The Arab Spring II
By Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad
Thursday, August 18, 2011 | Kuala Lumpur
1. The Western Press has decided to label the upheavals in the Arab countries as the Arab Spring. But it is no spring as the attempts to overthrow authoritarian Governments in these countries have resulted in bloodshed and serious damage to property and to the economy.
2. While in Tunisia and Egypt the uprising of the people has been successful, the fighting in the other countries is still going on. There is no doubt that one way or another there will be changes political, economic and social before the uprisings come to an end.
3. But overthrowing the Government is not the end of the struggle. A greater struggle lies ahead – that of setting up new Governments; the true purpose of the uprisings.
4. If the choice is to be through the democratic process, those with ambitions will have to seek for popular support. For this political parties would have to be formed.
5. Unfortunately the number of political parties cannot be limited as there would be at best a weak interim Government quite unable to do this. There can literally be hundreds of parties, with none being big enough to win a majority of seats in an election to form a Government.
6. A free for all would follow as the small parties jockey for positions. The likelihood is that no one would be able to form a majority Government and anarchy would set in. This might even lead to violence and break-down of law and order.
7. When the anarchy becomes serious, the only disciplined institution in the country would have to step in. This will usually be the military. A military Government would be set up usually with promises that it would be temporary.
8. To maintain law and order the military Government will have to crack down on disruptive dissensions. There will be arrests and detentions without trial. There will be varying degrees of suppression of opposition.
9. To ensure the loyalty of the junior officers and the rank and file of the military, privileges must be accorded to them. In a situation where the economy is disabled and there are shortages of food etc. the military Government would ensure that their men would not be without these essentials. Fairly rapidly the privileges will increase. There will be a black market for the food and goods supplied to the military men. Various degrees of power will be wielded by the military personnel. And power corrupts.
10. The division between the military and the people will widen. Complaints or adverse reaction by the people would meet with ever increasing suppression. Soon the military Government would be hated as much as the overthrown predecessor.
11. Having oppressed and suppressed the people, having thrown dissidents into detention and having executed some of them, the interim Government will find itself unable to keep the promise to hand back power. The interim Government has now become permanent, exercising power without being answerable to anyone but itself.
12. Egyptians should know this cycle. The military overthrew the king for various reasons. The people supported the military coup. But soon the military Government became authoritarian. As the leader aged, attempts would be made to create a dynasty. The leader wants to be succeeded by members of his family. The situation becomes intolerable again.
13. To ensure that this cycle would not repeat, democracy must be made to work. There cannot be too many political parties. The most successful democracies have very few parties, often only two. Somehow or other the leaders of the many parties must come together so as to form big parties with the capacity to gain a majority of the seats in Parliament.
14. The people too need to reject sectarian interests, be they racial, religious, ideological or territorial.
15. The most important mindset for everyone to accept is that no one would get everything that he or his sect considers as being their entitlement. Everyone has to make some sacrifice so that there would be room for the others to participate.
16. With this it would be possible for the many small parties to come together and form a unitary party or a coalition. The enlarged party would then have sufficient support to win a majority of the seats in order to form a credible Government.
17. The other need is for everyone to accept that in a democratic contest there will be winners and losers. It is important that everyone should accept losing. If not the winners would find themselves unable to govern the country as the losers would undermine the stability of the country which is required for a Government to function.
18. If the leaders and the people accept these two things, i.e. the willingness to downplay sectarian rights or entitlements at least partially and the willingness to accept defeat in elections, then democracy will work and elections will identify the party and the leaders who will form the Government.
19. If a unitary party is not possible than a coalition of parties should be formed.
20. This is a pre-election coalition. It is different from a coalition formed after elections when no party has won a majority to form the Government. A coalition of convenience such as this will always be held to ransom by the smaller party or parties which help to make up the necessary majority. A defection would result in the Government falling. The smaller party could then join the opposition to give it enough seats to form a Government. Clearly a post election coalition results in the tail wagging the dog.
21. A pre-election coalition would be more stable. The parties in the coalition could agree to the allocation of seats so that the coalition members would not contest against each other. Instead they should all support the coalition candidate no matter from which party he comes. This will ensure there will be no split in the votes of the coalition. By voting for a candidate from another coalition member, the party and its supporters can expect the other parties to vote for its candidates in the constituency allocated to it. Thus even if the number of supporters of a small party in the allocated constituency is not sufficient to ensure winning, the support of the supporters of the other coalition members can be sufficient to give its candidate a majority.
22. On the other hand if the individual parties put up candidates against each other in a constituency, the votes would be split. There will still be a winner but the split among voters would mean that the winner’s votes would often be less than a real majority of 50 per cent plus.
23. Assuming that there is understanding of the workings of democracy on the part of the people and the leaders, there would still be the minority extremists in all the groups who would object to any dilution of their beliefs or ideology. Extremists wield a far bigger influence in politics than is warranted by their numbers.
24. They frighten the moderates and the rationalists into undermining efforts at reconciling with others.
25. Usually no one among the moderates would want to take an open stand against the extremists. They fear being accused of betrayals and so losing support. In extreme cases the extremists may become violent to the point of assassinating the alleged betrayers of the cause.
26. A great deal of skill and diplomacy would be required to nullify the influence of the extremists. In countries where violence is a way of life; a creed, it will be very difficult. Such countries will be unstable when adopting democratic ways. There will be some degree of anarchy. And as has been pointed out earlier, anarchy is likely to result in military coups and authoritarian military Governments.
27. In the end it is up to the people whether they want a good Government or not. Democracy will give them a choice but democracy requires an understanding of its limitations. If this is understood and the rights are not abused, then democracy will give a good Government.