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MAY 19 – Malaysia is ranked 43rd in the 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index (www.prosperity.com), an index that measures prosperity not just by money but by overall quality of life as well. To arrive at a particular ranking, Legatum assesses 110 countries, accounting for over 90 per cent of the world’s population, and is based on 89 different variables, each of which has a demonstrated effect on economic growth or on personal well-being. The Index consists of eight sub-indexes, each of which represents a fundamental aspect of prosperity – Economy, Entrepreneurship & Opportunity, Governance, Education, Health, Safety & Security, Personal Freedom, and Social Capital.
NOT MATURE FOR FREEDOM?
Whilst Malaysia ranks fairly well in most of the sub-indexes, it ranks 96 out of the 110 countries for Personal Freedom, just one notch above Zimbabwe and even countries often perceived as less free like China, Saudi Arabia and Israel ranks higher in this category. The trend over the last three years has also been on the decline.
>Link Info : General Issues - Freedom
Perhaps an insight into why we scored so low in personal freedom could be found in a comment made by Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, the Sec-Gen of Umno, the defacto ruling party of the country over the past 54 years, to a group of independent international observers of the recent Bersih 3.0 protest and the Malaysian electoral system. Tengku Adnan questioned: “Are our people (Malaysians) mature for freedom?” Further, commenting on political development in Indonesia, he said: “One of the problems with Indonesia is that there is too much freedom.”
This is reflective of the current government’s condescending attitude and view of personal freedom, that it is a problem and only they can decide what and how much is appropriate for the citizenry.
ASSAULTS ON FREEDOM
The lack of press freedom, which is a key pillar of a healthy and sustainable democracy, is also found wanting with most mainstream media companies acting as nothing more than the ruling coalition’s mouthpiece and others practising self-censorship for fear of censure by the authority.
The attempts to shut down online alternative news portals by “unseen hands” using DDOS attacks during or before key events like elections and protests are becoming very predictable.
It is not just the ruling authority who shows disdain for personal freedom. Sectors of our society, many in the form of NGOs, have often expressed concerns and protested against individuals and groups whose views, choices and orientations they don’t share, calling for them to be banned, expelled, or even incarcerated. No doubt they have a right to disagree and to make known their disagreement but to deny another their freedom is treading on thin ice because one day it would be their freedom that could be at stake. We should be able to agree to disagree. It was Voltaire who said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
LAWLESSNESS AND LICENTIOUSNESS
Why are we so fearful of freedom? Some fear it because allowing freedom would mean that they would lose what they are accustomed to – the power, privileges, prestige and the right to plunder. These fears belong to the corrupt, for in a democracy, those in power are only there because the
citizens put them there, not to have power for selfish self-preservation, nor prestige beyond that of an honoured servant entrusted to look after the house, and definitely not the right to plunder the wealth of the nation.
Others fear freedom because of a misconception that freedom means lawlessness and licentiousness. They incite fears in others by pointing to the West, the champion of democracy and freedom, highlighting perceived abuses of freedom – the brevity of their governments, their sexual immorality, their financial excesses, the frequent protests and their socio-economic weaknesses.
They ignore the fact that these countries are far more advanced than us and many are drawing some of our best and brightest talents with their better quality of life. Sure, freedom has its risks but can we afford not to have it?
Charles Kingsley, a 19th century novelist wrote: “There are two freedoms – the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought”. He probably understood that true freedom is not about gratifying our own desires only but also about consideration for others. In other words, for freedom to work, there has to be constraints and restraints where the exercise of our personal freedom does not bring harm to others or impinge them their freedom.
In the context of a nation, the freedom to speak, to think, to believe, to express, to assemble, to choose and to associate must be religiously upheld. But to prevent it from being abused, there would be safeguards, guidelines, and laws to ensure that in its exercise, the rights of others are also protected.
For example, people are free to assemble peacefully but they must not damage properties or cause others to suffer. If that happens, there would be laws and penalties to deal with any violations. But to prevent peaceful assemblies for fear of property damages or causing others to suffer is to sacrifice what is important for fear of the risks involved, is just plain idiocy. It’s like saying to a starving man you shouldn’t eat because you might die of food poisoning or to another that he should not breathe because the air might be polluted. There is just no valid excuse to deny our citizens their freedom unless it is our intent to starve them to death so that we can remain in power.
IT’S OUR GOD-GIVEN RIGHT!
We need freedom like we need air. The need for freedom is bound up in the human spirit and nothing could prevent it from bursting forth and finding expression in life. To starve a nation of it is to asphyxiate its soul and deny it its full potential and ultimately an exercise in futility. The people will ultimately demand for it and get it, it’s just a matter of the cost involved.
The lofty ideals of freedom of expression, thoughts, faith, expression, peaceful assemblies, choice and association are not only enshrined into our Federal Constitution in various forms but also our God-given right. For what is true worship and submission to God if it is not the right to choose to offer sacrifices or obedience to His laws, or not to? Is God so insecure and small that He must “force” people to obey Him and to worship Him? Thus for us to deny a person his freedom is to deny him what God had intended for him. It is an assault on his human dignity and an insult to his creator.
THE ROAD TO PROSPERITY
Coming back to the Legatum’s Prosperity Index. They have found a strong correlation between personal freedom and economic wealth. To quote them: “Societies that strengthen civil rights and freedoms through democratisation, have been shown to experience increases in levels of satisfaction among their citizens. When citizens’ personal liberties are protected, a nation also enjoys higher levels of economic growth. In short, the more prosperous nations are the ones who embrace freedom.” As John F. Kennedy said: “The best road to progress is freedom’s road.”
At this stage in our history and growth, Malaysia is like a young man that is coming of age and eager to discover life and all its potential but it is still straddled with a parent who still thinks that he is immature and unable to choose wisely. The truth is this. Malaysians are ready and want to have a say in how this country is managed and to stifle us is like telling the young man not to grow up or speak up. It just ain’t going to happen. Whoever forms the government after the next election needs to know that freedom is a non-negotiable aspiration of a maturing citizenry and you would ignore it at your own peril.