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The US democratic institutions need to be reformed

The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the UPR Process (MACSA) views developments in the US with great alarm. For a democracy to thrive, it’s imperative that an election be conducted in a fair and transparent manner, the election result be valid and accepted by all and a peaceful transfer of power to the eventual winner ensues and be respected.

As at the date hereof, notwithstanding President’s Trump disagreement with the election result, it is a relief to the rest of the world that Trump has come out publicly stating he will honour a peaceful transfer of power. We hope with the many in America and around the world, that President Biden’s swearing in on the 20th proceeds smoothly without much untoward incident.

Unfortunately the events enveloping in the US for the past few years reveal many flaws of the democracy in the US. To be fair, many actually welcome and appreciate the US promotion of democracy worldwide, but the highhanded, hypocritical and selective manner it promotes democracy, has also left many bitter and opposing its policies carried out in the name of democracy.

The US has to put its house in order first before any democratic initiative it undertakes can gain the respect it used to have. And the world must learn from the US’s imbroglio to avoid the down trodden path we see now.

MACSA views with concern the systemic problem that has caused a deep divisive schism in America. In line with Americans’ frequent calls to others to strengthen and uphold the separation of powers between different branches of government, the US needs a revamp of its system. It needs to relook the abuses in the selection of Supreme Court judges by politicians and legislatures.

It needs to review the mockery of the Presidential impeachment process which is decided by fellow politicians. It needs an overhaul of its pardon system which appears to allow the government of the day to pardon the President, their family and cronies of crimes committed during the term of Presidency. The system is brimming with conflicts of interest and moral hazards, for the rule of law and a fair, objective and independent ruling to prevail.

We thus see how the House of Representatives impeached Trump because his opponent, the Democrats, are in control of the house. And when it’s brought to the Senate, which is controlled by the Republicans, we see Trump not being found guilty and sanctioned. It makes a mockery of justice and democracy.

It deepens partisanship and division in society. There is no middle ground for a fair objective and independent ruling to be made. Decisions are made not based on right or wrong but based on relationship, loyalty and probably, some external dealings.

Similarly with the pardon system that could possibly allow crimes to be committed with impunity. How can a system allow a President to pardon crimes committed by himself, his family or his cronies during his presidency? This is a blatant conflict position which is open to abuse.

And, unsurprisingly, we are seeing the abuses in the latest pardons.

The US system is clearly in need of a change. It needs a revamp of its separation of powers doctrine. The problem is endemic and systemic and must be addressed. This does not mean however, that other countries are better or worse than the US.

The US has always been selective when it lectures other countries on democracy. What is apparent now is that the US has deeply flawed democratic features that it needs to rectify. Others hopefully will learn a lesson from this episode.

Lukman Sheriff Alias
Chairman, The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the UPR Process (MACSA)

*Also published in New Straits Times.

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