Why this might be the strongest wave for Reformasi – James Chai

MARCH 07, 2014

For a law student who studies public or administrative law, the engagement between the theories and philosophy of institutions – like separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, and parliamentary sovereignty – and practical experiences is made whenever a real-life crisis takes place.

Studying public law is vibrant and impressive because mishaps like an abuse of power by the executive or a departure from the standard ethical convention of parliamentarians in Parliament angers you.

“How can that be?”, we would yell at our news portals with our textbooks across the table.

But for Malaysians who study law, the books only give you a historical analysis of the constitutional crisis that happened in 1988 that saw a great tragedy in the arm of judiciary that has seen its integrity and independence still yet to be restored. We have not actually 'felt' the problems of the compromise of the independence of the judiciary, which is one of the most prized principles for any country.

We, only law students, would give answers that have the words 'fairness' and 'justice' when asked, “Why study law?” The idealists among us can only cringe and frown when we see such events.

But the Malaysian-ness in us would do nothing more than keep our fingers crossed and think that everything is fine. We assume that the hiccup in our system would subside, like all pain eventually does, and the judiciary would somehow be able to arrive at judgments based on upholding justice for each individual litigant once again.
“It shall be all fine. Why would I do anything more?” But the anger in the heart stays on.

The miracle that law students hope, is sadly shown today to have not materialized with the Court of Appeal’s decision to reverse the opposition leader, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim, High Court verdict of acquittal.

To the many who have long lost hope in the country’s institutions, this anger that continues to ignite in the hearts of the disheartened and the shocked is bound to be a long-standing one.

The anger is a rational one, a principled one, a rarely seen one, and a good one.

The Bar Council’s Walk for Justice in 2011 was a display of the desire of Malaysian lawyers and interest groups to take small steps to manage that anger, to make a point that they will not sell our system out to corruption and the arrogant abuse of power by any of the three branches of our democratic system – judiciary, executive, and legislative.

One does not need to align oneself with any political leader or party to understand and protest against gross indecency and impropriety of the branches when we see one. The ones on the street for free and fair election (Bersih rallies) are not to be labeled as opposition party sympathizers, but justice sympathizers.

These are people who take to the streets because that is the last resort to send a stern warning to the ones in power to not take the powers they have for granted, and the people will be there to be the ultimate gatekeepers of justice. We know injustice when we see it. The people will be there for the accountability test, because we gave you the power.

This is not about the wider public policy and national political implications, but the encroachment of the arms of the executive body to interfere with the judiciary, and also an encroachment of politics in the judiciary. The latter is one that knows no end.

Anwar today, any one of us tomorrow.

Following the 25 odd years since the constitutional crisis, one benefit, if anything, is that it has allowed students, scholars, constitutional lawyers, to accumulate enough arguments and followers to uphold justice. It makes the anger an intellectual, organized, and wise one.

During 1998, individuals were still comprised of those who suffered badly from the May 13 racial riot and were mentally conditioned to not take risk and let the bleeding of injustice happen, because if they do speak up for themselves, a bigger wound might be inflicted upon them.

Only a few bold ones were willing to stand up to defend Mahathir’s authoritarian conduct, the side-effects of which the institutions are still suffering from today.

But now the generation is different. This generation has a clearer understanding of what it takes to have a nation secured and shared in justice and fairness, and has read enough history and stories around the world, thanks to the internet, to know that no authoritarian and dictatorial natured government can and should ever survive, and if the system is left to the abuse of the few, the victims will only be the people who are stuck in between.

Over time, the victimized will be more vulnerable and weaker. Before that point is reached, the people will have to defend it.

Too bad the political actors behind the scenes who are trying to manipulate the system for their own benefit, still carry an obsolete mentality in crafting their strategies, but banning, censorship, selective prosecution, and other heavy-handed methods to try to shut the voices of dissent will not work anymore.

The era where dictatorial and arbitrary use of power is over. All eyes are now clear; all hearts are now strong; all voices are now loud.

This new Reformasi generation will stand by justice, and will be prepared to take the streets if the establishment leaves them with no choice.

This generation will take pain, if needed, for the betterment of their future.

This generation will take suffering, if needed, if that is the only way to take out the elements of corruption and infringement of fundamental human rights and basic morality.

This generation will take despair, if needed, to ensure that the three branches of government are our ultimate and final destination of justice that protects us, instead of alienating us.

This generation is one that is ever-ready, with nothing to lose, and more enthusiastic for Malaysia’s future than any other.

We have hit rock bottom, and this new Reformasi generation is bound to be the strongest the nation will ever see.

That qualified anger has now reached its tipping point, this generation will not back down. – March 7, 2014.

* James Chai is a reader of The Malaysian Insider.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.