Fighting corruption with people's power

SOMETHING is happening in the PKR and it is not about democracy.

It's the same thing that continues to fester in the MCA and the MIC.

A similar thing caused the Barisan Nasional to lose Perak in the 2008 general election and led to the collapse of the Pakatan Rakyat administration a year later.

For the same reason, the Barisan lost its two-third majority in Parliament and failed to regain the Kelantan state government from PAS besides losing its hold on Selangor, Penang and Kedah.

What is it?

In the words of an Englishman: "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely."

The phrase arose as a quotation by John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton, who lived between 1834 and 1902.

The historian and moralist, who was otherwise known simply as Lord Acton, expressed this opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887:

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Another English politician with no shortage of names - William Pitt, the Elder, The Earl of Chatham - is sometimes wrongly attributed as the source.

The British prime minister from 1766 to 1778 (after whom a street in Penang was named), did say something similar in a speech to the UK House of Lords in 1770:

"Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."

Accusations of graft

At the root of all this are the masses. Yes, people's power.

Claims of corruption against the Barisan were widely used in the campaigning of the 2008 general election by its opponents and caused it hefty losses in the Dewan Rakyat and state assemblies across the country.

In the subsequent by-elections, the accusation of graft against the Barisan continued and, in some instances, so-called informed bloggers boldly named people in the ruling government deemed to be corrupted.

In street marches and mass rallies, protesters against price hikes, the Internal Security Act and the sudden death of political aide Teoh Beng Hock in July last year also harped on the issue of alleged widespread graft and corruption in the Federal and state governments as well as claims of increasing disparity of wealth between the very wealthy and the very poor under Barisan's rule

Despite claims by the government that Malaysia's anti-corruption index had improved, it has not stopped its opponents from continuing their accusations.

The lesson was not whether the Barisan lawmakers had actually been guilty of the misdemeanors they are accused of practising but more of the outdated methods they had used to reach out to the masses.

Surprisingly, although many Barisan leaders talked of the 'new media' and telling the people to be information technology-literate to get ahead, most of them were still using the 'old media' in the 2008 polls to gloat about the past glories of the ruling party and how much it had spent to bring bridges, roads, schools and business opportunities to the people.

Even as recent as last month's Sibu parliamentary by-election, the ruling party was still depending on its regular tv, radio and media channels to try to get its messages to the people while the opposition had increasingly turned to the social media, such as the micro-blogging site Twitter and Facebook

This, however, does not mean that the opposition is smarter than the Barisan because, at the end of the day, the power is more in the minds of the people than in the hands of the politicians.

And it also does not mean that opposition politicians and leaders are 'cleaner' that those in the ruling party.

The hard truth is, in this day and age, the people are far ahead of the politicians.

The people can think for themselves. What politicians – elected legislators, in particular - need to do is to keep their ears to the ground and listen to the rhythm of the people's wishes.

Not for a minister to own

The MP or state assemblyman is not the people's master; he is the people's servant or representative - the wakil rakyat. His principal role is to echo the people's voice.

Leaders are only relevant if they express ideas and wishes of the people. Leaders do not think for the people; their principal role is to implement what people want. To think for the people is patronising.

Ministers don't have ministries. They only lead ministries on behalf of the people. The ministry may not be there for long, as it could cease to operate or merge with other ministries or a new ministry created in its place.

Therefore, any ministry is not for a politician to own. It is the people's s ministry. And, the minister is principally accountable to the people and not so much to the party that puts him there.

The Malaysian government has largely got this right but there are always 'friends and relatives' of the minister that would always provoke him to exert his 'political will' to get things done for them.

And that is how the corruption starts.

Hopefully, with the new mood in the administration to put 'people first' a situation will not happen where the ruling party will put itself ahead of the people.

Democracy is about 'people power' not 'leader power' or 'political power'.

It is not about elections and definitely not about political conflicts, such as those which are now happening in the PKR and continues to be seen in several other parties.

Elections come only once in about five years and party elections come once in two or three years (except in extraordinary cases, as recently seen in the MCA).

This power is not about choosing or ousting leaders. It is about the people deciding how they would like to improve their livelihood, the best way they know how, as long as it is not criminal or against their religious conscience.

The question now is whether 'people's power' is a collective movement of the masses or whether it is merely 'power' in the hands of a small cluster of influential individuals.

Even among the people, 'power' can be corrupted. They can spread lies, distort information and provide misguided ideas to thousands of people through cyber space.

For instance, both sides of the political divide may have taken a common stand on the issue of Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians.

However, if their political leaders are not providing the right feedback and leave it to their followers to spread their own opinion of the Gaza issue, the results can be devastating and scary for the security of the country.

People's power, yes. But corrupted people's power, no.


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