Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Picked from Ipoh Echo - An interview with Augustine Anthony

In an attempt to get an insight into the political quagmire that Perak has unwittingly found itself, Ipoh Echo will endeavour to find answers from both sides of the political divide. The series starts with an interview with Augustine Anthony, a prominent human rights lawyer....


Ipoh Echo: Perakians in general are rather in the dark as to events clouding the Perak political landscape. How did events unfold?

Augustine: It’s common knowledge, judging from the sequence of events inthe past month, what took place. It all started with the appointment of Dato’ Dr Zambry, replacing Dato’ Seri Nizar Jamaluddin as the Mentri Besar on February 6. Beyond the legal aspects, it’s the feelings of the people that matter.
Perak has been under Barisan Nasional since 1957. There was never an occasion when the state government was ruled by another party other than BN. After the March 8 General Election, the rakyat had voted in a new government under the tripartite coalition named Pakatan Rakyat.

Ipoh Echo. What events have left a lasting impression on Perakians?
Augustine: The openness of the PR-led Government is something new to Perakians. The PR politicians are very approachable and are willing listeners. Long standing issues relating to Orang Asli’s land rights, for example, have been resolved. Land titles, which were once a taboo subject, were given out. A two-way communication was established with those in authority and the common folk. Suddenly, this channel of communication was snuffed out when a “power grab” took place.
The rakyat don’t mind a change in the government but it’s the manner the change is instituted that left many unhappy. They voted for the parties that could bring about changes and now they are left in the lurch.

Ipoh Echo: How had the actions of the three BN-friendly assemblymen impacted the rakyat?
Augustine: The people felt that the three individuals had betrayed their trust.
The response from the rakyat was something unexpected. There had never been such an outpouring of anger in the streets. It translated into a phenomenal scene with people protesting against the swearing-in of the new MB in Kuala Kangsar. The spontaneity of this unplanned protest goes to show how unhappy the people are.

Ipoh Echo: What are the other contributing factors?
Augustine: Power grab is not something easy because we are a country with a written constitution, which has evolved over the years. Besides the Federal Constitution, individual states have their own constitutions. The civil society of the country believes that the Rule of Law must prevail.
There is separation of powers between the Judiciary, the Legislative and the Executive. The three branches must work harmoniously but independently without any form of “unholy interference”. We have been jolted in the past. The Executive assault on the Judiciary in 1988 is a case in point and we have never recovered since. What happened in Perak is another round of Executive meddling in the affairs of a legislative body.

Ipoh Echo: Can this outpouring of anger be averted?
Augustine: Yes, it can. When one party seeks legitimacy to rule why is it so difficult to ask the people for their consent? Seek the mandate from the rakyat. Let the public choose the government of their choice through the ballot boxes.

Ipoh Echo: The rakyat have inferred that there is interference by the Judiciary insofar as the Perak situation is concerned. Your comments.
Augustine: The good governance of the state is enhanced by the independence of the three branches – Judiciary, Legislative and Executive. The people perceive that the Judiciary is imposing itself on the Legislative. The slew of litigations taken against and for the newly-formed BN government is the result of this shortcoming.

Ipoh Echo: There is a general feeling among Perakians that truth will be suppressed. Your comments.
Augustine: With the developments taking place presently, I don’t think that’s easy. The monarchy has been unwittingly dragged into the fray. It’s not about defending the Institution of the Rulers per se. It’s about defending the interest of certain individuals. We no longer live in the 50s and 60s where the flow of information was so restricted. With Internet people today can access news as it unfolds. Blogs and online newspapers provide better and wider coverage than the mainstream media do. The people can differentiate between truth and fiction. Truth, therefore, will never be suppressed.

Ipoh Echo: What is the effect of this mess on the rakyat?
Augustine: One positive development that have taken place is that the rakyat today are better informed than before. They now know what is enshrined in the Perak State Constitution and what the Perak State Legislative Standing Order provides. They have taken cognisance of the fact that federal apparatchiks, like the police and the anti-corruption commission, are being brought to bear on the Opposition. And foremost, they all know who the underdogs are.

Ipoh Echo: Do you think that this impasse will end on a happy note? What are the lessons learnt?
Augustine: I cannot predict that it will end on a happy note. However, I can say this for certain that those involved in the “power grab” thought that it was a walk in the park. Now they know that the Constitution has enough provisions to protect the man in the street.
Any setback is good education for the people to be vigilant, prudent, compassionate and circumspect. It will teach future generations how to respect the Constitution, the Rule of Law and the people. It will also teach those in power that they cannot disregard the feelings of the masses. They must acknowledge the fact that their number is small while the masses are huge.

Ipoh Echo: How can this crisis be resolved?
Augustine: Dissolve the state assembly and call for a fresh election. Let Perakians decide what’s best for their state. Otherwise it’s denying their legitimate expectations.

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