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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Suaris Interview: The Future of Malays #4


Suaris Interview:  The Future of Malays Part 4:  It is said that Malays are at a crossroad. This is particularly so with the upcoming General Election 13 where the choice is between feudalism and liberalism. To what extent do you agree with that viewpoint?
[The original in Malay appeared in suaris.wordpress.com on February 6, 2013.]

MBM:  I agree that we Malays are at a critical juncture. Our choice is between continuing on the present path that has led us to where we are today, with our minds still trapped, or make a sharp turn towards liberating them. Remember that the path to the dumpsite is the one well-trodden.

            I do not agree that the forthcoming election (GE 13) will be a choice between liberalism and feudalism, as I understand both terms. Instead it will be between a party that has grown old, tired, and bankrupt of ideas versus another that is young, vigorous, and full of fresh talent.

            As an aside, “liberalism” to me means a system that treats every human as having certain inalienable rights or freedoms granted unto him (or her) by Almighty Allah, among them, the freedom of thought, to choose our leaders, own properties, and pursue happiness. Feudalism on the other hand was the social system prevailing in Medieval Europe where humans were either lords or peasants. Land, property and peasants belonged to the lords. Your fate and place in society was determined at birth and remained fixed throughout life. Meaning, born a peasant, and you would remain one until death.

            Clearly from the perspective of respect for human lives and values, liberalism is closer to Islam than is feudalism.

            True, Malay society today still retains many feudal elements. Nonetheless we are free to choose our leaders. Even though we could not choose our sultans, we do not consider ourselves slaves to them. Yes, we use the term “patek” in referring to ourselves when addressing a member of the royalty. That is merely a habit. A sultan can no longer grab a village maiden for his palace collection. We hitherto peasants could now (if we wish to and can afford it) own a house more palatial than the istana and drive a car that could overtake the sultan’s in speed, price and glamour.

            Returning to GE13, before we make a decision as to which party to vote for, it is prudent to do a downstream analysis. There can only be three possible outcomes. First, Barisan be returned to power; second, Pakatan to prevail; and third, neither winning a decisive victory. By decisive I mean where the buying of a handful of victorious candidates would not alter the balance of power a la Perak 2008.
           
            If Barisan were to win, that would mean voters approve of the current pervasive corruption and abuse of power. We would have gone further, essentially rewarding those who have destroyed MAS, Perwaja, Bank Bumiputra, and others. Expect the greed of ministers and their families to grow unabated. Our rotten system of education would continue its decline. Our professors and academic leaders would continue to be chosen based not on their scholarly contributions but their ability to suck up to the politically powerful. Najib would continue to lead as he has for the last four years – delivering an alphabet soup of acronyms, endless exhortations, and a surfeit of sloganeering, much like the character in Shannon Ahmad’s short story Uggapan (Slogans).

            Najib promised to, borrowing his latest buzzword, “transform” his administration. How could he possibly do that when all his ministers would again stand for election? If they win, they would surely again be ministers. What transformation did he have in mind? Hishammudin becoming Women’s Minister?

            Barisan leaders are scaring citizens into believing that our stability depends on their winning the election. On the contrary, if Barisan fails to secure a greater victory than in 2008, (no one is predicting it will win a supra majority), there will be an ugly power struggle at the top. The Najib/Muhyyuddin rivalry would eclipse the earlier Abdullah/Najib power struggle in its messiness. It would be even uglier than the Mahathir/Ku Li confrontation a generation earlier. The permanent establishment would be paralyzed, not knowing which faction to support. Mahathir has already sharpened the knife that he used with devastating effectiveness on Abdullah. This time the victim would be Najib.

            In defeat, there would be much soul searching in Pakatan. Perhaps their leaders would now resolve to focus on the things that they could agree on that would benefit the nation and citizens, as with eradicating corruption and abuse of power, ensuring justice, improving the education system, while distancing themselves from such meaningless symbolic items as with an Islamic state and who could use the word “Allah.” Those obsessions do not contribute to the well being of citizens, on the contrary, they divide us.

            The second possible outcome would be a Pakatan victory. That would not mean that all our problems would magically disappear. Far from it! First, Pakatan leaders are only human; there would be a great temptation to regard their victory as a bountiful harvest. There are many more family disputes during such times! Expect a not-so-pretty grab for positions, and contentious issues like who would be Deputy Prime Minister and whether he (unlikely a she) would be a Malay or non-Malay. There would also be the jostling for key portfolios as with education, finance, and internal affairs. Those are to be expected.

            The pettiness would challenge the wisdom and patience of Pakatan leaders. If they were to behave like kids at Hari Raya or Chinese New Year greedily grabbing duit rayas and ang pows, then their future and also that of the nation would indeed be gloomy. However, if they were to consider their victory not as Hari Raya but the beginning of Ramadan, meaning, a time to be tested, patient, and diligent, then their and our future would be bright.

            More interesting is to imagine what would happen to UMNO in defeat. Those who joined the party not for the sake of the party and country but for their greed would quickly abandon it. Their flow of opium would be cut off. Meanwhile the new 2M team of Mahathir and Muhyyuddin would be merciless on Najib. Erstwhile sleepy supporters of the equally soporific Abdullah Badawi would now be intent on exacting revenge on the two sides.
           
            As ugly and embarrassing as that would be to Malays, it would bring only good to UMNO. The party would begin its slow and long overdue rehabilitation, back to it glorious past. Its members would now be limited only to those who truly love and are passionate about the organization and of Malays. The party might once again be the pride and love of our people and not as at present, an enabler for the corrupt and criminal.

            There are two other much more meaningful consequences to an UMNO defeat. Consider that the corruption of Khir Toyo, former Chief Minister of Selangor, was only exposed with Pakatan winning the state. Had UMNO won in 2008, that slimy character would now still be its chief executive, with his greed and corrupt ways unabated. Because Pakatan won, he is now awaiting jail, pending appeal, for his corruption conviction. There are many Khir Toyos at the federal level; they could only be exposed with a Pakatan victory.

            The second important consequence would be on members of the permanent establishment, from senior civil servants and heads of GLCs to sultans and professors. They would now realize that their careers are no longer dependent on their skills at sucking up to Barisan. They would be forced to examine themselves carefully and not be so politically partisan. The future of their careers would now depend on their dedication, diligence and professionalism, not their political skills and leanings. That could only be good for the country generally and its administration specifically.

            Many, especially in UMNO, predict a vicious racial riot a la May 1969 with the party’s defeat. I totally disagree. First, in 1969 the power shifted from Malays (UMNO) to Chinese (DAP). If UMNO were to lose in the coming election, power would still be in Malay hands except that those Malays would not be from UMNO. Second, our society is much more wise and mature now. The Chinese for example need not have to parade with their dragons to show off their might. A look around KL and Penang would be enough to reassure them and others. And if Malays were to run amok on the streets, those luxury bungalows and BMWs they would burn down might just belong to the likes of Khir Toyo and Abdullah Badawi!
           
            In 1969 UMNO was still Malay, and Malays, UMNO. Today conditions have changed radically, as evidenced by the recent massive KL112 rally.

            Extremists like Ibrahim the Frog could easily be taken care of. An offer of a directorship or two and trips to Macao would silence them. Alternatively, do not impede the anti-corruption agency. I am simply amused that Malay leaders from Mahathir to the academic Ramlah Adam would pin the hopes of our race to characters like Ibrahim the Frog.

            For Malaysians, the greatest consequence to a Barisan defeat would be that we actually get to experience and benefit the meaning of free elections. That is, by merely putting an “X” in the appropriate box on the ballot paper, we could change our government. There is no need to riot or demonstrate on the streets. A Barisan defeat would effectively demonstrate the true meaning of checks and balances in a democracy.

            The third and worst possible consequence would be if neither party were to win convincingly. We had a glimpse of that ugliness in Perak following the 2008 election. All, politicians from Barisan to Pakatan and members of the establishment from civil servants to the sultan, did not shine. Their behavior brought shame to the nation. They however, were oblivious of that.
           
            Expect that, only worse, in Putrajaya. The behavior of these politicians would be more flagrant than those of the ladies of the evening. As odious as that would be, there would be some redeeming values. We would finally see those politicians for what they really are, worse than those prostitutes at Chow Kit Road. At least those ladies had the morality not to sell themselves so openly and in broad daylight.

            The odiousness would so enrage many that able and honest citizens would now be encouraged if not compelled to offer themselves as candidates in the future. That can only be good! We would finally get to appreciate the awesome power of the ballot booth and that elections have consequences, prompting us to be more prudent the next time we vote. That is one invaluable lesson.

            In short, the best outcome for Malaysia in GE 13 would be for Pakatan to win convincingly. Next would be for neither side to do so. The worst outcome would be for Barisan to be returned to power. Stated differently, a hung parliament would be a not-so-pretty Pakatan victory.

Next:  Suaris Interview. The Future of Malays #5:  You appear cynical towards things labeled “Islam.” Many view you as not being enamored with “conservative Islam” as currently practiced by most Muslims and not with Islam itself. What’s your comment?

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