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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

From Arab Spring to Malaysian Monsoon?

By Kim Quek

The restlessness for change triggered by the Arab Spring, and subsequently spread to Singapore and Thailand (as shown in their recent elections), has made the recently concluded Umno General Assembly a focus of much attention.

Observers were looking for clues to answer the critical question in the backdrop of imminent election: Will Umno – one of the world’s longest reigning political parties – also fall in the current wave of rising popular dissent?

The clues are aplenty.

As someone who has watched the live telecast of the opening session of the assembly, my first impression of the top hierarchy on stage is that they looked worried and disconcerted. This feeling of diffidence was not dispelled by the President’s opening speech, which lacked the kind of substance that reassures that all is well and the party has the wherewithal to move the country forward for the next five years.

The next few days saw leaders engaged in the usual racial exhortations and opposition-bashing, and requests for more government patronage. Rather unique to this assembly, leader after after leader pleaded for refrain from backstabbing and sabotage from within, for which the entire assembly took a collective oath to pledge their loyalty to party and party president.

In the concluding speech, Party President Najib Razak warned the delegates point-blank that if Umno is defeated, it will be doomsday for the Malay race, the Islam religion and the Malay Royalties. Turning to the “28 million Malaysians out there”, he said bluntly that either they elect the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) for a brighter future or face destruction under the opposition.

Assembly is only warmongering

Reviewing the entire episode, my conclusion is that this Umno assembly is only an exercise of beating the war drums and calling members to battle. There were no deliberations over the unprecedented challenges we face, and how BN will take the nation out of the current quagmire. Najib’s only reference to these issues is his oft-repeated recitation of his various “transformations”, without coming up with convincing substance that these are anything but slogans.

The only credentials he attempted to present is Umno’s supposed “glorious” records of past achievements, which are highly questionable, as this claim is debunked by the fact that Malaysia has slipped badly in every field against its former peers or inferiors like Singapore, Korea and Taiwan. In fact, Malaysia is now struggling to keep pace with former laggards like Indonesia and Thailand.

The inescapable impression that one gets from the proceedings of this assembly is that Umno is fighting for its own survival and nobody else – certainly not for the country, nor for the Malays for that matter.

If everything is fine as claimed, then why is the Malaysian government plunging more steeply than ever into record level of debt in recent years in an unbroken spell of 15 years of hefty budget deficits, despite enjoying unprecedented boom in petroleum prices? Why has the private investment to GDP ratio stuck stubbornly at the doldrums of 10% (among the lowest in the region) since the nineties when it peaked at 37%? Why are the people crying out in pain over ever escalating costs against stagnant income?

Transformation an illusion

If Najib’s “transformations” have worked, then why has corruption worsened as reflected in the unprecedented plunge in Corruption Perception Index monitored by the prestigious Transparency International, and the continuing massive leakages in the BN administration as recorded in the latest Auditor General’s report?

If BN has looked after all the races and communities well as claimed, why has the temperature of racial and religious tension risen sharply in recent years?

Umno in this assembly adopted the strategy of demonizing the opposition and frightening the Malays with catastrophe to their race, and the country at large, with unspeakable disaster to the nation, if Umno is not re-elected to power.

Umno claims that if Pakatan Rakyat comes to power, Chinese will rule the country through DAP, and Malays will be reduced to beggars, Islam substituted by Christianity, and the Malay Sultans’ fate in peril. But this nightmare scenario is easily lampooned when DAP points out that in the 2008 election, DAP only fielded 47 candidates, against 97 by PKR, and 66 by PAS for the contest to fill the 222-seat parliament. Besides, PAS is completely Malay and PKR is dominated by Malays. So how can DAP overpower PKR and PAS – as well Umno for that matter – to become the super power in Malaysian politics?

The fact that Umno has to resort to construct such a ridiculous bogeyman to achieve its political object is manifest of its utter desperation and panic.

Pakatan shines through

Najib in his concluding speech said that Pakatan Rakyat, if elected, will destroy the country.

But how can that be when the Pakatan-controlled state governments have been consistently commended by the Auditor General for their prudent financial management, and distinguishing themselves for keeping corruption at bay and introducing transparency and accountability to their respective administrations?

Isn’t it a fact that their good governance has been recognized and confirmed through the robust influx of private investments, in spite of having suffered under ill treatment by the BN federal government?

Isn’t it a fact that the Pakatan state governments have treated all the races with fairness and justice?

If the Pakatan political leadership has proven to be incorruptible and competent and just in their management of resources and treatment of the people, then isn’t it logical to conclude that such a political leadership is exactly what Malaysia needs to check the current slide and restore confidence and good governance to move the country forward?

I am quite sure that the people have the good sense to make the right choice, if informed of the true facts.

So the electoral battle ahead is a battle of information dissemination.

If Pakatan Rakyat succeeds in conveying the true picture to the majority of the people despite BN’s stranglehold on the mass media, in time for the next poll, then the current Umno assembly may prove to be a watershed event. It may go down in history as the advent that triggered the enlightenment of the people to the folly of clinging to a defunct feudal political system.

Such enlightenment will cause a decisive break from the past – the replacement of race-centric politics by governance-centric politics – and sweep Pakatan to power to usher in a new era for the nation.

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