I observe, with great interest, the active and often dramatic Presidential Primaries that is unfolding currently in the United States. Leave it to the Americans to make a topic as contentious as politics to become something akin to a spectator sports. But then, it is often the most contentious issues that make for spikes in ratings for the media.
In light of all this active political drama, I can’t help but compare this to our coming Malaysian General Election. While it is no surprise that the General Election will be called sometime this February/March, the mode here is relatively somber and the lively debates about issues are all but present here. We like to hear issues debated openly and not confined to just small housing estates.
I consider myself to be a libertarian and I believe in free market economy. What is interesting to note is that in Malaysia, we only have 2 types of people in politics- those in power and those who are not. Those who are in power decides on sometimes reactive policies without much care to the will of the people. Those who are not ranges from frothing extremist, bent on turning Malaysia to an Islamic state to aging socialists who can’t come up with compelling alternatives to the present political party in power.
The state of politics in Malaysia, sadly, is broken and highly predictive. We can predict for a fact that the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition of race-based parties will sail to victory once again. The question is, by how much. Unfortunately, this is as exciting as it gets: predicting by how much the present government (who will be re-elected when the dust settles) will lose. Even the opposition parties are “realistic” about their chances. I do hope that I’m proven wrong in this regard but sadly, I know that I will be proven correct.
The reason why the political state of affairs in Malaysia is so sad is that we do not have enough savvy voters. In a county that has never seen a change of Federal Government, the voters are so numbed by years of political indoctrination that they believe (and sometimes rightly) that there are no viable alternative party to govern the country well. Take for example the most successful opposition political party in Malaysia, PAS. Its brand of hell fire Islamic politics will never go down well with the mass electorate because they can never dominate urban and sub-urban voters. After years of seeing how Islamic states around the world had operated, the moderates and liberals can’t be bought by promises for eternal salvation when PAS can’t seem to move with the times. It still harps on turning Malaysia into a conservative Islamic state ruled by Shariah law when Malaysians can see and read about how similar conservative Islamic states around the world has failed miserably in providing for an equitable (in terms of commonly accepted social values like sexual equality, freedom of worship, freedom of speech) and economically vibrant society.
On the other hand, the socialist rooted opposition party of DAP has an uphill battle to remove the perception that it is a Chinese chauvinist party. Though having a multi-racial charter, DAP is mostly successful in Chinese majority urban and sub-urban Malaysia and has never been able to break out from its critics claim that is nothing more than an alternative for frustrated Chinese voters who are fed up with MCA, the Chinese-based party in the ruling coalition. While the DAP has a formidable team of seemingly intellectual members, it has never presented, in my opinion, a viable blue print or plan for Malaysia that is viable nor credible.
Another opposition party, PKR, lost its bubble after Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim was released. Once formidable, it hasn’t proven itself yet on what it will do now that its struggle to release Anwar from dubious incarceration has been achieved. Supporting PKR is like supporting a group of scientists who continues to argue that the Earth is round. Move on, everyone already knows that the Earth is round so find a new issue please.
This really brings us to the crux of the problem. I am not a supporter of the ruling coalition and I implore Malaysians of all walks of life to vote for the opposition in protest. Our opposition may be disorganized but we have to mount a protest to the Badawi Administration that we, the people of this beloved land of Malaysia, cannot and will not, stand for unchecked government that can usurp the will of its people anytime they want.
I think the BN coalition have steered the country well when we our country was at its infancy but of late, they have lost their direction. Even during era of the iron grip rule of Mahathir when social liberties were curtailed, he had the vision and the tenacity to ensure that any Malaysians who are hardworking has a stake in the growth of the country’s economic pie. The Badawi incumbents of today have grown into a comfortable lull, dulled by the surety of always staying in power without the benefit of a sharp poke to always do better for fear of being elected out of office.
They remind me of the emperors and rajahs and sultans who have succumbed to the complacency of thinking that whatever they do, they’ll remain in power. But history teaches us that these rulers are eventually removed, often by force or by coercion from a greater power. It is inevitable because they have lost touch with the common citizen and do not know for certain the pulse of the people and what they really want. Benign dictatorship often lasts no more than a couple of generation before the malignancy of human greed and wanton waste creep into the government. In this era of the connected global village, totalitarian regimes are removed by force or suffer the crippling shame of international isolation. (Unless of course, if that said regime is a financial powerhouse like China- a free-market loving communist country).
Let’s hope that when Badawi sweeps back into office in March that he acknowledges this and really do something that would make his administration remarkable. So far, his first term has been nothing more than slumberous complacency and blinding apathy towards issues like corruption, the economy, equality, crime, climate and education. He has to wake up and as a gesture of goodwill to start working for the people (as opposed to the rhetorical “working with them”) because they have lost so much faith in him.