you can see.” All revolutions in history have followed a similar pattern. First, the people feel a sense of injustice through the actions of their governments caused, more often than not, by a conflict between the numerous poor and the wealthy few. Second, intellectuals from different segments of the society appear to oppose the ruling government and demand for reforms. Third, is the government’s inability to deal effectively or efficiently with external factors and these may come in the form of economic decline, military coup, political problems or natural disasters.

Both the French Revolution in 1789 and the Russian Revolution in 1917 followed this distinct pattern and had stunning similarities. Both revolutions started with growing political instability and popular dissatisfaction stemming from clear class distinctions that prevented social mobility. In other words, if your father was born a peasant, you, your children and your grandchildren are doomed to become peasants. Both revolutions had intellectuals that came forth to oppose the ruling government and called for reform. Economically, both French and Russians states, before the revolution, had incurred massive debt coupled with a rigid taxation system (that mainly taxed the poor). Lastly, both states had a severe food crisis that served as the spark that ignited bloody revolutions.

At this point, one may ask whether political systems make a difference to whether a revolution happens? The answer depends on perspective. Paraphrasing Voltaire, “Ask the people – they want democracy. Ask the rich – they all want aristocracy. Ask the monarch – he wants monarchy.”  In history, there were many kings of old that fared rather well. Monarchs like Augustus Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, Kangxi and Frederick the Great steered their nation states into a peaceful and prosperous era (at least internally).

Political systems are in question when it comes to selecting who is best to run a country. Such systems, however, play a lesser role in determining how a country performs economically and socially. The bottom-line remains irrespective of political systems: Governments should be accountable to their people! Who is to blame? When injustice happens to a nation ruled by a monarch, we blame the monarch. When injustice happens to a nation ruled by an aristocracy, we blame the aristocrats. But when injustice happens to a nation ruled by a democracy, we can do nothing but look into the mirror and stare!

As if to prove that ‘people should not be afraid of their governments,’ we have seen in 2008 that the people of Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand, have stepped forward during elections, done their duty and exercised their rights as citizens in a democracy. Their actions have served to remind governments to be accountable to their people. Abraham Lincoln once said, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” He was right! And that is precisely the reason why so many governments fell from power and their leaders ousted in this decade.

What makes the revolution of today different from the revolution of yesterday is simply the means to create the fire. With great challenges come great responses. Just as the blockade of the Arabs in the Middle East and Africa and the Mongol hordes across Asia forced the Europeans to explore the seas and subsequently colonize other civilizations, the revolutions of 2011 were facilitated and intensified by information technology.

Where Voltaire himself once wrote pamphlets to enlighten the common folk, we now have legions of bloggers who swarm the blogosphere with tales of government injustice and oppression. Where once Denis Diderot poured in huge sums of money and effort to compile the first encyclopedia, we now have Wikipedia, the most massive encyclopedia the world has ever known with articles of each country, government and leader. Where once news of cruelty and torture took months to reach another part of the globe, we now view them instantly with a click of our mouse. And the photos and videos we find on Flickr and YouTube bring the reality of the suffering of other people directly into our very homes.

Yes, the times they are a changing.

The Children of the Millennia, educated young adults born after the 1970s and 1980s, are empowered with information technology and they have access to a heightened sense of awareness of events worldwide. Information technology has heralded a new age of globalization; an age where information flows freely from one corner of the globe to another. Smartphones and iPads have revolutionized the consumption and dissemination of information. Governments in every continent have found that locking up people has been much easier than locking up information.

But let us take two steps forward and one step back. Let us remember that information technology has but provided us with better distribution channels for information and communication. The cause of each revolution is the same, namely, governments that are not accountable to their people. So let us drop the mask of this masquerade. Politics is not about leaders building the tallest building in the world, the longest bridge, or the fastest train. Politics is not about the glory of one leader or ruling party. Politics is not about power; Politics is about people.

That being said, we must not forget that the mistakes of today are because of the actions of yesterday. The current political world revolves around two principles. The first, ‘if it isn’t broke, why fix it?’ And the second, ‘two wrongs make a right.’ Often we neglect fixing a problem before it is too late (like the recent subprime mortgage crisis in the United States). Worse, the solution provided by some leaders often hide problems or prolong them rather than really solve them. By the time of the next election, such leaders are at the end of their term and leave the accountability of their actions to the next generation of leaders.

Such irresponsibility should not be tolerated. One thing that we should admire of the Japanese is that their ministers resign in the face of charges on corruption, misuse of power or incompetence. In many parts of the world, government officials emerge unscathed after a hail of charges with good solid evidences. This is the mark, the glaring red flag, of a government that is not being accountable to its people. These government officials have overstayed their welcome.

Last but not least, we should remind governments of three important words: ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.’ The liberty of life and the pursuit of happiness. The equality of education and opportunity. The fraternity between different races, cultures and beliefs. Let these three ideas be engraved in the minds of the people and their governments.

“Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come,” said Victor Hugo. The reason? ‘Ideas are bulletproof!’ No longer should we cower in the face of batons, water cannons and teargas!

“Freedom forever!” cry the citizens of the world. But freedom is not free! And it will be bought continually through the blood, sweat and tears of the people if governments do not heed their call.

Reason brings revolution that in turns brings death and destruction. Nobody wants death and destruction. Not even the oppressed, not even the tormented, not even those who have suffered.

The citizens of the world have made their stand. Now, let the governments of the world make their choice!

  ~

James Ee

A Citizen of the World

25 December 2011

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