Can ­­Malaysia step back from the brink?

lim teck gee

Lim Teck Ghee, CPI

In early 2011, I provided a paper to the United Nations system in Malaysia on the various scenarios facing the country, giving special emphasis to the impact of political and economic issues on social development. In it, I explored three scenarios:

  • A best case one where the government can achieve its goals and targets as set out in various government documents,
  • A midway scenario where targets are partially achieved, and
  • A worst case scenario where targets are mostly not achieved and where the economic, political and social situation deteriorates significantly over the medium-term.

Unfortunately, the worst case scenario is becoming a reality. Excerpts from the report below identify the key steps and processes leading to the establishment of an autocratic ethnocracy which would be a huge step backwards for the country.

It is still not too late for the Prime Minister and other leaders, especially from the BN and Umno, to lead the country away from the worst case scenario outlined in the paper.

But time is running out.


Excerpts from Lim Teck Ghee, ‘Malaysia: Possible Scenarios for the Medium Term, 2011-2015’

Socio-cultural scenarios

The possibility of a best case socio-cultural situation is tied to the government’s determination to advance its 1Malaysia concept and its removal of constraints and obstacles that stand in the way. Minimum proactive measures include removing or neutralizing those institutions and individuals most guilty of sowing and escalating racial distrust and religious disharmony, in particular that emanating from the ruling circles and the bureaucracy, especially from Umno ranks and the official or Umno-owned print and electronic media, particularly Utusan Malaysia and TV3.

It also includes supporting the inter-faith panel and other similar nation building bodies and providing them with a higher profile in improving inter-faith and ethnic relations. In this scenario, the leaders of the other Barisan Nasional component parties that have previously been silent, indifferent or impotent towards the escalation of the hate politics of race and religion find their voices and successfully put pressure on the BN government to be even handed in the management of ethnic and religious relations in the country.

Other key stake players such as PAS and Muslim NGOs in this scenario also play a positive role by dampening hard line Islamist positions. External events such as growing freedoms and liberalization in the Middle East countries and key Islamic nations can also play an indirect role through influencing Islamic elements in the country towards more progressive positions that can contribute to improved relations between the various communities and religions.

The middle case scenario sees a holding pattern in ethnic and religious relations and the socio-cultural situation. New tensions and conflicts at local or sector level will erupt and even if they do not get out of control, they have the effect of generating mistrust and rifts between the various communities and religions as a result of weak leadership and poor management skills.

The growth of ethnic group consciousness that has a strong emotive content continues unabated, dividing individuals and communities into “us” versus “them”. The Malay print and electronic media and Malay/Muslim bureaucracy continue to play on the racial and religious insecurities of the community, and Muslim NGOs import into the country sympathy for extreme Muslim positions from the outside that will further radicalize Muslim values and attitudes. At the same time, non-Malay and non-Muslims individuals and groups also pander to the insecurities of their communities and remain skeptical of the government’s 1Malaysia programme.

In the middle case scenario, a few encouraging signs are also to be found. Some integration and convergence in culture takes place and lesser importance is attached to ethnic identity and consciousness, especially due to Malaysians from East Malaysia where there has been greater inter-ethnic marriage, and racial and religious polarization is less pronounced. Some moderate or reformist Muslims organizations also speak out against state dominance and religious orthodoxy; and cultural dissidents encourage the younger generation towards greater tolerance and acceptance of pluralist forms and messages.

At the same time, the middle class continues to grow and is better educated and more informed about the issues pertaining to the nation’s survival. Finally most Malaysians continue to be generally tolerant, accept the plurality of cultures, way of life, etc. and are not stressed out by the fragile co-existence that has been a characteristic of the country for so long.

In the worst case socio-cultural scenario, the country’s racial and religious tensions and divisions reach a breaking point, with the minorities very much on the defensive. The politicians are no longer able to maintain control and the authorities are reluctant to intervene or act except in favour of the majority.

The rule of law becomes the rule of the majority, and the business community and most ordinary Malaysians lose respect for it whilst perpetrators of racial and religious hate feel that they can get away with actions aimed at maintaining dominance or curbing dissent. The country’s basic tolerance gives way to hardened and polarized positions on all sides, setting the stage for instability and social strife.