Sunday, July 19, 2009

Power Is Not What Corrupts Umno

No matter how much Umno tries to project an image of itself other than one of a big bully, sceptics are far from impressed. In one form or another, most sceptics believe that Umno is the personification of the principle that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Closely related to this is the saying that “unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.”

I sympathise with these critics that for years, we’ve had to endure episode after episode of the unrelenting arrogance and authoritarianism of Umno. And to many of these critics, Umno has become so intoxicated with power – power over its subservient BN co-conspirators, power over its internal critics, power over controlling the judiciary, the police, and the civil service – that it has long been corrupted.

Again, if one simply looks closely as how Umno yields power, it’s not hard to see that the years of monopoly on power it has had has allowed it to practically assume that it is preordained or part of some natural law of the universe for Umno to govern the country. For many, this is simply further evidence of how power has corrupted Umno and the mindset of its cabal.

But the great warrior of democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, has it absolutely correct that “it is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

This is why I think you can expect two trends to become increasing palpable in the months to come. First, Umno will become progressively desperate – especially as it increasingly fears an erosion of its credibility – to hold on to its power. I am by no means suggesting that this desperation is sure to result in a sudden reverting to the use of draconian measures and clamp downs on the opposition that was reminiscent, for example, during Operation Lalang. Of course it will try the gimmicks – such as the so-called liberalisation measures and other ‘sweeteners’ they’ll try to feed us. But despite such petty gimmicks, there have been clear signs of this fear of losing power in Umno political machinery – which, in turn, has led to some obvious abuses of power and political manipulation. It should not come as a least bit of a surprise to anyone that if the pressure on Umno increases further, there will be more fear within the Umno inner circle and the fear that perhaps its days may be numbered.

Not unlike the Burmese military junta, which persists because of its own fear of losing power, our civilian junta persists with the disguise of the rule of law. But when that disguise gets exposed – from time to time – as now through the abuses of the police, the control of the government media, the abuses of the MACC, the manipulation of the judiciary and such – Umno shall revert to more intense propaganda and actions.

Second, we will see more of the same from the other BN parties; that is, a deafening silence about the path Umno is putting the country on. That is because they are themselves gripped with a fear – through the patronage system - of Umno. For this reason, they are incapable of unshackling themselves from their enslavement to Umno.

And both these factors, unfortunately, could spell more tough times for the rakyat.

But as Suu Kyi has said, for justice to prevail, the people must refuse to let fear dictate their actions. For this reason, the only way to bring the rule of law back into how we govern ourselves is not to allow our fear of Umno to override us. Let us not be misguided by the foolishness – and yes, fear - of some who say such things as “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Some people consider this approach to be pragmatic.

Actually, it is not pragmatism; such a view is merely the rationalisation of the fear that these people are experiencing. It is precisely the kind of living in “fear of the scourge of power” which also corrupts those of us who have to suffer under Umno’s reign of oppression. The obvious example of this is the other BN parties – and those among us – who sheepishly aid and abate Umno.

For us all to live freely, we need to live without fear of Umno.

…in any society where fear is rife corruption in all forms becomes deeply entrenched.

Aung San Suu Kyi

G. Krishnan