Learning from our neighbours


By Karim Raslan, The Star

THERE are times when we need to be reminded that Malaysia is in South-East Asia.

Even though Bukit Bintang is teeming with Persians and Arabs, we are not part of the Middle East, and will never be.

Romanticising Bersih 2.0 by saying it’s part of the “Arab Spring” ala Mat Sabu, PAS’ newly-elected deputy president, may well capture public imagination but it makes little sense beyond the party faithful.

So, everyone relax-lah, we aren’t about to succumb to the “Arab Spring”.

Indeed, we can learn a hell of a lot more about political and economic changes (or not as the case may be) from our Asean neighbours rather than the Middle East.

Let’s begin our whirlwind tour:

> MYANMAR: Total control means you end up destroying the economy and impoverishing your people.

Telling people what to think and do turns them against you.

Instead of respecting you, they grow to hate you.

At the same time, don’t lock up enigmatic, beautiful and principled ladies like Aung San Suu Kyi.

You’ll turn them into unbelievably powerful icons that will haunt you forever:

> PHILIPPINES: Be forewarned! Under “Noynoy” Aquino, (the “accidental” President), the perennial Asian basket case is catching up on us. With a domestic market of over 100 million consumers, it’ll soon be a major competitor – much like Indonesia.

At the same time, the Filipino diaspora truly love their homeland, remitting over US$1bil (about RM3bil) every month.

Acquiring skills, capital and international work experience they’re poised to turn the republic into a global service centre (its Business Process Outsourcing already earns over US$15bil (about RM45bil) per annum.

Moreover, with thousands of miles of gorgeous beaches and gracious serving staff, tourism will also boom.

> THAILAND: Diligent and clever administrators (like former Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva) need to beware of striking looking ladies like Yingluck Shinawatra.

They tend to electrify the political debate, especially when they’ve got nothing serious to say and spend their time waving, shaking hands and smiling very charmingly.

Never forget, that the majority – will and must – prevail in the end. In democracies – the elite – generals, businessmen and, aristocrats will always lose if they chose to fight the man in the street.

> INDONESIA: Corruption is awfully hard to root out – as President Bambang Susilo is finding even within his own political party – the Democrats.

As the different Democrat party leaders accuse one another of both taking and/or giving bribes, it’s worth remembering that none of this would have come to the surface had it not been for republic’s rambunctious and energetic me­­dia. However, a lively and independent media needs counter-veiling national institutions that can be trusted: law courts, police and tax officials to name just a few.

Strengthening these institutions will take decades – not years – and in the interim there’ll be a great deal of injustice and unfairness.

Ordinary citizens can play an important role by refusing to bribe and by documenting every government official’s infraction with their handphone cameras.

People will only stop cheating if they know they’ll be caught.

> SINGAPORE: If you’re the Prime Minister and you’re facing an angry electorate (just days before polling) who are sick and tired of being lectured at, then the best thing to do is apologise.

Lee Hsien Loong did it and swung over to the PAP many voters, who would otherwise have supported the Workers Party.

At the same time, the government freed up the state-owned and controlled media so that it reported all candidates fairly.

Candidates were allowed access to TV and print.

Then, when you’ve scraped back into office again, make sure you stop and reconsider government policy.

Reassess the things that matter to the ordinary man: housing, jobs, inflation and transport.

Societies change. Aspirations change and politicians must adapt to these changes or risk being voted out of office.

Prime ministers are expected to connect and emote with their electorate: communication is critical and it isn’t one way – politicians have to listen to what we, the people, want.

The days of command politics with its top-down approach is over. Malaysian leaders would be well-advised to beware of good-looking lady politicians.

Humility and patience are two of the other important characteristics.

Indeed, service-oriented leaders will always do well in our region.

Nonetheless, South-East Asians view politicians as expendable – if they fail to perform we vote them out; if they succeed we’ll give them a second chance.

We, the people, are sovereign with politicians merely as ser- vice-providers, like hotel butlers and doormen – who always refuse tips.

Given our low perception of politicians you do have to wonder why anyone would want to enter such a grimy world?