May 29, 2008

CHARLATANS in Government?

Read the introduction to the Human Rights Watch's World Report 2008 titled "Despots Masquerading as Democrats" from Richard Roth the executive director in the link below;

Malaysia is one of the country that was honoured with a special mention in Richard Roth's introduction (which is highlighted in blue). the following are extract from his introduction;


Rarely has democracy been so acclaimed yet so breached, so promoted yet so disrespected, so important yet so disappointing. Today, democracy has become the sine qua non of legitimacy. Few governments want to be seen as undemocratic. Yet the credentials of the claimants have not kept pace with democracy’s growing popularity. These days, even overt dictators aspire to the status conferred by the democracy label. Determined not to let mere facts stand in the way, these rulers have mastered the art of democratic rhetoric that bears little relationship to their practice of governing.

The techniques used by such autocrats to tame the nettlesome unpredictability of democracy are nothing if not creative. The challenge they face is to appear to embrace democratic principles while avoiding any risk of succumbing to popular preferences. Electoral fraud, political violence, press censorship, repression of civil society, even military rule have all been used to curtail the prospect that the proclaimed process of democratization might actually lead to a popular say in government.

By contrast, international human rights law grants all citizens the right to “take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives” and to “vote” in “genuine periodic elections” with “universal and equal suffrage” and “secret ballot” so as to “guarantee[] the free expression of the will of the electors.” It also grants a range of related rights that should be seen as essential to democracy in any robust and meaningful form, including rights protecting a diverse and vigorous civil society and a free and vibrant press, rights defending the interests of minorities, and rights ensuring that government officials are subject to the rule of law. The specificity and legally binding nature of human rights are their great strength. But when autocrats manage to deflect criticism for violating these rights by pretending to be democrats, when they can enjoy the benefits of admission to the club of democracies without paying the admission fee of respect for basic rights, the global defense of human rights is put in jeopardy. Why bother complying with so intrusive a set of rules as international human rights law when, with a bit of maneuvering, any tyrant can pass himself off as a “democrat”?

Authoritarian leaders’ evasive use of democracy often begins with word games
and rhetorical sleights of hand suggesting that restrictions undermining democracy are really necessary to save it.

Fair elections depend on the independence of the people running them, so it should come as no surprise that one favorite way for rulers to manipulate elections is to stack electoral machinery with their supporters.

The case of Malaysia illustrates why governments seek control of the electoral machinery. Its government-dominated Election Commission rejected opposition efforts to remove alleged phantom voters from the electoral rolls, eliminate the widespread use of absentee ballots by government workers, and permit access to state-controlled media by all political parties. Similarly, Cambodia has made an art of holding elections staged by a National Election Commission controlled by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which then simply ignores claims of violence, fraud, or intimidation by independent monitors or opposition parties.

A meaningful election requires a free press—to highlight issues demanding governmental attention and to permit public scrutiny of candidates’ competing political visions. The media is also essential for conveying popular concerns between elections—necessary input because a single vote cast every few years is a crude and insufficient method to make popular concerns known. It is thus no surprise that governments trying to control the democratic process seek to silence the press.

In Malaysia, for example, which bans public gatherings of more than five people without a permit, the police used chemical-laced water and tear gas to break up an orderly and peaceful march of protesters demanding electoral reforms ahead of planned elections expected in early 2008.

Shutting Down Civil Society
In addition to political parties, a vibrant democracy requires a variety of associations and organizations so that people can mobilize support for their policy preferences and make their voices heard. These civil society organizations thus are another common target of autocratic rulers.

A False Dichotomy: The Tyrant You Know or the Tyrant You Fear
The weak international response to the manipulation of democracy is founded in part on fear that an autocrat might be replaced by someone or something worse. Beginning with the FIS parliamentary victory in Algeria in 1991, the rise of political Islam has made that fear especially acute. Savvy dictators have learned to use a me-or-them logic to justify continued rule, but the dichotomy is often a false one.

It is a sign of hope that even dictators have come to believe that the route to legitimacy runs by way of democratic credentials. Broadly shared and deeply felt values underwrite the principle that sovereignty lies with the people of a nation and that the authority to govern is ultimately theirs. But that progress is fragile, its meaning dependent in large part on the commitment of the world’s established democracies. If they accept any dictator who puts on the charade of an
election, if they allow their commitment to democracy to be watered down by their pursuit of resources, commercial opportunities, and short-sighted visions of security, they will devalue the currency of democracy. And if dictators can get away with calling themselves “democrats,” they will have acquired a powerful tool for deflecting pressure to uphold human rights. It is time to stop selling democracy on the cheap and to start substituting a broader and more meaningful
vision of the concept that incorporates all human rights.

For the full speech of Kenneth Roth's introduction go here;

For the Human Rights Watch World Report 2008 on Malaysia go here;


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