By Al Tugauw aka Sarawak Headhunter

The fundamental democratic concept or doctrine of separation of powers originated from the writings of Montesquieu in "The Spirit of the Laws", published anonymously in 1748.

He propounded the need for a constitutional government with three separate branches, the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary, each with distinct and separate powers and defined abilities that in theory would act to check each other and thereby to prevent abuse of power, developed through a system of checks and balances.

This was deemed crucial to the basic foundation of representative democracy that would see the ultimate power of the people reside in their elected representatives in the Legislature and to some extent the Executive and the Judiciary, collectively called the "Government".

Whether the separation of powers and constitutional checks have proved effective to curb abuse of power by persons prone to such abuse who may be elected to office still remains questionable. Governments run by such people tend to get out of control, especially when they have access to the wealth of the land by the powers vested in them, however "democratically".

The ultimate arbiter of abuse of power is supposedly the opinion and will of the people, expressed democratically through regular elections. However, even the so-called opinion or will of the people can be subverted by those in power, thereby rendering their positions actually illegitimate even if clothed with some vestiges of legitimacy.

Such subversion comes in many forms, such as police action, control of mass media, direct and indirect abuse of any and all branches of government, electoral system abuse (gerrymandering and disproportionate representation, electoral bribery, for example), money politics, outright bribery, corruption, influence peddling, intimidation, etc., some barely perceived as being abuse of power but often systemic in nature and justified by the abusers. 

Governments become oppressive and illegitimate especially when they ignore or even subvert the doctrine of separation of powers. They become extremely resistant to change and continue to exist only to perpetuate their own power, wealth and influence in the interests of a select few and not the general public good.

Such governments are difficult to remove or change, even though it would be in the best interests of the general public good that they be removed or changed.

That is the situation that Malaysia finds itself in now, with an almost complete breakdown of separation of powers in government.

"It is natural for a republic to have only a small territory; otherwise it cannot long subsist. In an extensive republic there are men of large fortunes, and consequently of less moderation; there are trusts too considerable to be placed in any single subject; he has interests of his own; he soon begins to think that he may be happy and glorious by oppressing his fellow-citizens; and that he may raise himself to grandeur on the ruins of his country".

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