Participatory Democracy – The Way Forward

Progress for progress’s sake has, more often than not, been the ethos of our generation. What we often fail to perceive is that progress alone is precarious, in that a solution to a problem can bring forth a new unexpected problem somewhere further along the line. It is at the point where we choose to stop and think we have done enough, that it has become a strenuous imposition – in short, we become indifferent.

Notwithstanding the long drawn political theatrics of the incumbent government and opposition, we Malaysians in general have simply become frustrated, bored and to a certain extent, irate, at the continuous bickering and fighting over power among the very people we placed in power to serve and not rule us. As a result of these sentiments, we tend to choose to deflect the underlying issues that are afflicting the society and the country unto others and remain detached; to solely focus on providing for ourselves and our family.

Without realizing it, we have been methodically trained to take care of our own needs and not be bothered unless the matter at hand concerns our interest. We have been brought up to be subservient to the natural chain of order, so much so that we have somewhat lost the drive to naturally question, to critically analyse and to infer our own decisions rather than have one forced upon us.

To many, democracy simply means the right to vote in a free country. In principle, yes, democracy does provide for the right to vote. However, initially, the right to vote was not absolute. It is a right which has been fought for since democracy was introduced, and as such it is a right which needs to be continuously fought, for less we lose sight of it and its importance.

In today’s context, the concept of democracy has expanded and exercising your rights takes more than a simple tick at the ballot box once every five years. Silence cannot amount to representation, and the application of this rule to the doctrine of democracy is what has come to be known as participative democracy – where the people no longer take the back seat in the running of this country, but rather speak up and be heard, lest their silence be forever held against them.

The aim of this concept is to return some of the executive’s powers the people, wherein we should be taught our inherent rights, and then take a step further in exercising those rights. It can take the form of simple discourse and exchange of opinions at the coffee shop. What happens is the gradual cultivation of a new generation of thinkers who question, reflect and analyse before making an informed decision.

Once this process is underway, we begin to see a change in paradigm, where we begin to not only take an interest in matters which may not concern us. We also begin to care, champion and advocate a cause we infer to be a positive change to this country.

Participatory democracy can take many forms: the resultant juxtaposition has seen through the early ages of the British Revolution and the current Arab Spring. This does not mean an all-out tirade against the government is necessary. Rather, it is taking a stance, fighting for what you believe in and most importantly, making your views known. It does not matter to which political faction your loyalty lies with, what you should do is strive to challenge the decorum.

Participatory democracy encourages individual initiative wherein if you are dissatisfied with a certain aspect or issue, it is on the onus of the said individual to do something about it. Be it forming a Do-It-Yourself Community, a Youth Action Group or even joining hands with the local Non-Government Organisation (NGO), whatever the reason, participating and taking an active role in society is crucial.

Mahatma Gandhi famously proclaimed that healthy discontent is a sign of progress. We can no longer afford to remain silent. It is time to be heard, to take action for what we believe in and to stand our ground for positive change for the issues afflicting us and our fellow Malaysians today. This will in turn someday affect our children and the coming generations. It is admittedly of some importance as to who is in office. But how much pressure they face from the general public is of even greater importance. For only when we have stopped caring have we truly given up on our sovereignty.

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