Reporting by Jamille Domingo
JUNE 11, MANILA— As he took the center stage for his lecture at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), the former Prime Minister of Malaysia told Filipinos that democracy could put the country in a serious disorder if not used well.
In a special convocation to welcome his visit as part of the Neo-Centennial celebration, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that the continuous misuse of freedom of most countries could eventually lead to the downfall of their governments.
“All the things that we used to value are being rejected to be replaced by what is called freedom,” he said. “Freedom which is enjoyed by some at the expense of others, often at the expense of community as a whole.”
Hailed as the Neo-Centennial honorary professor, Dr. Mohamad added that democracy could work only when people understand its limitations. “When the people think only of the freedom of democracy and know nothing of the implied responsibilities, democracy will not bring the goodness that it promises,” he said.
He stressed that the abuse of democracy would only cause instability, which could result to the failure of a country’s development.
“No sooner is a government [official] elected when the losers will hold demonstrations and general strikes accusing the government of malpractices,” he said. “The government [would have] to deal with these disruptions and neglect the work of governing and development that it is expected to carry out.”
Dr. Mohamad stated as well that switching from autocracy to democracy to ensure proper ruling of the government had also not resulted in “the people enjoying better life than when they were under autocratic rule.”
He added that the parliamentary form of government could better guarantee a strong government at the central level because it would not be disrupted in executing its primary duties.
“The opposition can oppose in parliament but cannot disrupt and cause the government to be brought down. With strong parliamentary support, the elected government [could be] able to formulate and carry out the poses and deed of the country for the people,” he said.
Faculty of Civil Law Dean and a member of the panel of reactors Nilo Divina, however, stressed that democracy is still the best form of government for a country.
“I think dictatorship will not work in this country,” he said. “Dictatorship will work in this country only if the dictator is an angel.”
Divina added that despite its own flaws, democracy is the only form of government suitable for a country.
“We have to adapt a form of government that is suitable, takes into account culture, norms, values and preferences. [So] for all its flaws and defects, democracy is still the best form of government.”
‘Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely’
Dr. Mohamad claimed that because leadership plays a crucial role in the development of a country, a leader must not be corrupt and must have the skills and ideas to govern the nation.
“The leaders in particular must be incorruptible he’s being so will lessen the level of corruption among those under him. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” he said.
He added that though temptations might come, a leader must be frequently reminded about the dangers of corruption.
“He must be frequently reminded that one day, one will lose power and when that happens, others will hound you and make life miserable for you. That might help overcome temptations.”
“They fear giving up power because they know that people will rise and seek to punish them even sometimes to kill them,” he explained why corrupt dictators try to retain their power for life.
A Good Leader
Dr. Mahathir expressed his frustration towards people who could have been great leaders but were hindered by those who were greedy for power.
“In every country, there are great people who should lead but seeing the field in politics and the fears of those who come into power they are unwilling to take their risks,” he said.
He added that a leader must be as good as his ideas and must know what policies to adapt and what strategies to employ.
“The countries of Southeast Asia have great potentials for growth, prosperity and empowerment. All we need is people and leaders who love their country and people more than they love themselves,” Dr. Mohamad said.
Divina shared the same view, saying that a leader should be able to bring his country to greatness.
“We need leaders who will be the voice every time rights are being trampled, if moral values are being compromised and questions. We need leaders who will take this country to where it should be—greatness,” he said.
UST Rector Father Herminio Dagohoy, O.P. said the visit of Dr. Mohamad to Manila is timely with the increasing positive ratings being received by the country.
“The visit of Dr. Mahatir to the Philippines and specifically to the University of Santo Tomas comes at an opportune time when the world has started to look at the Philippines again,” he said in his welcoming address.
Dr. Mohamad was the Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981-2003. He was widely renowned for opening his country to huge developments such as foreign investments, reformed taxation, privatized numerous state-owned enterprises, and others.
The former Prime Minister also launched the New Development Policy in 1991, which focused on the industrial and commercial development and elimination of poverty. Also in 1991, he made Vision 2020, a blueprint for Malaysia to becoming a developed country in terms of economy and maturity of democracy by 2020.
Faculty of Arts and Letters Dean and another member of the panel of reactors Michael Anthony Vasco said that Malaysia’s firmness in its principles and sovereignty should be something sovereign states must learn from.
“[Malaysia was] not being threatened by some international financial institutions, financial investors and even artificial trends in world markets thereby making Malaysia’s economy as one of the strongest in the Asia pacific region,” he said.
Other members of the panel of reactors were Dr. Wellington Wei, director of the press division of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office of Manila and Dr. Peter Yu, dean of School of Economics at University of Asia and the Pacific.