Thursday, May 22, 2008

Whom Should We Trust?
Sim Kwang Yang
17 Apr 2008


In the end, voters must get their heads in the right space. All political leaders and their political parties are but the instruments for the rakyat and history. In a meaningful democracy, the people must be the masters of their own nation. That means they have to learn to use politicians and political parties to further the interest of the rakyat, rather than being used by politicians to attain wealth, position, and power.

Certain amount of trust in public personalities and the institutions of state is definitely crucial for the survival of a nation state. Without that trust, there would not even be any social cohesion that allows law and order to exist.

But that trust must not be blind or unconditional. The trust of the people in the leading men and the laws of their land must always be conditional and tentative. The whole idea in the evolution of democracy in world history is precisely premised upon this mistrust for people in power.

That is why we have the doctrine of separation of powers, and other checks and balances within our political system. Again, to quote the often misquoted dictum of Lord Acton, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely." Good political leaders will not demand blind uncritical trust from their followers, but will welcome all kinds of checks and balances to be applied to them in the most vigorous manner possible. They are supposed to have nothing to hide.

Therefore, the question is not so much whether we can trust Anwar Ibrahim or any other leading political figure. The question is about whether we can trust our good judgement, our wisdom, our instinct, and our collective strength in determining our own fate.

Though the article refers to Malaysia political scenario, it is applicable to all countries practicing democracy especially developing democratic countries such as Singapore.

Our brand of democracy is so twisted for so long that many of us have either forgotten or do not know that political leaders are to serve the people and not the other way round. We need not fear them or trust them blindly. We must insist that there are effective mechanisms for checks and balances to prevent official abuses and to ensure political growth for the future of the country.