The cover of Aliran Monthly back in 1993: It’s been a long journey for Malaysians longing for change
Even a cursory consideration of the Pakatan performance as administrators of five states will establish that they are fair, reasonable and, most importantly, not corrupt, observes Tommy Thomas.
Imagine Britain being governed by the same political party, say, Labour, for 55 successive years from 1957. Or the United States by the Republican party for the same continuous, unbroken period. That has been Malaysia’s fate since Merdeka.
The 13th General Elections, which must be held before 28 June 2013, gives Malaysians an opportunity to break free from the monopoly of political power exercised by Umno, first, in the guise of the Alliance and subsequently as Barisan Nasional.
The five years between the 12th General Elections in March 2008 and the 13th have been a watershed period in post-independent Malaysia because of the establishment of a truly functioning two-party system, with a strong opposition capable of forming the next government.
But it took half a century for our nation to accomplish this stage of democratic development. Like many peoples of nations emerging from colonial rule in the Third World, Malaysians were very grateful to the Alliance party, led by Prime Minister Tengku Abdul Rahman, for gaining independence from the British. The reservoir of goodwill for nationalist independence fighters greatly assisted Umno in the early decades.
Race, which the colonial power had exploited in its divide-and-rule policy, became the singular fundamental feature of Malaysian politics since Merdeka, reflected at the centre by the Alliance coalition comprising Umno, MCA and MIC, each representing a specific race, and expected to pursue the interests of its ethnic constituency. In the early days, Umno acted as the elder brother, with a semblance of contribution from its junior siblings, MCA and MIC. But there was never a question of parity.
After the National Operations Council (NOC) through its Director, Tun Razak, assumed actual power in the wake of the 13 May 1969 riots (which itself was a coup de’ etat against the continued leadership of Tengku), Umno’s ascendency and dominance were never questioned. Hence the practical reality since the early 1970s is that Barisan is actually Umno, and major decisions affecting the nation are more often than not taken in the inner recesses of Umno, rather than the Cabinet.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 resulted in an Islamic resurgence across the globe. It had its influence in Malaysia by the mid-1980s, when Prime Minister Dr Mahathir decided to outflank Pas by taking up Islam as a political ideology and weapon.
Thus, Umno added religion to race, a powerful emotive cocktail in a plural society. Race or religion infects nearly every decision made by Umno, and the state apparatus controlled by it. It will therefore not be an understatement to describe race and religion as the fundamental elements of modern Malaysian politics.
Perhaps the most unacceptable consequence of a lengthy rule by Umno is its control over all the nation’s public institutions, like the media, the universities, the civil service and the police. Length of governance creates rulers who believe they have a divine right to rule, that,there is no longer any difference between the nation state and the ruling party – they become inseparable. Thus, Umno has behaved as if its interests are identical with those of Malaysia’s.
When genuine support for Umno ebbed over time, a climate of fear was developed, with the spectre of May 13 repeated time and time again to intimidate and frighten the electorate, especially the older generation and non-Malays.
The success of Pakatan in depriving Barisan of the much vaunted two thirds majority in Parliament, winning 10 out of 11 Parliamentary seats in Kuala Lumpur, and capturing power in five states in March 2008 forever demolished the myth of Umno’s invincibility.
Even if ethnic-based politics played a role in securing Merdeka and governing an infant nation, they have long outlived their use, and should be jettisoned. The next stage in Malaysia’s evolving democracy is a change of national government. As night follows day, it will inevitably happen.
The Deepak saga currently hogging the internet media, which has for all practical purposes became the mainstream media for millions of Malaysians disgusted with the putrid reporting of newspapers, epitomises the depths to which our public life has descended: only a basket nation like Zimbabwe can provide an adequate parallel.
Here is an absolutely unknown businessman of a minority ethnic group without any known institutional support mocking the Prime Minister and his wife for over one month without anyone from Umno defending them.
One would have thought that such repeated public criticism of Umno’s president constitutes a direct challenge to the entire party, which in the past was always met with a stinging rebuttal from Umno, and thereafter by the full might of the state. One only needs to recall strident calls just months ago to revoke the citizenship of Ambiga Sreenevasan, also a member of the same minority ethnic group, when she bravely led Bersih’s legitimate struggle for electoral return.
What must be kept in mind about Deepak’s allegations is their gravity: after all it concerns the barbarous murder of a Mongolian mother visiting her alleged lover in Kuala Lumpur, and its cover-up. The critical issue in her murder – who gave the instructions to the two patsies to C4 her – has never been investigated, and the perpetrators have never been charged.
Read more at: http://aliran.com/11506.html