The last chance for democracy in Malaysia

Speech by DAP Secretary General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, at a dinner given by Penang DAP at Sun Hoe Penang Restaurant on Sunday, Nov. 22 1970 at 8pm.

The last chance for democracy in Malaysia

I am overwhelmed by the great reception given by Penang DAP members and the public on the occasion of my unconditional release from detention.

One reason why I was able to withstand the test I underwent during my 16-month long detention was my knowledge and confidence that although I has lost personal freedom, outside the Muar Detention Camp, I had the support of millions of Malaysians to share with me and the DAP the same aspirations for a democratic socialist Malaysian Malaysia, and for which I was being detained.

My confidence was amply borne out by the great reception received wherever I go after my release. But although the people express their full support for the cause of a Malaysian Malaysia, all of them have a common question: Can democracy work in Malaysia, or will democracy be allowed to work in Malaysia?

The general election of May 10, 1969 was the high-water mark of democracy in Malaysia. After the announcement of the May 10 general election results, there was a new mood in the country. The people, who had begun to doubt the ability of the democratic process to truly bring about the social, economic and political changes they desire by peaceful, democratic and constitutional methods, began to have new hopes again.

The chances of making democracy work, and of its striking firm and deep roots in Malaysia soil, never seem brighter. But within three short days, the new hopes of the people were crushed ruthlessly by violence and bloodshed which were deliberately planned and launched.

It is tragic that it had not been realized as to who were the real losers of the May 10 general election.

It is true that the Alliance party suffered grievous electoral set-backs losing 23 Parliamentary seats in West Malaysia, losing the Penang State Government, and nearly losing the Perak and Selangor State Governments to the Opposition. However, the Alliance retains a majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

But the greatest losers of the May 10 general election are those forces which had actively campaigned for a boycott of general election, on the grounds that democracy in Malaysia is a farce and trickery on the people.

Despite a sustained campaign by the forces working for a boycott of elections, the people did not heed their appeal and went to cast their votes solidly.

May 10, 1969, therefore, was a declaration by the people of Malaysia that they prefer the democratic process to undemocratic methods of political struggle, that they prefer the road of reason in Parliament and the State Assemblies to the road of force and violence to bring about the social. Economic and political changes they desire.

The immediate result of the May 13 racial riots was to shatter the people’s hopes in the democratic process, and to strengthen these forces which has preached elections boycott to take to extra-parliamentary, extra-constitutional and street forms of mass struggle because democracy in Malaysia is a fake.

They point to May 13 as evidence that many of the present wielders of power do not subscribe to one of the fundamental tenets of parliamentary democracy: namely, that the ruling party must transfer power to the opposition party peacefully if this is the verdict of the people.

But the forces of authoritarianism or totalitarianism will practise democracy only if democracy will give them the façade of a popularly elected government. When democracy is likely to turn them out of power, these forces of authoritarianism or totalitarianism are prepared to jettison democracy and resort to open violence and armed force to entrench themselves in power.

There is today a perceptible renewal and reawakening of hope among the people to give another try to democracy in Malaysia, but with the question uppermost in their minds as to whether democracy can work or will be allowed to work.

This is because they know that in the final analysis, there is no other choice for Malaysia.

There are basically three roads for Malaysia to take.

1. For the people and the country to submit to the rule by authoritarian or totalitarian forces, who want to impose their will and policies on the people and country regardless of the wishes of the people. If the people are prepared to submit to these ultra forces and rule, then there is no discontent in the country. But I do not think the people are prepared to submit themselves to the rule by authoritarian forces and their ultra policies.
The majority of the people in Malaysia are youths, and youths everywhere are fired by idealism and are prepared to make sacrifices to combat injustice and inequality.
Any attempt to impose authoritarian rule by ultra forces can only lead to bloodshed and violence, leading to national disintegration and mass killings. No Malaysian, whether a Chinese, Malay or Indian in origin can benefit.

2. For the people to rise up in arms and use violence and force to fight the ultra forces who want to use authoritarian methods to impose their will and policies on the people.
This solution will also end up as the first one – bloodshed, killings and national disintegration, because in a multi-racial country, any resort to force will quickly degenerate into a violent racial conflict.

3. As both the above are not solutions which can bring national unity and prosperity for the country, the only road left is to strive to bring about changes the people desire by democratic methods.

To be frank with the people, the DAP cannot promise that democracy can work and succeed in Malaysia, but we can promise that if democracy fails in Malaysia, Malaysia shall perish in a welter racial bloodshed.

There is no choice for loyal patriotic Malaysians, who want to see Malaysia succeed as a united, peaceful prosperous nation, but to dedicate themselves to work the democratic system in the country.

But I firmly believe that we are all engaged in a last try to make democracy work. This is the last chance for democracy to work. If our present attempt to make democracy work ends up in another or a even more terrible May 13, then democracy will be written off the minds of Malaysians irrevocably, the stage will then be definitely set for the polarization of forces, which will be accompanied by the polarization of race, which is the combustible combination which will set the country aflame.

The people know this, and this is why despite the darkness they went through after May 13, they are re-emerging to try democracy a last time.

I call on all Malaysians to unite on the basis of a common Malaysia nationalism, and not on the basis of race, to join forces to make democracy work.

The DAP wants all political parties and individuals to dedicate themselves to work the parliamentary democratic process and renounce force and violence as a means of political struggle to be one of the fundamental principles of the Rukun Negara.

It is for this reason that we in the DAP shall be unalterably opposed to all actions and measures which will undermine the people’s faith and trust in the democratic process.

We call on the Alliance government to join us in promoting the people’s faith and trust in democracy by the following measures:

1. Declare that it is dedicated to the parliamentary democratic process and renounce force and violence as a means of political struggle regardless of the verdict of the people at the polls;

2. Refrain from taking measures which will undermine or demean the role, function, powers and importance of Parliament by:

i) restraining attempts to curtail or restrain the privilege of free speech of M.P.s in Parliament:
ii) Abolish the National Consultative Council with the restoration of parliamentary democracy as it is incompatible with the principle of the supremacy of parliament to have another organ with superior powers;
iii) Direct the Finance Minister to present the 1971 Budget to Parliament for debate and approval, as the Parliament is the supreme body to approve government expenditure and new taxes;

3. Abolish the Internal Security Act unless it could amend it to prevent its abuse against political opponents who are a threat to the continued retention of power by the Alliance party;

4. Take firm and strong action against all forces which want to use authoritarian and violent methods to impose their will and policies on the people.