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Monday, August 15, 2011

BN or Pakatan: The pros and cons

Sulaiman Kamal | 1:09 AM | | Best Blogger Tips

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Malaysia is a land of huge potential, blessed with bountiful natural resources and populated by diverse hardworking people who have strived to upgrade themselves and build up their country. We should have been a first world country with a high value currency or on our way to one like our neighbour Singapore.
But along the path to a developed nation we seem to have lost our way. We now stumble along rudderless, racked by racial and religious divisions, stuck in the middle income trap, mired in corruption and hobbled by racial policies while our best and brightest citizens leave for foreign shores.
What has happened to Malaysia? We were once the most promising country in South East Asia, full of vigour and promise, an emerging tiger ready to take on the world. Our income has stagnated, our currency depreciated, the independence of our institutions debased and our potential sapped as we face an uncertain future.
Malaysia needs to be hauled away from the precipice of a failed state back to the path of real economic and social growth. We need a political change from a government which has failed the people, a government which has governed by dividing the people along racial and religious lines while enriching itself. More than anything else we need hope.

A Flawed Race Based Model
Race based political parties is never a good idea but it suited the divide and rule policy of the British colonists. Each party fighting for rights and privileges for its own racial group keeps racial tension high and is detrimental to nation building. Unfortunately, Malaysia is still using the same outdated and structurally flawed race based model 54 years after independence.
Predictably, a race based political system results in the strongest race getting the most which continue to enlarge at the expense of the other races while the weakest race gets the least. It is no wonder that Indians have been left behind in this system. There is no true power sharing with Umno grabbing all the important Ministries and only social Ministries like Health, Tourism and Sports for the other component parties.
Race based politics is also the foundation for racial policies which permeate every facet of Malaysian society from education to employment, business, economy and investment. They influence award of scholarships, entry into tertiary institutions, civil service, licenses, permits, government contracts and even buying houses. The economy is rendered uncompetitive, standard fall everywhere due to a lack of meritocracy and the country cannot achieve its full potential. Skilled citizens disadvantaged by race flee the country to contribute to foreign economies.
We need to move away from this race based political model which views everything through a racial lens. If any race is held back from achieving its full potential the whole country suffers. But as long as BN continue to rule this will not change. Only a multi-racial coalition like PR can start the process of de-emphasizing race and pushing meritocracy.
Massive Corruption
BN’s rule is synonymous with massive corruption and there is no political will to clean up. Umno’s political culture is based on the feudalistic patronage system or the exchange largess for loyalty which transmutes easily to corruption. PKFZ, PSC Naval Shipyards, Scorpene submarines, bloated defence purchases with no enemies in sight and inflated negotiated deals which bleed public funds to enrich well-connected cronies are the hallmarks of BN.
Economically senseless projects are implemented as vehicles for corruption. A prime example is the RM7.3 billion Bakun Dam in Sarawak to produce power which the state does not need. Despite the excess of power Sarawak will build another 12 more dams under the SCORE master plan. The proposed 100 storey tower in Kuala Lumpur will be another monument to corruption.
Rent seeking practices which prey on established businesses but add no value abound. The most notorious example is the lucrative APs for imported cars. Another example is medical labelling which require companies to buy a label for each bottle or packet of medicine sold which only serves to increase the price of medicines for the enrichment of crony companies. The creation of monopolies such as PUSPAKOM and FOMEMA to bleed the public is well known.
An external think-tank estimates that US$200 billion have been lost through corruption since independence. No country can sustain this level of corruption and its effect is to impoverish the masses. The ultimate effect of corruption is to transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to the elite. It results in the creation of an elite class of super-rich and masses of teeming poor while the middle class thins or disappear as in Suharto’s Indonesia.
Abuse of Institutions
Democratic institutions such as law enforcement agencies and the press are a necessary part of a democratic system to maintain checks and balance. In Malaysia every institution in existence has been abused by BN to serve its political ends and maintain its power. They include the police, the MACC, the Attorney-General Chamber, the judiciary, the civil service, the Press, the Registrar of Societies, the National Registration Dept, the Election Commission and even the Royalty.
As a result of the abuse of institutions we have ceased to be a genuine democracy. No functioning democracy can survive the execution of Sodomy I or the machination of Sodomy II. Both of them require the collusion of all levels of law enforcement from the police to the Attorney-General to government doctors to the judiciary and the press.
The removal of all forms of check and balance has resulted in deaths in custody which goes unpunished and lies to hoodwink the public instead of justice for victims like Teoh Beng Hock, Ahmad Sarbaini and Kugan. It is also the reason why we have massive corruption crimes with no criminals. Under this scenario the well-connected can get away with murder, literally.
The ultimate check and balance, the ability to vote out a corrupt government is also being systematically undermined by the Election Commission in collusion with the NRD. The EC has more tricks up its sleeves to subvert the right of Malaysians to choose their own government than Zimbabwe.
Racial and Religious Bigotry
Whenever Umno faces problems it will try to twist it into a racial or religious issue. After the loss of seats in the 12th general election it depicted the threat to its power as “Malays in danger of losing power” as if there are no Malays in PKR and PAS.
The racial and religious attacks on the Penang government started from the day Lim Guan Eng took office and have never stopped. He has been accused many times for disrespect to Islam and in one instance just because the route of a religious procession was changed. Umno accuses the PR Penang government of sidelining Malays while MCA accuses them of sidelining Chinese. One wonders why they can’t agree which is which.
The Selangor government was not spared as shortly after it took over it had to deal with a pig breeding project which was approved during BN’s rule but then twisted into a racial and religious issue. Recently there was the ridiculous “Christian conspiracy” to install a Christian PM and the unwarranted raid by JAIS on a multi-racial dinner held by the Damansara Utama Methodist Church.
Insensitive racial comments by politicians, civil servants and teachers go unpunished or attract just a wrist slap. There was an uproar over the superfluous ban on use of the word Allah by other religions and confiscation of Malay bibles. MP Teo Nie Ching was mercilessly attacked for entering a surau to give a non-political speech. The controversial novel 'Interlok' was approved as a school text book and steadfastly refused to be withdrawn despite the strident protests of the races it degrades.
Perkasa has been given license to make all manner of racist comments and demands in the mistaken belief that it will help to gather in the Malay vote while Utusan Malaysia continues to spew out racist diatribe with impunity. Meanwhile Najib goes round the country promoting his 1Malaysia concept as if it can happily coexist with all the foaming racism which he does nothing to rein in.
If the BN government spends more time managing the economy rather than creating racial and religious issues our economy would be in better shape. Malaysians are frankly sick and tired of all the racial and religious baiting to divide them and would rather live together in peace and harmony.
Towards a Police State
A police state is a nation in which the police summarily suppresses any social, economic, or political act that conflicts with governmental policy and it may be done outside the ambit of any known laws. With the brutal crackdown on Bersih Malaysia is teetering dangerously close to a police state if not already one.
What right has the police to arrest people wearing yellow T-shirts or make public speeches in support of Bersih? Kajang Councillors who wore yellow for a meeting were arrested. An opposition MP who wore a plain yellow T-shirt to a wet market in Ipoh was arrested as soon as he reached the market. Even a ‘gotong royong’ clean-up group in Johor who wore yellow and displayed a yellow ‘Bersih’ banner were arrested.
If the police can act outside the law what is there to protect ordinary citizens from abuse by law enforcers including the MACC? Deaths in custody are common and culprits are almost never punished. Strong suspicions of summary executions by police have met with inaction by the authorities even when teenagers were involved.
While citizens’ fear of rising crime rate has caused gated communities to flourish and women fear to carry handbags on the streets the police seems more interested in political harassment of peaceful citizens than in fighting crime. Selective enforcement of the law like the investigation of blogger Lilian Chan over an innocuous comment on twitter while highly inflammatory racial comments by Ibrahim Ali are ignored only serves to disgust the public.
As in all authoritarian regimes, the police and the state hold each other in mutual respect and mutual fear. Each knows that they depend on the other for their survival. The state will cover up the police’s excesses while the police will protect the state by trampling on the democratic rights of citizens.
Economic Decline
Wages in Malaysia has stagnated for the past 15 years while inflation has continued to eat into purchasing power. The government wants to wean us away from subsidies but the sad fact is that most Malaysians are now unable to pay real world prices for goods.
Why have our wages stagnated while countries which were once on par with us such as Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan have leaped ahead despite our advantage in natural resources? The reasons can be put squarely on corruption and uncompetitive racial policies, both of which BN has no political will to tackle.
Malaysia is now stuck in the middle income trap. We are unable to compete with low cost countries like India, Vietnam and Indonesia for unskilled labour intensive industries and yet unable to move up the value chain to a high income, knowledge driven economy due to a lack of skilled workers. Our universities churn out unemployable graduates while the brain drain of skilled citizens exacerbates the problem.
The BN government flogs grand sounding schemes to achieve a high income economy but barks up the wrong tree. It begs the imagination as to how massive infrastructure projects in Idris Jala’s Economic Transformation Program can elevate us to high income. At most they will bring a windfall to cronies and temporary bonus to limited segments of the economy but they have nothing to do with sustainable high income.
There are no fast tricks to create high income economy. It has to be attained by improving education standard, upgrading tertiary institutions and investment in training to create a large pool of skilled workers. The outflow of skilled citizens has to be stemmed and meaningful measures implemented to attract back skilled Malaysians working overseas, not the trivial measures by Talent Corp. to reduce income tax and allow a tax free car. Employers must be weaned from the masses of foreign workers depressing pay. There should also be a minimum wage law.
Above all, uncompetitive racial policies which hobble the economy must be removed and meritocracy in education implemented. Easing of racial policies will automatically stem the brain drain. None of these can be done by BN tied to their race based politics. Until then, ordinary Malaysians will continue to be squeezed between the jaws of stagnated income and rising inflation.
Why Vote for Pakatan?
It is clear that we are in danger of becoming a banana republic and a maid exporting country if BN continues to rule. Such gross corruption, dividing the country along racial and religious lines and the abuse of institutions deliver hammer blows to the economy which has only one way to go - downwards.
Why should we vote for PR? Will it be any better than BN?
First of all, the question of being better is secondary. We badly need a two party system. When one party has ruled for a long time in a one party system where it has no fear of losing power it becomes corrupt and abusive and the ruling oligarchy works for its own self-interest instead of for the people.
But it is very hard to imagine how PR can be any worse than BN. Being new in the reins of power it has no time to establish tentacles of corruption. Nor will it have the time or opportunity to do so as it faces the prospect of being voted out in a two party system if it fails to perform.
PR being a coalition of multi-racial parties instead of a coalition of race based parties is a much better model for a multi-racial country and can start to de-emphasize race in government policies and implementation. Naturally the rights of Malays under the Constitution will be protected. There will be true power sharing among the component parties rather than the fake power sharing in BN.
PR will be far more able to push for meritocracy in education and the economy than Umno which is constrained by its racial underpinning. The Malays need not fear meritocracy as Penang Malay contractors have shown that they can compete on a level playing field. It is only Umno which wants to keep the Malays insecure and dependent on crutches for their own political survival.
PR has pledged to help the needy irrespective of race instead of affirmative action by race which is a highly flawed model as resources tend to get hijacked by the corrupt. Decades of affirmative action targeted at Malays has failed to wipe out hardcore Malay poverty. When ‘need’ is the sole criteria aid goes to those who really need it. Malays should not worry as whoever needs the most help will get the most.
We can expect more prudent money management, cutting down on unnecessary defence spending, stopping useless projects which are vehicles for crony enrichment and competitive bidding for government contracts. Corrupted public institutions will be reformed and we may have an independent commission to check police malpractice at last.
We can also expect more religious tolerance instead of Umno’s bigotry towards other religions. PAS has always been fairer to other religions than Umno. Those who are still doubtful should ask themselves this question: Do they trust an equal partner DAP to protect their religious rights in a PR ruled government or a castrated MCA/MIC to protect their rights in a BN ruled government?
Perhaps the biggest reason to vote for PR is that the nation needs hope that only a new government can bring. Umno can never reform from its patronage and racial underpinnings. The thought of BN’s continued rule brings presentiments of gloom, despair, corruption, racism, failed state and maid exporting country. We need to vote in a new era with new hopes that will rise up like the sun

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