Deciding Who To Vote For In the Next Election

by M. Bakri Musa

Downstream Analysis: Pakatan Victory Best Outcome
(Third of Four Parts)

The best outcome would be a decisive Pakatan victory. This is the only way to effect much-needed change, specifically to end the current culture of corruption, cronyism and rent-seeking that is enmeshed and fast becoming the fabric of our – specifically Malay – society. Again addressing those under the sway of Perkasa and Ketuanan Melayu, Malays will never advance until we get rid of this destructive culture, of which UMNO is the prime enabler.

I am heartened that more than half of PKR’s candidates are new, with a substantial number of young faces. We can only bring about change with new personnel. Najib considers recycled and rethreads as fresh. How can he ever hope to transform the country with the same tired, tainted, and tattered team? It is significant that he has resurrected Isa Samad, the character suspended from UMNO a few years ago for “money politics!” Truly scraping the very bottom of the barrel! Rest assured that tainted characters like him will be in Najib’s cabinet.

Malaysia’s myriad problems would not miraculously vanish with a Pakatan victory; they may well get worse, at least in the short term. After the long drought years, it would only be human to expect Pakatan leaders and their patrons to treat their victory as durian runtoh (bountiful harvest) and get carried away with their excesses. It is to be noted that there are more family squabbles during the good times than during the lean.

Expect them to behave like the long-deprived family that had won a big lottery just before Christmas, Hari Raya, or Chinese New Year. Expect greedy squabbles on who would get the more expensive presents, the bigger duit raya, or more generous ang pows. Likewise, expect predictable fights over who would be Deputy Prime Minister, specifically whether he (or she, though unlikely) should be a Malay, and fights over critical portfolios like Finance, Education, and Home Affairs.

I am confident that under Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership, Pakatan would overcome these expected teething problems. Many still harbor doubts about him. However, I have tremendous faith in the human capacity to change. Anwar today is a much better person and an immensely wiser leader then he was 15 years ago. He has been through a dramatic reversal of fate, been literally battered, and survived nearly six years in jail until his conviction was overturned. Lesser mortals would have been crushed but Anwar emerged stronger with his reputation enhanced.

Anwar is not dumb. His years in solitary confinement have taught him a thing or two about fate and human nature. He is now well-tempered steel, not easily corroded, and able to withstand the tempest, exactly the kind of leader the country needs.

The chief of police who battered Anwar was finally convicted and jailed. It is significant that Mahathir and others in UMNO have yet to express regret much less condemn the despicable performance of this chief of police. That reflects the ethos of Najib, Mahathir and UMNO. That will never change; hence the need to get rid of them.

The religiously inclined, more pious or less worldly-driven PAS leaders would be a positive influence. They would impress upon their Pakatan colleagues to regard their victory not as a cause for celebration as with a Hari Raya, but the beginning of a long difficult stretch, as with the start of Ramadan. Their victory should call for restraint, patience, and generosity; a time for shared sacrifices, not a fight over the spoils of victory. There will be plenty of time to celebrate later, when they have successfully completed their fast (their programs bearing results).

There would also be the inevitable temptation to reward old stalwarts for their loyalty and past efforts. Yes, by all means thank and honor them but the nation now needs a new beginning. We need new leaders. It would be a tough sell but that has to be done, and done gently, firmly, and with class as well as magnanimity. The torch has passed on to a new generation. It is time for the elders to step aside, tough though that may be for some.

The more human and thus likely response from them would be, “Finally it is our turn!” Those seniors would then look upon the younger leaders not as the next generation of torch bearers but usurpers. “We have struggled for decades and now these upstarts are grabbing the rewards from us!”

Were the older leaders to react that way, it would be a tragedy for them as well as the party and country.

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new, / And God fulfills himself in many ways” (48,49) wrote Tennyson in “The Passing of Arthur,” “Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.” (50) That newness after the election refers not just to a new party but also a new generation.

Those seniors should instead heed this Tennysonian wisdom: “When every morning brought a noble chance, / And every chance brought out a noble knight.” (38,39) The 2013 election will be a new morning for Malaysia, and with that our chance for a new noble knight. We should seize upon that.

There are other potential dangers, of course. If perchance PAS were to win big relative to the other members of Pakatan, then expect its leaders to overreach. They would want to immediately implement hudud and declare an Islamic state. That would fatally split the coalition and be a tragedy for the country.

With its sizeable victory PAS could be the de facto ruling party. Its members could threaten or be bribed by UMNO to “return to the fold.” Historically PAS was an UMNO splinter group. UMNO would not hesitate to throw its non-Malay partners MCA and MIC under the bus, if that be the condition imposed by PAS. UMNO would do anything to hold on to power.

If that were to happen, non-Malays have every reason to be worried. I do not expect another race riot. Malaysians are now too smart and too far developed socio-economically to fall for such chauvinism. Instead what would happen would be a massive brain drain and capital flight out of the country. This time those highly educated non-Malays would be joined by Malays, at least those who have qualifications recognized outside of Malaysia. Those Malays have seen Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan; they have no wish for Malaysia to be like those countries.

An UMNO-PAS coalition would survive; the demographic supports that. The nation however, would not, at least not in its current form.

Lastly, a Pakatan victory will have a salutary effect on UMNO. Presently it is burdened with corrupt, incompetent and sclerotic leadership. Despite Najib’s much-ballyhooed and increasingly futile “transformation” and “change or be changed” exhortations, the party is incapable of reform and self-renewal. Deprived of the loot from having lost political power, a defeated UMNO would quickly implode. That would be the bad news for the party.

The good news is that only the honest, competent, and committed would be left. They would rebuild UMNO slowly and painfully, inspired by its past glories. The example of Mexico’s PRI cited earlier is instructive.

There are fear mongers out there intimating that we risk another horrific May 13 with a Barisan loss. The irresponsibility factor aside, such fears are misplaced. If Malays are easily swayed by frothy mouths like Ibrahim Katak, then we have a far greater problem. Non-Malays are smart enough not to be bothered by characters like him. The Ibrahim Kataks could easily be bought out and effectively silenced by a few cheap directorships.

What I fear more is not a Malay versus non-Malay riot, rather a vicious and protracted intra-Malay conflict. Intra-communal conflicts have always been underestimated. Syrians now suffer much worse then when their country was at war with Israel. Further back, the communists in China killed more Chinese than they did the invading Japanese. Malays now are more deeply polarized along social, political, and religious lines. The fact that our leaders across the spectrum are blissfully unaware of these simmering fault lines makes them all the more dangerous.

The recent Lahad Datuk incursion in Sabah was widely viewed as an “invasion.” Stripped of the nationalistic jingoism and militaristic bravado, it was nothing more than an intra-ethnic fight. What startled and frightened me most about the incident was that the most virulent and violent sentiments were expressed not by non-Malays but Malays. Not a single person, least of all a Malay, had suggested any peaceful solution. It took a foreigner in the person of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to urge an end to the violence and to encourage dialogue for a peaceful resolution.

I view the current racial taunting and fear mongering as nothing more than Barisan’s crude and ineffective tactic into scaring Malaysians from voting for the opposition.

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