WE will know who the next president of the world’s most powerful and influential country is in a matter of hours. Since the United States is seen as a trendsetter for democracy, we hope there will be a smooth transition of power with all the bitter language and ugliness on the campaign trails forgotten and buried. Americans must unite and get together as a nation to uphold the core values that make their country great so that they have the moral authority to continue leading the world for peace and prosperity.
Experienced commentators are saying that whoever is president, Americans are confident their fundamental liberties and rights will not be affected because their constitution has the mechanism of checks and balance to ensure even a maverick president can be brought under the control of Congress and the Supreme Court and also by their free media. While Washington may continue with the usual bickering between the White House and Congress on the big decisions, their democracy at state and county levels will remain strong to serve the people as there is a lot of financial autonomy at the lower levels of government to ensure that public services can go on as usual at the grassroots.
I am confident the New York stock exchange, which is the nerve centre of the American economy and a barometer for the world economy, will remain calm after the election just as it was not rattled by the 9/11 jihadist suicide attacks in 2001 which brought down the World Trade Centre buildings close by.
This brings me to the point that Malaysia too must develop its system of governance that is strong and credible in upholding the constitution and safeguarding the rights of citizens for justice, so that whatever the changes on the political front, whatever terrorist attacks or natural disasters that may happen, the country will remain as stable as a rock.
As has been frequently mentioned, there are a number of reforms which are essential for strengthening the institutions of government so that they can provide stability and continuity in the life of the nation. Most important are reforms to uphold the rule of law and provide the checks and balance to curb the abuse of power by those in authority.
To achieve this, we need institutional changes to empower parliament, the judiciary, law enforcement agencies, civil service and the religious authorities to be professional, independent , free of ministerial control and not politicised. At the people level, they too need to be empowered by granting them their human rights including freedom of speech so that civil society can play its role as the public conscience for clean and responsible government. Financial and administrative autonomy to the state governments will strengthen the democratic system at the primary levels and enable public administration to function smoothly whatever the political logjams at the central government.
Malaysians can learn from the experiences of developed countries that good democracies are resilient to the surprises and tragedies that can happen and strike at any time and deal with them in an orderly manner. This is because of the inclusiveness of their governance system, professional integrity of their institutions, partnership with their civil society and the free media, and tolerance for diversity in opinions – all of which create the enabling environment for finding solutions to problems in a peaceful and civilised manner.