Lifestyles of the Rich and Powerful – The Tunisian Experience

by Din Merican

Word to the wise. Today’s revolution in Tunisia was driven not necessarily by calls for democracy or the rule of law (although that certainly played a role) but by popular dissatisfaction with the conspicuous consumption of the ruling class.

There are a number of factors that led to the week of street protests and riots that overwhelmed President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s regime in January 2011, including widespread unemployment, rising food prices, and restrictions on civil liberties. But one major source of Tunisians’ widespread rage was the conspicuous consumption of Ben Ali’s extended family, particularly the relatives of his second wife, Leila Trabelsi. “No, no to the Trabelsis who looted the budget” was a popular chant among the hundreds of mostly young men who took to the streets of the coastal resort of Hammamet — where the Trabelsis have built a number of opulent beachfront estates — as they ransacked mansions, burned all-terrain vehicles, and even liberated a horse from its stable. [See the rest of the article here]

The Looter on the Loose

In Malaysia we regularly hear stories about government ministers on expensive jaunts overseas, living in extravagant homes, driving fancy cars. We hear about proposals to build tall buildings and long bridges (mega-projects or projek-projek mega) in Malay under the guise of economic development. And we know about the excesses that take place among those who control the country’s natural resource wealth – wealth that is rightly shared among all the people of Malaysia. The divide between the rich and the poor is widening and social justice remains  an illusion. Fifty Three Years have gone, so what next beyond the rhetoric.

Much of the  chatter and punditry about the upcoming election in Malaysia will focus on personalities, intrigue, accusations, gutter politics, pie-in-the-sky promises. Spinners  galore. That’s is the nature of Malaysian politics. But the mistake that the BN made in the 2008 election is they underestimated the significance of peoples sentiments regarding the nation’s trajectory and its leadership and as a result BN was burned.

It seems as the BN is more sensitive to these sentiments this time for the 13th General Election.  It is not yet clear whether they are in a position to change very much about how they do business. On the other hand, some PR coalition partners have begun to emulate the style of the very people they criticised in 2008 and are succumbing to the temptations of power. Malaysians face a dilemma: who do we choose? The devil we know or the devil we don’t.