By Kee Thuan Chye | FMT
Voters, you have to decide soon. The 13th general election has to be held at the latest within two months of April 28, when the current government’s term expires. It may even be called next month if Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has the gumption for it.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t decided yet which coalition – Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat – should win federal power for the next five years, consider this.
After 55 years of ruling this country, where has BN got us?
The country is more divided than ever. We have been polarised on racial and religious lines for decades, but now we are divided by political leanings as well.
What about our economic progress?
According to International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates, Malaysia’s GDP per capita based on the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) methodology amounted in 1980 to US$2,331. South Korea’s was lower at US$2,302, and Taiwan’s was slightly higher at US$3,571.
But in 2011, South Korea’s figure rose to US$31,220 (an increase of 1,255%), Taiwan’s to US$37,716 (up 956%), while Malaysia’s stood at US$16,240 (up 596%).
What happened? How did South Korea overtake us and in 2011 record a figure that is double that of ours?
Some people say the GDP (PPP) per capita is not so comprehensive, so let’s look at per capita income instead.
In 2011, South Korea’s per capita income was US$22,424 and Taiwan’s was US$20,083. How much was Malaysia’s? US$9,656. Again, half that of South Korea’s, and also Taiwan’s.
Najib pledges to make us a high-income nation with a per capita income of US$15,000 in 2020. By that time, what do you think the per capita incomes of South Korea and Taiwan would be? Furthermore, would US$15,000 still qualify as high income then?
By the way, our neighbour, Singapore, that used to be part of Malaysia, has a per capita income of US$46,241, which is almost five times ours. And they don’t have natural resources like we do.
In the last few years, the government has hardly been talking of making Malaysia an advanced nation, which is the goal of Vision 2020, tabled in 1991. It has been more than 20 years since, enough time to consolidate efforts to attain the goal, but we are apparently not near it. The talk these days is only about becoming a high-income nation instead. That’s not the same as becoming an advanced nation.
Corrupt practices and economic leakages
Clearly, wastage, leakages, imprudent government spending and, above all, corruption have retarded our growth. And the problem is compounded by the ruling party itself being mired in corruption.
Is BN therefore likely to address this issue in a serious and concerted manner? Has it been doing so, apart from hauling in a few culprits from time to time?
Shouldn’t we bring in a new government that is not so entrenched in this system of corrupt practices and economic leakages?
If we should, the 13th general election may be the only time to do it. Because if BN wins again, it is likely to gerrymander the electoral boundaries afterwards to its advantage and make it even harder for the opposition to win future general elections. In which case BN will be ruling Malaysia for many more years to come.
Would it then be likely to bring reform? Or would it rather continue to maintain the status quo to ensure it holds on to power and reap the rewards of being in government?
However, if the opposition coalition, Pakatan, were to win, what would be the biggest benefit to Malaysians? I think it would be the concretisation of the reality that a two-coalition system can work and is here to stay.
And isn’t this what we need? If not for the March 8, 2008, electoral result, would we be feeling as important as we do today as the people who decide who should govern us? Would we be feeling that our votes do count? Would the government be listening to us as much?
A two-coalition system provides for a stronger opposition, and this is always good for applying pressure on the ruling party to do what is right and what is of benefit to the rakyat. When BN had its two-thirds majority, it enjoyed a monopoly. It could push anybody aside and any laws through Parliament. It could be arrogant. Even now, it still is but less so.
Do you think that if BN were not voted out come GE13 so that it would experience what it’s like to be in the opposition, it would be able to reform itself in order to serve the people better rather than its own interests?
Look at Umno, the biggest party in the BN coalition. It is dominated by warlords – big ones and small ones. To them, losing their fiefdom is losing almost everything.
Holding office, even a relatively small one, opens the door to potential riches for the office holder and his supporters. The bigger the office, of course the greater the wealth. He will therefore not want to give it up.
That is why Umno’s leaders are going around appealing to the party’s members not to sabotage candidates selected to stand at GE13; the leaders know that those who are deprived of the opportunity will be envious of those who supplanted them, and they will be motivated to seek revenge against the latter.
This may be cutting off their noses to spite their faces because the act of sabotage can result in a defeat for the Umno candidate and therefore the party, but they don’t care.
The point is, they lost their chance to stand – and with it their passport to wealth, like the extra percentage they load onto the costs of public projects to line their own pockets with or the kickbacks they get for giving approvals.
Their supporters, who will also lose out in terms of influence, business opportunities, etc, will go along with their act of sabotage. Why else is our prime minister merely half-hearted in weeding out corruption? Because it’s too deeply rooted within his own party.
So how can we continue to give our votes to such a party or its coalition partners, like the MCA, the MIC, Gerakan, PBB, PBS, etc?
Bribing the rakyat
Besides, Umno leaders and their supporters have lately been trying to threaten Malaysians into voting for BN or face the possibility of another May 13. This, they know, works on the simple-minded ones and on non-Malays who fear unnecessary trouble and would have no qualms giving in regardless of their true sentiments.
Should we not put a stop to such irresponsible and unscrupulous measures to frighten the masses? More important, should we not stop once and for all the exploitation of racial sentiments that BN has been indulging in for the past decades?
The choice at GE13, to me, is clear. A new government will assuredly give us reform – if only to win our approval and continued support. A two-coalition system coming to reality will make politics more competitive and beneficial to the rakyat.
We may expect the media to be liberated; our institutions to be reformed; local council elections to be reinstated; academic freedom in universities to be encouraged; the repeal of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA); the return of open tenders for public projects; lower car prices.
Meanwhile, the current government is merely offering the carrot of cash handouts in the form of BR1M, which it says it will give more of if it wins GE13. Bribing the rakyat seems to be what it’s more capable of doing than formulating reform. Nonetheless, this strategy might well work, especially on those who need the cash.
But even so, we need to weigh that cash bribe against the larger benefit that a change of government could bring. Which would you cherish more? Which might bring better value in the longer run?
Besides, Pakatan also has a plan, inscribed in its manifesto Buku Jingga (Orange Book), that pledges to address the needs of household incomes below RM1,500. This could be a more sustainable approach to combating poverty than periodic cash handouts.
Let us recall then the words of Peter Mandelson, one of the architects of the New Labour Party in Britain: “Elections come and go, and governments come and go. And that’s what democracy is all about.”
When we go to vote, let’s keep that in mind. It’s not a big deal to let a government go and bring in a new one. If the new one doesn’t do its job, we can let it go at the next general election. That’s our democratic right, so let’s exercise it.
Let’s just be sure that come GE13, we make the right choice.
Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, and the latest volume, Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More! This article first appeared in the March issue of Penang Monthly.