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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The folly of perceptions: When a leader starts to believe in his own PR

Sulaiman Kamal | 1:47 AM | | | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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Malaysia is a country built on perception. Reality may be far from what we are fed to believe and certain truths are either over-glossed or seriously under-rated by the powers that be.
Najib Razak is struggling to regain his public image and if you read the mainstream media he is having the upper hand, but reality speaks otherwise. And while Malaysia has a well-oiled government-controlled propaganda machine in place to puff its leaders up, and create perceptions that are favorable for the country, reports and studies that sit outside the reach of the BN tell a different story.
The Corruption Index from Transparency International is always controversial.
Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is the world's most credible measure of of domestic, public sector corruption.

The CPI scores countries on a scale of zero to 10, with zero indicating high levels of corruption and 10, low levels. And the most corrupt places in the world are not the most surprising. Unstable governments, often with a legacy of conflict, continue to dominate the bottom rungs of the CPI. Afghanistan and Myanmar share second to last place with a score of 1.4, with Somalia coming in last with a score of 1.1.
The world's most peaceful countries score the best. In the 2010 CPI, Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore tie for first place with scores of 9.3.
Malaysia is at number 56 - in 2010 the score was 4.4 but take into consideration in 2008 the CPI was 5.1 and then in 2009 it slipped to 4.5. And the downward trend continued to 2010. It would not be a surprise if in 2011 the number would slide even further.
It does not stretch your imagination to notice that the slide in the CPI coincides with Najib’s term in office. Back in 2009, combating corruption was one of his rally calls and is stated in his Goverment Transformation Programme launched in 2010.
High human development but low human rights
Malaysia may have slid in the Transparency International’s CPI standings but it has risen in standing in the United Nations Development Program's Human Development Report released on 10 June 2011, compiled on the basis of estimates for 2010.
Malaysia is classified as a high human development country, coming in at number 59 with a score of 0.744; a rise of 0.005 points from the 2009 figures.
The Human Development Index (HDI) is a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living for countries worldwide. It is a standard means of measuring well-being, especially child welfare. It is used to distinguish whether the country is a developed, a developing or an under-developed country, and also to measure the impact of economic policies on quality of life.
We are considered a high human development country by the United Nations. Yet, Amnesty International’s Annual Report for Malaysia 2011 was critical of the state of Human Rights in Malaysia.
Amnesty International summarized, “The government restricted freedom of expression in electronic and print media. Detention without charge or trial continued as the Internal Security Act (ISA) entered its 50th year. Refugees, migrants and Malaysian nationals were subjected to judicial caning for criminal offences, including immigration violations. Under Shari'a law, three women were caned for the first time. Malaysia was elected to the UN Human Rights Council in May.”
Cocktail of hate
It has also not helped that the country’s image is further stained by the antics of the government-backed media, especially the UMNO-owned Utusan Malaysia, which has continued to fabricate news articles that broadcast their way through government filters.
At the height of folly, Utusan Malaysia printed allegations that Christian pastors were out to topple the government and install a Christian Prime Minister. To date the police investigation into this allegation is still on-going and kept out of the public eye. It is apparent that the allegations are baseless and the truth is an embarrassment to Utusan’s political masters.
In response to Bersih, Utusan blames Christians, Communists, Indonesians and Jews as the masterminds behind the march or beneficiary of the march that was also conveniently labelled as a move to topple the Najib establishment.
Indeed, Utusan has put together an interesting cocktail of groups that would have played on the sentiments of the rural Malays from which UMNO draws its support. And while it has license to run riot with its reporting, other were forced to face the music.
Double standards
According to Amnesty International, double standards are practiced when it comes to voices that are deemed “against” the establishment:

* In June, the Home Affairs Ministry suspended distribution of Suara Keadilan, the newspaper of the main opposition party, the People's Justice Party (PKR), by refusing to renew the required licence for its publication. In July, the government restricted distribution of another opposition paper, Harakah, run by the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).
* The blogger Irwan Abdul Rahman, also known as Hassan Skodeng, was arrested in August after he posted a satire of the chairman of Malaysia's largest utility company challenging an energy-conservation campaign. Irwan Abdul Rahman was released on bail and charged under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 with improper use of the internet by posting false or offensive content with malicious intent. If convicted, he faced up to one year in prison and a fine of 50,000 Malaysian ringgit (US$15,500).
* The authorities pressured a Chinese-language radio station to sack host Jamaluddin Ibrahim after his programme criticized the government's positive discrimination policy. In August, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission sent a letter to the station, reportedly alleging that the programme threatened national security and compromised race relations.
* Police arrested political cartoonist Zunar in September before the launch of his book Cartoon-o-phobia and confiscated copies. He was charged under the Sedition Act and faced up to three years in prison. In June, the Home Affairs Ministry banned three of the cartoonist's earlier books and magazines as being "detrimental to public order" under the Printing Press and Publications Act 1984. Under this law, printing and distributing these cartoons were punishable by up to three years' imprisonment or fines of up to 20,000 Malaysian ringgit (US$6,200). Zunar was released on bail.
Malaysia’s image is a mix of odds and ends; an endless game of perceptions. On one hand, the government of Malaysia is trying to paint it believes is what the Malay electorate wishes to see, yet on the flip side, this drives the non-Malays away and also blackens the country's image to the world.
And it will only get worst, as long as politics is treated as a game of perceptions by those in the corridors of power.

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