Take not the road to Zimbabwe

How is Malaysia not like a Zimbabwe and how must it not be transformed into one? This is a 220 billion Ringgit question, taking 22 years to be answered.


Azly Rahman

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” – H G Wells

The first convention by Pakatan Rakyat and the launching of its framework for change interests me as a student of Chaos and Complexity theory.

I have always been a disinterested observer of Malaysian politics since the first day Dr Mahathir Mohamad got into office and ruled for 22 hegemonic years.

Many might say that we are better off than Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Pakistan or even Zimbabwe, as popularly quoted. The media continued to harp on the idea of ‘gratefulness of what this country has given to her people”.

Media spin doctors over the decades have played on this theme of Malaysia’s abundance and plenty whilst peoples of other countries live on landfills and huge garbage dumps.

But why compare to these countries and not to Switzerland, Sweden, Singapore, or even Denmark and New Zealand. Those African countries are failed states. Many of them, borrowing Gabriel Garcia Marquez, are run by generals who build labyrinths for their people.

Uganda, especially under Idi Amin the dictator has been a long gone case. Rwanda is a gone case. Sierra Leone is painfully recovering. Nigeria is a gone case. South Africa is recovering very slowly.

Zimbabwe is out of this world. Robert Mugabe was still holding on to power whilst his people en masse eat from garbage cans and get mass diarrhea.

Malaysia might be travelling down the road of these nations if the trend of authoritarianism is not halted. To have one in power for two, three, four, or five terms is a recipe for Zimbabwe-isation of nations.

Nations go through Kondratieff cycles of ups and down and a lot of these have got to do with the political-economic structure of the country and the level of its people’s understanding of democracy.

How we treat cats and dogs in Malaysia compared to how Americans do it for example tells us the level of democratic consciousness these two nations have mastered.

Indicators of serious deterioration of Malaysia’s state of civility, respect for the rule of law, democratic institutions, accountability, transparency, guarding of financial institutions – all these are evident especially after the veil of authoritarianism of Mahathirism is lifted.

Data and anecdotes from the Wall Street Journal writer Barry Wain in his book Malaysian Maverick suggest the colossal magnitude of the problem – Malaysia’s road to Zimbabwe. The impact, cyclical it may seem, will be felt sooner. The street protests we have been seeing over the last few years are an indicator of the breakdown of civility.

Averting Zimbabwe-isation

From my reading of the situation in Malaysia, we will be seeing a most interesting next General Election in which the forces of change will be met with the forces of control.

I foresee that this is a natural progression of this country’s path towards not becoming a Zimbabwe. The old regime is going to face a big challenge this time around because Nature will dictate the process of change.

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said Lord Acton. Essentially one cannot allow many-term rule – example abound in Africa – from Idi Amin to Sani Abacha and beyond. In Asia – from Suharto to Marcos to all those despotic leaders.

The recent declaration of a coalition of the three Opposition parties (Pakatan Rakyat) is an indication of the natural progression of political events.

The end of Mahathir era, as a postmodern theorist would say, signal a ‘rupture’ or a ‘breakaway’ or a Kuhnian revolution (a term to describe a paradigm shift/Scientific Revolution in which the Copernican idea is replaced by Galileo’s) in Malaysian politics.

We are seeing a two-party system evolving and we must be ready for this big change – a “megatrend” as futurist John Naisbitt would say. Naisbitt, Alvin Toffler, and Lester Thurow would have predicted that phase of Malaysia’s evolution.

When one sees the data on the magnitude of corruption and wastage during the regime of Mahathir Mohamad, can one not make a conclusion that we are indeed in trouble as a country? Troubling at least and one thinks of this – how did all these happen and what will be the future of this beloved country if this trend continues? How could the entire nation let this happen?

Malaysians must understand that major shifts in political-economic and socio-cultural are inevitable when the condition is ripe. It is an evolving process and cannot be stopped. The challenge is to accept changes and work within the framework and to become critical of any government that will assume power.

We might even have to learn how to think like an American – either of the Democrat or Republican American – and be ready to depose of any regime that is not meeting the needs of the people. The American Revolution is based on this idea – to oppose taxation without representation.

When the people are alienated from the ruler and when they suffer while the ruler goes all over the world parading wealth and power and consuming conspicuously, the ‘social contract’ or the agreement between Sang Sapurba and Demang Daun Lebar become null and void. Revolution is then ripe.

‘The only permanent thing is change,’ said the Chinese sage Lao Tzu

While the opinion in the article is mine,
the comments are yours;
present them rationally and ethically.