The Malaysian government has so far merely reacted with the arrogance of expensive advertising campaigns to sing praises of Malaysia’s well-being accompanied by silence and non-response to uncomfortable calls coupled with the suppression of democratic rights and the harassment and victimization of activists.
It would appear that any sane person knowledgeable with the situations in the Arab and Mediterranean countries and that of Malaysia cannot but conclude that the Malaysian situation is far better off in terms of perceived peace and stability than the countries of the Jasmine Revolution or the Greek riots.
Yet all does not seem to be well in Malaysia. The Malaysian Reform Movement is daily exposing the waste, corruption and abuse of the elites in power. Highly educated and knowledgeable economists warn of the dangerous levels of debt that the country is racking up and civil society is questioning the reliability of the figures that the government offers as economic health indicators. The Malaysian government has so far merely reacted with the arrogance of expensive advertising campaigns to sing praises of Malaysia’s well-being accompanied by silence and non-response to uncomfortable calls coupled with the suppression of democratic rights and the harassment and victimization of activists.
Can the efforts of the Malaysian government contain the stirrings of unrest in Malaysia? Should such unrest be contained in the first place as unrest often foreshadows the change that is already in the air? Does Malaysia have to wait until the situation deteriorates to the level of violence in the Arab countries or Greece before it condescends to change? Is change such a fearful thing?
Malaysia’s reluctance to change is based on the supposed social contract agreed upon by its founding forefathers. This “social contract” is deemed to be the bedrock of the Malaysian nation now and forever. It would be a great insult to Malaysia’s forefathers if any change is tried or attempted.
Such being the case, even calls for the reform of the electoral system is deemed an unacceptable change that must be suppressed with cruelty and violence. Such calls are deemed threats to national security. Have Malaysia’s forefathers delivered her into a time capsule, unable to change with the times and unable to compete with more dynamic and aggressive neighbours? Have Malaysia’s forefather trapped her into the vicissitudes and dangers of relying on her ruling elite’s interpretation of what change means?
What is this foundational bedrock that Malaysia is eternally bound to?
When the British colonial masters ruled Malaya, they practiced “divide and rule” as one of their tactics and strategies of colonial administration. The Malays were contained in a time capsule as poverty ridden padi planters and fishermen. In addition to communities of Chinese and Indians who were already resident even before the British appeared, large waves of indentured labour from India and China were imported to work the mines and rubber estates as well as build and maintain the superstructure and infrastructure of a modern and profitable colony. Each community was arraigned against the other such that British colonial rule and administration became easy and required least effort at suppression of revolts. In spite of this the communities maintain very good relations with each other perhaps knowing that they were being cynically used by the British.
When the British passed on power to UMNO and granted Malaya independence, Dato’ Onn realized that for Malaya to become a true nation, all its races had to transcend race and religion to become united as one nation. Unfortunately this founding forefather of Malaya could not implement his vision and hope for the country. He was forced out of UMNO.
Malaya became a country based on each race fending for itself. Worse still, the British policy of “divide and rule” was adopted to rule the country. The races were split farther and farther apart until race relations became poisoned and toxic. With this move, Malaya could no longer become a true nation. It was condemned for all time to be a rump nation, a dreg of colonial rule with toxic race relations and people hostile, suspicious and envious of each other. Suppression became the only possible policy of administration to hold all these disparate forces together.
Is this what comprises the bedrock of the Malaysian nation?
With this, I would like to quote a rather long passage from Don Martindale in his book “Institutions, Organizations and Mass Societies” (University of Minnesota ). It touches on change, what the bases of communities are and how change usually occurs.
“If the evidence surrounding the emergence of the ancient Oriental city and the new types of economies on which it was based suggests a sudden and convulsive act, it is only what one would expect from the standpoint of the social-behavioristic theory of community formation. A community arises from the operation of the principles of stabilization, consistency and completeness. The resulting more or less integrated way of life forms an interrelated whole, in which behavior in any one area of life is held in place by behaviors in surrounding areas which have come to be bound in consistent ways. Any given area of social life could , potentially, begin at any time to sustain innovating processes; but when it did, the stabilized customs of other areas would act as a brake. Hence, the period during which new communities are forming is usually a time of major troubles when many vital areas of a community are in simultaneous transition. Again and again, when the foundations of new communities are examined, they are seen to have been laid in times of crisis: wars, conquests, and defeats, major natural catastrophes, and internal revolutions.”
To me change can be good or it can be bad. If we are to become a new community of true Malaysians instead of being split into quarrelling communities of various races, if Malaysia is to become a truly united and peaceful nation instead of a chimera of ugly races stitched together by suppression and violence, we have to embrace change when it is due, not resist it fanatically until all hell breaks lose
So… is Malaysia in crisis or is it just the birth pangs of true nationhood?