Today is the 110th birthday anniversary of Bapa Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman – two days before the 2013 Chinese New Year of the Snake and two or three weeks before the dissolution of Parliament for the holding of the 13th General Elections.
On the second day of the Chinese New Year on Feb. 11, South Korea’s global pop sensation Psy whose “Gangnam Style” is the first video to be watched over 1 billion times (latest record: 1.27 billion times) on YouTube, has been invited to Penang to make Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s CNY Open House a historic and unprecedented event.
I am on public record as saying that Malaysians should enjoy Psy’s show, but before and after the fun and entertainment, Malaysians must conduct a soul-searching as to why there had been a reversal of national fortunes in the past half-a-century, with South Korea now two to three times richer than Malaysia and ahead in all fields of human endeavour when this nation was twice as rich and developed as South Korea when we achieved Independence in 1957.
I have no doubt that if Tunku is still with us today, this will be topmost in his pre-occupations, as he would feel even sadder than anyone at Malaysia’s regression instead of progress when comparing Malaysia with South Korea.
Not only in the field of democracy and good governance, economic progress, technological advance, human resource development, art and culture, but also in the field of sports, South Korea has shot well ahead of Malaysia in the past half century.
As Prime Minister, Tunku launched the Merdeka Cup tournament for football in honour of the National Day and in the 60s and 70s, with football stars like Soh Chin Aun, R.Arumugam, Isa Bakar, Santokh Singh, James Wong and Mokhtar Dahari, our national teams have no difficulty in routinely defeating South Korea.
Malaysia won the bronze medal at the Asian Games in 1974 and qualified for the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Today, our FIFA ranking is 158 out of 207 countries, in great contrast to South Korea’s international prowess as a soccer nation – 34th FIFA ranking and as a bronze medallist for football in the 2012 London Olympics.
But Tunku’s greatest disappointment about Malaysia’s lagging behind South Korea would be the nation’s failures in the past decades to make the most critical advance in the twin areas of economic development and democratisation to end UMNO’s political hegemony and usher in a two-coalition system where there is peaceful and regular alternation of political power through the ballot box.
South Korea’s charted a remarkable ascent from poverty in the 50s and 60s to prosperity in the eighties and supergrowth in the ensuing decades.
From International Monetary Fund data bases, 1980 was the last year when Malaysia had a higher GDP per capita than Malaysia, i.e. US$1,769 for Malaysia and US$1,689 for South Korea.
Since then, South Korea had left Malaysia far behind but it was after the South Korean democratisation process in 1987 that the South Korean economy reached an entirely new level of innovation with that last, difficult push into the realm of the truly advanced economies, it catapulted from the “middle-income trap” which Malaysia is still struggling to escape from.
The magnitude of the reversal of fortunes between Malaysia and South Korea could be plotted from the GDP per capita data for the two countries for the past half a century from World Bank and International Monetary Fund data bases, viz:
GDP Per Capita (in US dollars)
In the half century from 1960 to 2012, Malaysia’s GDP per capita increased by 35-fold, which is chickenfeed compared to the 148.5-fold increase of South Korea’s GDP per capita during the period.
The lesson Malaysia must learn from South Korea is that the country could not escape from the “middle-income trap” and become more innovative and competitive without a meaningful process of democratisation.
Since 1987, South Korea has undergone two peaceful and successful alternation of power through the ballot box between two political coalitions when the Opposition candidate won the presidential election against the candidate of the governing coalition – first time in 1998 under Kim Dae-jung and the second time under Lee Myung-bak in 2007.
Can Malaysia undertake the first step of such a democratisation process in the 13th general elections to effect a peaceful alternation of power transferring the Federal Government in Putrajaya from Umno/Barisan Nasional to Pakatan Rakyat?
Twenty-three years ago, Tunku had campaigned for DAP and Gagasan Rakyat in the 1990 general elections, hoping to bring about a peaceful alternation of power from Umno/BN to Pakatan Rakyat and promote a two-coalition system in Malaysia.
I can still remember the 87-year-old Bapa Malaysia insisting on campaigning for DAP and Gagasan Rakyat and speaking at the Batu Lanchang community hall in Penang in the 1990 general elections despite his frail health.
The best way to remember Tunku on the occasion of his 110th birthday anniversary is to fulfil his dream and aspiration in the 1990 general elections in the 13GE to promote a two-coalition system and lay a solid democratic basis for Malaysia to reach a new level of economic progress and development by effecting the first political and democratic change in the nation’s 56-year history.
Only then can Malaysia begin to close the gap with South Korea in all fields of human endeavour.
There can be no better way to mark the 2013 Chinese New Year of the Snake.
Wish all Malaysians a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year.
(2013 Chinese New Year Message Kuala Lumpur on Friday, 8th February 2013)
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