By Joachim Ng
Malaysia is 56 today, but the mood isn’t completely joyous. It’s not because we are near retirement age, though. Renowned academician Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi, in a candid reflection, writes: “I can definitely say that Malaysia is a failure. It was failing badly before May 9th 2018, it has failed even worse after merely over a year.”
The only hope for the future of Malaysia lies with Sabah and Sarawak, laments Prof Dr. Tajuddin. Although the professor doesn’t quite explain why these Borneo states are so important, a brief memory trip back to 16 September 1963 will help us remember one crucial detail. And that is: Malaysia is the result of consensus agreement, a decision made after consultation with all stakeholders.
The vital lesson of MA63 — especially applicable in peninsular politics — is that on big matters the way to decide is to strive for consensus by actively engaging with all stakeholders. In small matters, go for a simple majority of 50.1%.
But we have oversimplified democracy to such an extent that all matters big or small are now decided by simple majority. This is a crude form of democracy in which any group that is in the majority wins the right to make sole decisions. So if you have 50.1% of the votes you can ignore the other 49.9% of the people. This crude form of democracy that we are hooked on is like shisha addiction; it brings destructive consequences years down the road.
If a committee chairman announces — “We don’t have a consensus. So we’ll go for a vote” — he is saying there is no agreement. But if the chairman regularly calls for a vote, it means that the committee is split into opposing sides. Eventually these opposing sides become permanent hostile factional silos.
The Orang Asli practised a superior decision-making style. Throughout the millennia when they were the peninsula’s only human occupants, the Orang Asli cherished aboriginal democracy that uses both modes — general consensus in big matters and simple majority in small matters. They had a culture of shared interests to make this possible.
With decision by simple majority, some political parties may well have calculated that their combined membership plus loyal voter base already give them the magic figure. So they don’t need you and therefore they don’t need to carry you along. This is the frightening flaw in our “simple-majority 50.1%” electoral system. We had better learn from the Orang Asli how to practise aboriginal democracy before we end up at a cliff edge.