Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I Was Wrong

My Auntie Maalini would say it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. I will admit, I did not expect it. Did you? Be honest. Did you truly expect the High Court’s ruling on the matter of Nizar vs Zambry? Now I’ll be the first to admit I’m under no illusion that this drama is anywhere near to seeing the curtain come down on it. Like a painfully long and bad movie, this saga is bound to see more twists and turns. No doubt.

But like many others, it’s not surprising that I too at times have felt deeply disillusioned and sceptical at the apparent lack of independence of the judiciary. I’m sure many of us can cite a litany of situations where it has seemed like the judiciary has been less than reliable in fulfilling its role. Could we be faulted for feeling the way we do about the perceived lack of independence of the judiciary? At times, it has seemed, has it not, as if the judiciary has merely served as an extension of the ruling party rather than an independent institution.

So why would average people like us expect this musical chairs-like back and forth between Nizar and Zambry in the courts to also play out any differently than an eventual affirmation of the government’s agenda? So while I’m under no illusion that this saga could still play out in favour of BN’s interests, it does remind us all – yours truly included – that just maybe, some who sit on the bench in our courts do in fact serve the cause of justice and not simply politics. And that is critical for any government without a dependable and independent judiciary invariably spells the erosion of democracy and the consolidation of power. And where there is concentration of unchecked power, there is, inevitably, corruption, which only serves one end; the abuse of power – and not the interests of the people or their progress.

A refreshing reminder, to be sure, for all of us lay people and politicians alike that those who sit on the bench have a monumental role in protecting us all. Perhaps this is not just a minor lesson for us to keep some faith about the judiciary, it must surely go a long way in educating our politicians as well about the messiness, from time to time, that befalls those who try to preserve the will of the people. Perhaps the indignity that befell upon the Perak assembly recently can be somewhat blunted by the dignity that Justice Abdul Aziz Abd Rahim has somewhat restored to the idea of democracy and due process. Oh, I’m sure to the pessimists this might seem like only a minor inconvenience for the political establishment to overcome. But even the pessimists among us have to be willing to admit that such minor victories that, even if only marginally, preserve the voice of the people means there is some hope.

As much as the High Court’s decision affirming that indeed Nizar is the legitimate mentri besar of Perak proved many of us wrong this time in doubting the court’s potential for being apolitical and judicious as an arbiter, it also provided an invaluable lesson about just how messy, at times, it can be to strive to preserve the voice of the people. I suppose you could call it growing pains; simply part of learning and struggling to become a more mature society.

Could it really be so? Perhaps. And if it means I admit that I underestimated some of those in the judiciary, then I gladly plead guilty to it.

It does take a big man to admit when he’s wrong.

G. Krishnan