Malaysia: Change is Long Overdue

By Farish A. Noor

For as long as they can remember, Malaysians have been told time and again that there can only be political stability in the country as long as the status quo is defended. This rather uninspiring message was, of course, delivered by none other than those who were already in power and who had every reason to wish to remain in power for as long as humanly possible. Since it became independent in 1957 Malaysia has been ruled by the same coterie of right-of-centre Conservative-nationalist parties led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and its allies in the former Alliance coalition and now the National Front. For more than half a century Malaysians were told that this was the natural order of things and that to even entertain the idea of there being a different government was tantamount to political heresy of sorts.

Yet a quick survey of the political landscape of many a post-colonial nation-state today would show clearly that almost every post-colonial country in the world has experienced a change of government, and in many cases this transition has come about without leading to chaos and tumult in the streets. The nationalists of Algeria were eventually kicked out of office after it became patently clear that their brand of conservative nationalism served only to disguise what was really a corrupt mode of patronage politics. In India the Congress party that had for so long rested on its laurels and prided itself with the claim that it was the party that won India’s independence has been soundly beaten at both the national and state level; again for the same reason. Why even Indonesia that suffered under three decades of military rule has made the slow but sure transition to a fledgling democracy of sorts, and the mainstream media in Indonesia today remains the most open and courageous in all of Southeast Asia. So why not Malaysia?

The election results of March 2008 have shown the world that in Malaysia at least race and communal-based voting may soon become a thing of the past. This may have been a protest vote against the lackadaisical performance of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, but it did nonetheless send a very clear message to the government and all the parties in the country. It signalled that the Malaysian public was tired of empty promises and having sweet nothings whispered in their ears, while the government continues along its inebriated pace of mismanaging the country. It also reminded all politicians from all parties that the Malaysian voters will no longer vote along racial or religious-communitarian lines, and that henceforth they will vote for the best candidate who can do her or his job better than the other bloke.

If this is not a sign of political maturity and responsibility, then this analyst doesn’t know what is. The Malaysian voters were literally warned by the ruling parties to vote for them, yet they defied the might of the government and were prepared to take the costs. Yet soon after the election results were known there were still voices among the ruling elite who had not yet adjusted to the realities on the ground. During a rather tiresome debate live on TV with a prominent has-been from the ruling UMNO party, I was struck by how outdated, disconnected and irrelevant his views and discourse were: Rambling on about the need to protect his own ethnic and religious community while slandering the politicians of the opposite camp, he merely reiterated every single cliché on race politics we had been fed for the past fifty years. If people like these are still adamant that there should be no change in Malaysia, then we all know that the time for change has already come.

The fact is that the changes we have seen in Malaysia over the past two decades are not unique to Malaysia and are in fact simply the signs of the times we live in. All over the developing world we have witnessed the creation of better-connected, better-informed and better-educated urban constituencies that are more plural, cosmopolitan, diverse, hybrid and politically literate and informed. It has to be remembered that the Iranian revolution that brought to an end the decades-long regime of the Shah of Iran took place in the most urbanised Muslim country in the world then, where more than half of Iran’s population were urban-based.

Likewise it was no surprise that the uprisings against Ferdinand Marcos and President Suharto began in the urban centres of the Philippines and Indonesia, as did the Thai ‘democratic revolt’ of 1973-76.

Now that it is increasingly clear that Malaysia may have a change of government sooner than many Malaysians themselves had expected, it is imperative that Malaysians accept and understand the need for change: Political change is as natural as breathing and sleeping, and is nothing more than a mere normative aspect of modern democratic political life. As was the case with the fall of the Congress party in India, those political parties that stay on too long in power can only grow weak, corrupt and inefficient as a result of the exposure to the luxuries and temptations of power for too long. To its credit, when the time for change eventually came, the leaders of the Congress accepted their defeat and took their bow in time to preserve what little remained of their dignity and standing. In time the party was allowed to heal itself and come back to power – once again via democratic means.

Other post-colonial societies like Malaysia should heed this lesson well and learn to accept the fact that calling themselves ‘democracies’ means having to be democracies and behave like democracies as well. The failure of the ruling National Front coalition at the 2008 elections speaks volumes about the degree of disconnect that has set into the upper ranks of the ruling parties, and underscored their irrelevance in the eyes of the Malaysian public themselves. For the UMNO-led ruling coalition to remain in denial and to deny the fact that the Malaysian political landscape has already shifted from underneath its feet would be to compound the problem faced by themselves and the country. For this reason alone, the responsibility now lies with the leaders of this enfeebled government to admit to their mistakes and pave the way for change, even if it means sacrificing their long-held position of power and dominance over the country. For the question remains: If and when change is long overdue and can no longer be resisted, would not the preservation of the status quo be the cause of tumult and chaos we have dreaded all along?

  1. #1 by I Malaysian on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 9:29 am

    I too watched the said live discussion on Awani which was made to look like ” a forum to condemn voters and opposing groups” by the elite politician. If all the while it was a perception, the debate only confirmed how backward most of our local politicians in their thoughts and understanding even after leading states of multi-ethnic society.
    The hard lesson thought in the recent election unfortunately for some politicians like him remains incorrect. If this continues we Malaysians have no choice but erase completely of their names from political dictionary of Malaysia.

  2. #2 by lakilompat on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 9:53 am

    Malaysian has been deceived for 22 yrs during Tun Dr. Mahathir administration. At that time, corruptions and money politics occurred, RM 10 million 1 seat, but not so frequent & ridiculous anyhow, Tun Dr. Mahathir is very smart and his family members are not so stupid to get themselves involved in politic unlike Khairy Jamaluddin who condemned BERSIH in UMNO General Assembly. Surprisingly Pak Lah is singing the same tune as Khairy in the General Assembly. So, is it Pak Lah running the country or Khairy running it? Look what this young man has done to Malaysia it is even worst than Tun Dr. Mahathir. Under Khairy, UMNO members become “beruk beruk” protest in Komtar, then protest in front of Sultan Palace carrying unislamic chant. Do you think Khairy is fit to manage the country? He even owned a boutique name TENC in Pavillions. Pak Lah is a good person, for his daughter and grandson he is willing to forgive Khairy, but the problem is will Rakyat forgive Khairy, the cost of accepting Khairy ideology is costing the Tun Dr. Mahathir 22 yrs of effort, 5 states owned by opposition now (biggest lost in history since independent), and Royal family rejected PM recommendation for MB appointment, smaller cabinet, downfall of Gerakan MCA MIC & UMNO. If Khairy uses all his wealth amassed from Rakyat thinking that money can buy these parties leader, then he has succeeded destroying them. Let’s pray that it is not too late for reformist to put Khairy into oblivion.

  3. #3 by PSM on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 10:20 am

    The title of Farish’s article says it all.
    I have stopped tuning into Astro Awani’s (& the other Govt Controlled Media’s News & Analysis) as they kepp saying the same stupid things. I have also stopped buying our local Newspapers.
    What they are really saying is ” Malaysians are stupid for denying the BN their God-given 2/3rds Majority” & that “the BN will come back stronger” (by hook or by crook)!
    Change IS long Overdue but it has come & we WILL “complete” it fully in the next GE!

  4. #4 by k1980 on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 10:56 am

    Sabah and Sarawak hold the key to the longevity of Abdullah’s Government. If the parties based there can be persuaded to leave the ruling coalition, then it will be out of office. It is for this reason that in the days after the election, opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim travelled to the two states for discussions with local politicians.

  5. #5 by drmaharajahrk on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 11:03 am

    partners of any coalition should have some say and respect for themselves.

    They cannot be humble servants to the dominat partner in the coalition. They must not be there for cosmetic purposes to fool the rakyat that segments of the rakyat are being represented.

    Even in the opposition coalition, PAS/ DAP / PKR should not just be yes men in the coalition. If something should go wrong God forbid, its only right if the partners question or stand up for their rights.

    No use stability and unity as excuses

  6. #6 by jennifer cheong on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 12:09 pm

    Dear leaders Lim Guan Eng and Kit Siang,

    My kid’s study in a government school in Selangor where the PIBG inform us that school in Malaysia all not allow to invite DAP,PKR and PAS leaders for any function, speech, as VIP or anything at all. Below is the news. Can you stop this stupid ruling from BN government? He try to fool us parents and also fool our kids in school? Come on, do something, at least to show them they are not TOO SMART!

    School heads in Penang have been instructed or “advised” not to invite State Government leaders and elected representatives from the DAP-PKR as VIPs and guests-of-honour. The message was conveyed during a briefing last Wednesday by a senior official from the Penang Education Department, which comes under the federal-level Education Ministry.
    The directive/”advice” to play on the safe-side was made verbally (and not in writing), according to a principal of a school in Penang and confirmed by another senior staff member from the same school. They were understandably indignant at the ruling.

  7. #7 by I Malaysian on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 12:31 pm

    On Jennifer Cheong’s call..

    If it was the truth that schools in Malaysia are not allowed to invite leaders from PKR-DAP-PAS than it is another blunder by Hishamuddin. I hope these leaders grow-up to act responsibly. Perhaps they could emulate Koh Tsu Koon.

  8. #8 by One4All4One on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 1:28 pm

    One4All4One Says:

    March 24th, 2008 (2 days ago) at 23: 01.33
    “First World Parliament in Malaysia”

    It would be desireable to see that the improvement and transformation of the parliament to first class status be translated into a First World Malaysian society, in terms of Mentality, Behaviour and Morality.

    It is always awe-inspiring and impressive to note that certain grand works are in the pipeline. But whether such works turn out to be useful or necessary remains to be seen.

    To me it is enough if people are honest, responsible, accountable and morally right.

    Just look around us:

    Dirty surroundings, dirty toilets, dirty food courts, dirty food served, dirty habits, dirty rivers, dirty lakes, dirty parks, dirty tactics, dirty minds, and the list goes on. One can only ask why is it so?

    Broken toilets taps, broken bus-stops, broken public phones, broken play-thing at the park, broken roads, broken bridges, broken pipes, broken buildings, broken schools, broken parliament roof, broken court houses, broken homes, broken trust, and the list goes on. One can only ask why?

    One sided political power, one sided constitution, one sided rule, one sided law, one sided practice, one sided justice, one sided teaching, one sided judgement, one sided council, one sided policy, one sided committee, one sided opinion, and the list goes on. One can only ask why?

    What should we do to overcome all these seemingly weaknesses?

    It is the duty of leaders, elected or appointed or even volunteered, to serve with utmost sense of duty, honesty, accountability, responsibility and impartiality.

    If such simple acts cannot be done, then there is not much use to talk about grand works. They would remain as what they are, just to impress.

    Also everyone, without exception, should be sensible and responsible enough to take care of the environment and the amenities provided to them.

    If the Malaysian society does not step up their attitude and sense of responsibility, no matter what grand design you plan and work for them, it would be an exercise in futility. Hence, the so-called first class infrastructure, but third class mentality syndrome.

    If the august parliament house continues to have members who could not stand up to expectation, we would continue to be a disapointment and even a laughing stock. The desire to change and improve should not be confined to the external, but more importantly, the spirit, the mind and the soul.

  9. #9 by novice101 on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 2:18 pm

    Most certaily, it’s long overdue!

    Now, that the first has been taken, would the rakyat fall back to the old habit of taking what are being dishe out to them, in silence?

    If, the rakyat does not choose to be more proactive in the political affairs of the country, from now on, then, even those whom we have voted in, will also turn to be monsters !

  10. #10 by novice101 on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 2:32 pm

    worry, shoild be ‘…. first step…’

  11. #11 by lohsh on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 2:37 pm

    Malaysia has finally broken away from the politics of fear.

    The election results of 3/8 are the beginning of the politics of hope, the hope for

    • a better tomorrow for all Malaysians

    • seeing politicians who are or remain arrogant and incompetent being sent into oblivion

    • stopping the ruling elite from plundering and holding the country for ransom under the guise of national policy

    • not seeing any ugly politician playing the 5/13 bogeyman any more

    • seeing the government addressing the people’s problems and issues, passionately sincerely, cutting across racial and religious lines

    • seeing the people accepting multiracial, multicultural society as a national asset rather than a baggage or a source of national downfall, that nation building can only be achieved with the contributions of all the people

    • seeing Malaysia becoming a more progressive and competitive force in the ever increasingly challenging globalization world

    • not reverting back to the politics of fear of the past again

  12. #12 by One4All4One on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 3:20 pm

    Change, Change, Change!!

    THe battle cry of the 12th general election on March 8th 2008. Shall we call that historical and fateful day “3/8”? It is a defining moment for the nation. It is indeed a watershed in the nation’s 50 years of existence.

    No one expected it. It is not even in the dictionary. The landscape changed so profoundly that we found ourself in unchartered waters. It is as if the nation has shed its old self and beginning anew. To some it is a rude awakening. To others it is a ray of hope for the better. It has to be the combination of multifarious factors that contributed to it.

    Incorrect policies, wrong advice, lopsided thinking, unfounded fears, nepotism, cronyism, deliberate discrimination, unchecked corruption, little napoleonism, racial politics, mediocrity, licensed-to-rob local councils, high-handedness, ‘ketuanan’, superiority complex, inferiority complex, bigotry, holier-than-thou attitude, etc., etc. are among the factors.

    “3/8” changes the course and direction of the nation’s journey to the future. The aftermath is so severe that even after two weeks the nation is still reeling from the aftershocks. Analyses after analyses are being offered to explain the reasons behind it. Indeed, it holds water to say that truth is stranger than fiction.

    No matter on which side of the political divide one falls into, it is not the time to sulk or be overjoyed. Just remember that it is the nation’s interests that we are all after.

    It is the time to work together to chart the nation’s journey for the benefit of the rakyat. It is time to wake up from the slumber and be counted.

    Past mistakes ought to be rectified. Weaknesses discarded. Let truth, justice, equality, impartiality, morality, and transparency prevail.

  13. #13 by lakilompat on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 3:20 pm

    To lohsh, that won’t happen unless Khairy is send into oblivion.
    It has been 2 weeks and 2 days, there’s no indication Khairy going to release the 5 ISA detainee. This shows they don’t even bother to fulfill abt. what they promise or announced.

  14. #14 by One4All4One on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 4:08 pm

    To hold The Hindraf 5 any longer is unlawful. The government should either charge them in a court of law now or release them unconditionally.

    What about those who demonstrated against the wishes of the sultan of Terengganu who happens to be the YDP Agong? What actions are taken against them?

    The Hindraf is just voicing out against social injustices. They meant no harm to anyone. In fact they meant well for society.

  15. #15 by lakilompat on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 5:50 pm

    To One4All4One, it is no use even opposition win 5 states, to Pak Lah is just “Tak pah Lah” Kalah Kalahlah! what’s the big deal of losing. Sure they will follow Keng Aik style (Apek Siao) if they call u to release, release then no more face for Pak Lah!

  16. #16 by undergrad2 on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 8:42 pm

    “What about those who demonstrated against the wishes of the sultan of Terengganu who happens to be the YDP Agong? What actions are taken against them?”

    You mean there have been public demonstrations against the nomination of the Mentri Besar in Trengganu by the Sultan??

    It cannot be because that would be seditious under the country’s Sedition Act.

    Under section 3(1), those acts defined as having a seditious tendency are acts with a tendency:

    (a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler or against any Government;

  17. #17 by pgsilai on Wednesday, 26 March 2008 - 10:13 pm

    What Jennifer Cheong wrote above is a real pissed off. Last week I visited a friend of mine who is a teacher and she even told me that the school might choose not put up our new CM’s (LGE) picture too!

    How can they do that? LGE & LKS please give a dateline for them to change all the portraits of our CM & MBS for the states that we have won!

  18. #18 by nus on Thursday, 27 March 2008 - 2:44 am

    # PSM Says:
    Yesterday at 10: 20.10

    The title of Farish’s article says it all.
    I have stopped tuning into Astro Awani’s (& the other Govt Controlled Media’s News & Analysis) as they kepp saying the same stupid things. I have also stopped buying our local Newspapers.

    Me too. Yet The Star is charging RM1.5 weekends (25% more). This is ridiculous. Full of things most right thinking adults would not read :end up cluttering the store room. Which authority authorized this paper to charge more???

  19. #19 by mauriyaII on Thursday, 27 March 2008 - 10:15 am

    Sometimes I wish that the present lot of UMNOputras would go on doing what they are used to. That would eventually (next election) bring down their complete downfall.

    If this useless Kerismuddin fellow has any brains (sometimes I wonder how he and KJ ended up in
    the UK for higher studies; can’t be based on merit alone) he would try to rein in all the little mullah nepoleons that his inefficient ministry has let loose.

    When you have one race monopolising the education system in the country, the outcome is not just deterioration in the academic standards and subverting the system for selfish and vested interest. It also propagates the ketuanan mentality.

    Hijacking the interests and welfare of the minority races under the pretext of affirmative action for one particular race has brought about disillution, dissatisfaction, frustration and outright anger which manifested in the drubbing the BN got on 8th March.

    If after this debacle the BN and the 4th floor young turks do not read the sign on the wall, then the BN and all the component parties are going the way of the dinosaurs.

    Where the MSM is concerned I have stopped buying untill they develope a culture of responsible, mature and impartial reporting.

  20. #20 by penangboy on Tuesday, 1 April 2008 - 4:09 pm

    It’s time. The time has come for all races and parties to come together for a common cause and direction. I am proud to see this in my lifetime. Let’s hope sanity prevails and power crazy individuals are taken out of the party.

  21. #21 by HJ Angus on Tuesday, 1 April 2008 - 6:07 pm

    Just like a new-born baby, the 2-party system is frail and needs nurturing.
    That will happen if politicians on both sides agree to disagree untill the next elections.
    I feel overthrowing the present admin is fraught with too much uncertainties and smacks of grabbing power by unethical means.

  22. #22 by smartee on Wednesday, 2 April 2008 - 7:47 am

    Yippeeeee! Cheers!

    How about forming a shadow Federal Government with full shadow cabinet ministers, shadow Prime Minister, shadow Finance Minister etc. etc. etc? -:)

  23. #23 by lakilompat on Monday, 21 April 2008 - 3:13 pm

    I would say another 2 terms for opposition state to get used.

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