Lee Kuan Yew’s view of Malaysia: An overly-pessimistic assessment

Douglas Teoh, TMI

A news article published on August 7 titled “It’s Malay rule, so no difference if BN or Pakatan in power, argues Lee Kuan Yew” caught my attention.

Indeed, some of the former prime minister of Singapore’s comments were spot on – the Pakatan Rakyat coalition does have many unresolved issues with regards to each component party’s stand and how they would deal with the internal bickering when the coalition comes to power. However, there is one more pressing question at hand: Is Lee’s remark about there being no difference between Pakatan and the Barisan Nasional really justifiable?

Lee: The elitist game of Politics

From a perspective that views politics as an entity played by powerful individuals who influence the entire game, he’s right – we’re doomed. For power is perpetually cycled, and re-cycled among the political movers (most of them Malays). And these political movers will resort to almost anything if they observe any hint of “threat” to their own stakes,  For these people, Malay supremacy would have to be defended at all costs, because this is by far, the easiest idea to exploit.

In other words, this is realpolitik, a politics based on practical and material factors.

In such a framework, as a result of their leanings and interests, the political elites make national decisions that benefit themselves the most. When the elites and their interest groups who support them don’t get what they want, all hell breaks loose. This is where acts to silence dissent occur. When the political elites are ousted, they will still find ways to reinstate themselves; for as long as people need the Malay rights to go on, the politicians will have plenty of benefits and infinitely many (to borrow from the Monopoly board game) “get out of jail free” cards.

Paints a bleak picture, doesn’t it? This is the game in which only a small number of elite people with the most resources in Malaysia can play.

The politics by the rakyat

However, with all due respect to his contributions, this is precisely where I argue that the Lee was misinformed – he has clearly overemphasised the power of the state, and also underestimated the development of the rakyat, as both an individual and a collective Malaysian identity.

The rakyat is perfectly capable of rational discourse, and coming together to demand sensible changes. The demand for clean and fair elections – Bersih – is one such illustration. When push comes to shove, our sensible people can wield power to can advocate reforms from public spheres.

Of course, there are still minor groups like Perkasa who advocates the “Cina balik China and India balik India” policies, but a good majority among us are sensible and muhibah enough to understand that multiculturalism means respecting one another as equals.

Just to quote a recent example: In the social media, news of an act of kindness by an Indian who offered a Muslim cashier (who hadn’t gotten the chance to break fast yet) food, water and some time before continuing to attend to customers was shared over 9000 times. Many, including myself, were touched by such a simple, yet thoughtful act.

I interpret this instance in a positive manner: that the typical Malaysian is not a zombie that succumbs to a rational choice theory dominated by an economic cost-benefit analysis. We are perfectly capable of knowing right from wrong, empathising and responding to the needs of others.

As long as these sentiments are not broken, we can honestly care less about who governs – and instead focus on how the government is run, and whether our policies are fair and for the good of all the people.