The ongoing court case between the defendant Dasho Benji and the plaintiff DPT, will rank in importance next to the first constitutional case raised by the Opposition party over taxes during the previous government’s tenure.
This paper given the sub-judice nature of the case will not pass any judgment on it, but it is important to examine the larger issues and questions raised for our democracy by this case.
One of the popular claims made by the DPT while in power was their apparent tolerance of various criticisms fair and unfair (in its view) made against it.
Some people may have been afraid to criticize the DPT government, while in power by the simple logic of it being the government in power, but nobody would have ever imagined being taken to court by a party that prided itself on its apparent restraint and maturity.
Democracy, though idealistic as it is made out to be, is never very organized or orderly for it is the sum of many parts. Parts represented by a multitude of views, aspirations, hopes and feelings of the people. Any political party, worth its salt should build a thick skin to operate in such an organic environment where there are all manners of creatures and occurrences.
In democracies while we hold its institutions like the Parliament sacred, its real beauty lies in being able to question, criticize and hold to account those who occupy these institutions and affect the everyday lives of people.
For a party that has constantly talked and harped about strengthening democracy in its five years in power, it does come as a surprise that it has taken a senior citizen with a well known sense of humor to court, for an allegedly defamatory statement.
Though the outcome of the case is yet to be seen, as the courts will take
the final call, the case, outside the court, is not doing the public image of the Opposition party any favors nor is it winning the party any new friends. This case. on the contrary, shows the party in a vulnerable, defensive and cagey mood.
The case by the sheer action of a party suing an individual may set a legal precedent of sorts. Given the fierce criticism that any ruling government comes under, god forbid, any government, now or in the future, should get the idea of suing its critics to silence, as has been done successfully in Singapore.
The Opposition party until the Dasho Benji case was doing fairly well. With experienced members and a respectable number of MPs it was making headway in Parliament and impact outside it. The party which was used to ruling for five years was gradually but successfully adapting to its role as an opposition party that would point out pitfalls and highlight inadequacies in the plans and policies of the government.
The Dasho Benji case has served as a giant and unnecessary distraction for a party that was sailing along smoothly, as a relatively inexperienced ruling government was caught in some early hiccups.
Political parties of any hue by their very nature and origin should be at the forefront defending and strengthening the rights and freedoms of citizens in a democracy. One of those most precious rights for any citizen from a pauper to a millionaire is the freedom of speech and the right to criticize. That in itself is the very essence of freedom and democracy.
At the end of the day citizens want to see parties and politicians fighting for their rights and aspirations and working towards realizing them. Citizens do not want to see any party putting its own petty battles real or imagined before their rights, needs and interests.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do
not want to hear.”