Holding the country together

“There has been, beneath the surface, a decisive rupture with the federal, constitutional and democratic system upon which we were founded, and which alone confers legitimacy. What replaced it was an authoritarianism based on personality. Policy was set according to personal whims of the leader, which is to say that in areas such as the economy and foreign affairs, the country was run according to the personal enthusiasms and pet peeves of individual leaders.” 


FORMER finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah was a guest speaker at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) Regional Outlook

Forum 2010 at the Shangri-la Hotel, Singapore on Jan 7.

Following are excerpts of his address which, among others, touched on Malaysia’s regime crisis and race politics.


“MALAYSIA has fallen off the map for much foreign investment.

“With neither the cost and scale advantages of Vietnam and Indonesia nor the advanced capabilities of Singapore, Malaysia is firmly caught
in a middle-income trap and appears to have fallen off the radar screen of foreign investors.

“It might seem puzzling that this country, sitting at the heart of Southeast Asia, blessed with extraordinary natural, cultural and human
capital, and once a beacon in the developing world, has become irrelevant.”

Recapping how this came about, Tengku Razaleigh said the general election of March 2008 was a watershed in Malaysian politics.

“The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition lost its accustomed two-thirds majority in the Parliament, and lost five states to the opposition, including the economic backbone states of Selangor, Perak and Penang.

“The entire political landscape had changed overnight.

“The formula of communal power-sharing that the Barisan and its predecessor (the Alliance) built ossified into the appearance of an eternal racial contract, a model replicated at every level of national life.

“The election results plunged this model, and the regime built uponit, into crisis.”

Digging deeper into narrow causes

Tengku Razaleigh said unable to respond to the reality that the Barisan formula is broken and the people want more than ethno-religious politics, the ruling party appears to be reacting by digging itself deeper into narrow racial causes with no future in them.

“This desperate response is self-defeating in a cumulative way. As Umno is rejected by the voters, party members pursue racial issues
more stridently.

“They think this will shore up their “base”. They are mistaken about the nature of that base.

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