Absolute power corrupts absolutely

Malaysians must be reminded that our country needs counter-balances to government extremes.

(FMT) – Is voting against Pakatan Harapan (PH) in the Kuala Kubu Baru by-election going to be detrimental to the government? The current government, through a patchwork of unlikely allies, has an overwhelming majority in parliament.

The former deputy chief minister of Penang, P Ramasamy however seems hell-bent on getting the Kuala Kubu Baharu electorate not to cast their ballot for the government DAP-PH candidate. His main target is the 18% ethnic Indian voters. Some people believe that Indians are, once in a while, the “kingmaker.” And, Ramasamy is arguing vehemently that this government hasn’t done enough for the community, so the time is ripe for a protest.

Ramasamy has drawn a heck of a lot of flak for this. Many of his former comrades in his erstwhile party say he is motivated by revenge. After DAP decided to drop him unceremoniously from contesting the state elections, after his 15 years in Penang, he walked away in a huff.

The narrative from the government benches, and from their staunch supporters is that our dissatisfaction towards Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim should not be taken out in this by-election. Their argument is that the PM and this government must be given the full parliamentary term of five years to make right the many wrongs that have accumulated over decades.

And, they say punishing the PM will simply thwart the Kuala Kubu Baharu candidacy of a seemingly young and bright female politician.

I think we can agree that the litany of issues that our country faces now are not the sole doing of our current PM and his government. It is the cumulative effect of decades of bad decisions, special privileges, shoring up the elites and political classes, which has led to Malaysia’s downward slide.

Voting against the government candidate simply to show disapproval that the PM’s reform agenda is not happening fast enough, therefore isn’t fair. After all, many in the opposition camp were in power for a longer time than our current government, and they are certainly equally culpable for the sad state of affairs in Malaysia.

But let’s take a break from this by-election, and reflect a little about how Malaysia got to this stage of “disrepair” in the first place.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition dominated the Malaysian political landscape for decades. Regularly, BN secured a two-thirds majority in parliament. This facilitated their ease in changing laws, altering the constitution, and generally allowing the government to run roughshod over anyone and anything, to get its own way.

While in mature democracies, public opinion, opposition voices, trade union demands, and civil society movements impact government decision making, in Malaysia, there was no one to stop the largesse and excesses of the administration.

In the name of development and growth, the country was run with an iron fist by BN. But we all know that the real beneficiaries were just the cronies, the elites, and the politicians.

The opposition in those days was frail and was regularly floundering. So as a nation, we kept on re-electing the same coalition over and over again. All the while we whispered our dissatisfaction to each other in hushed tones. We never did anything else but moan, and at general elections, we just returned the BN government.

Through this era of absolute power, the formerly formidable civil service was completely decimated and little Napoleons ended up manning the administration. Finally, the penny only dropped with the shocking, deeply embarrassing, and world renowned 1MDB scandal.

How did we get there?

I reckon it’s because we did not nurture a strong and formidable opposition. Malaysians simply voted for BN for decades because “there was no credible alternative.”

In the end, we sought to change the coalition after decades, only when things went completely pear shaped. And that too, after we gained global notoriety.

By the time we realised our folly, billions were lost from our national coffers, race relations deteriorated to its worst ebb, our education system crumbled, and religious parochialism started to take hold.

We kept voting for BN again and again. It’s like the saying: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. I know many Malaysians, like my folks, voted for BN regularly with good intentions. But ultimately it was not a prudent choice, was it?

So, why would we want to repeat history again? Surely, we realise that our country needs a robust and rambunctious opposition, as a strong check and balance to the sitting government?

If our current government runs away with victory at every obstacle, isn’t it fair to expect that they too, will eventually become unaccountable, like previous governments? With strong opposition voices, ultimately, Malaysians will be the winners.

Giving the PM the full five years to turn things around is fair enough. But we must also remind ourselves that Malaysia does not need absolute power to be vested with one coalition or party anymore. Our country definitely needs to have counter-balances to government extremes, because absolute power corrupts absolutely.