By Dr Mahathir Mohamad
1. One of the nonsense that we believe in is equality before the law. Of course this is one of the great fictions that democracy is said to uphold. But then democracy itself is often not even democratic. The people, the ordinary citizens never really govern themselves. But that is another story.
2. Now, about equality before the law that democracy is said to uphold. It is not upheld at all. Some people are actually above the law and some are far below it, i.e. they don’t really get the benefit or the protection of the law.
3. I will deal with those who do not benefit first. The democratic legal system gives the power to the courts to decide on disputes between individuals or organisations. The courts are presided over by legally qualified but very human judges. The contestants have to convince the presiding judge of their innocence.
4. Not being conversant with the laws the complainant and the defendant hire lawyers to argue their cases for them. Now some lawyers are clever and smart, but some may be just plain stupid. But both cost money. The smarter lawyers would naturally cost much more than the not-so-good ones.
5. Some lawyers have great reputations. In fact some may even be great politicians. Some of these political lawyers can be frightening to the judges.
6. The result of the inequality of representation by brilliant and fearsome lawyers on the one hand and the ordinary run-of-the-mill lawyers is most likely to be victory for the highly paid, brilliant and fearsome lawyers. The rights and wrongs of the case are of little consequence.
7. Effectively the law almost always favours the rich and not the poor. There is clearly no equality before the law. Get a good expensive lawyer and you can get away with murder. Get a bad cheap lawyer and you may be hanged for someone else’s murder.
8. International law is no better. If you lead a powerful country you can massacre a few millions and all that happens is a statue, as a war hero, will be put up in your honour.
9. If you lead a poor weak country and you act against violence by the opposition, then you may be accused of oppression and tolerating police brutality. The opposition, when they are clever enough to promise a variety of freedoms, can do no wrong even when they use violence to provoke the police into so-called acts of brutality.
10. If you are a favourite candidate of foreign powers for regime change, you can do what you like, and any Governmental action against you would be labelled as uncalled for oppression. If an election is near and the favourite is going to be a candidate and bring about regime change, then Government action against this privileged person would be regarded as attempts to undermine his chances of overthrowing the Government.
11. That the favourite purposely timed his violence just when elections are near would be ignored. That the provocation of the police is deliberate and meant to elicit “police brutality’” will also be ignored. That the police are beaten up, that police cars have their glass windshields smashed and the police car is overturned in full view of TV cameras – all these are inconsequential.
12. The main thing is the action against the favoured opposition by the Government will be deemed political rather than an exercise in legal equality by the Government.
13. The clamour is for the police to be charged for crimes against the people. Actions by the police to enforce the law must not be allowed. These must be regarded as criminal acts.
14. But blatant criminal acts by the opposition leaders must be regarded as permissible. In law they must be considered as privileged people.
15. There really is no equality before the law. Instead there is blatant inequality; there is bias in favour of some people especially the aspirants for regime change.