Casualty at the Crossroads

November 5th, 1998

A friend of mine was going home from work in KL some years back. It was in the middle of the evening rush hour and he saw a large crowd gather at a busy intersection. Curiosity getting the better of him, he pushed his way through the large crowd and saw that they were standing around an old woman who lay bleeding and unconscious in the middle of the road. And people were just standing around with their arms folded, watching - while ghoulish drivers paused to gawk as they passed and quickly drove away.

My friend was horrified. He rushed to the woman and did what he could to stop the bleeding and make her comfortable. Someone kindly offered him a first aid kit - but most people just stood there motionless. A man actually went up to him and said "Don't worry ... someone's called an ambulance." The man then calmly walked back to join the crowd and continued watching.

My friend didnít' want to wait for an ambulance. The woman was bleeding profusely and had lost a lot of blood. It was the rush hour in the middle of KL, and he wasn't sure if the ambulance could make it through the traffic jams in time. The ambulance did arrive about fifteen minutes later and took the woman away.

The history of our country arrived at a crossroads with the arrest of Anwar Ibrahim on September 20th, 1998. The first casualty of this moment of truth was Malaysian democracy - and she is today lying bleeding on the road, a victim of the hit-and-run politics of those who want to cling to power at all costs. Sure, we can wait for the Election ambulance to come - but we don't know when it's coming and if it will be too late. We can look into our 'first-aid kit' for those things that keep our democracy alive and well - an impartial media that acts as the guardian of free speech and the watchdog of the people, a fair and independent judiciary that upholds the principles of 'innocent until proven guilty', the rights and freedoms that Malaysians enjoy that allow us to express our opinions, our concerns, our thoughts - without fear. But will we still find these things when we open up that 'first aid kit'?

Elections are a crucial part of the democratic process. But is that all our democracy is about - putting an 'X' on a piece of paper every four years, or about ten times in your lifetime? Is that what our founding fathers fought for? A democracy can be smothered in a single night's coup - doing it over a matter of four years shouldn't present too many problems. And events over the just past few weeks alone have seen many of the institutions that keep our democracy alive being slowly smothered and choked.

You can stand by with your arms folded and watch while waiting for the ambulance to arrive if you like. But some of us would rather take out that old first aid kit, see that everything is there and try and revive that grand old lady called Democracy. And if we can't find what we need in the 'first-aid kit', we'll try more drastic measures to save her. Because the ambulance may just come too late.

My friend never found out what happened to that old woman on the road. I hope she's alive and well.

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