Monday, July 21, 2008

The Malaysian Politic of “Unstoppable Forces against Immovable Object”

“Batman: The Dark Knight” make its remarkable debut recently and threaten to rewrite some of those blockbuster records. Besides adoring the battle actions and Batman’s high technology gargets, the Malaysian audience could seriously ponder the Joker’s metaphor about his battle with Batman, mentioned towards the end of the movie: “unstoppable forces against immovable object”. Well, it is similar with the battle between the Pakatan Rakyat’s “unstoppable” forces of Makkal Sakhti (People Power) against the “immovable” dominance of the Barisan Nasional (BN)? Who shall prevail? The People Power Revolution of 1986 against Ferdinand Marcos in Philippine resulted in the “unstoppable” beating the “immovable”. In the Philippine scenario, its citizens raised against years of “unmovable” authoritarian regime of Marcos that suppressed their dissatisfactions through repressive laws and political assassinations. The assassination of opposition leader Ninoy Aquino on 21 August 1983 sparked off the “unstoppable” forces of people power. Nevertheless, the same success never shared in Myanmar where the “unstoppable” forces of people power failed to free Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto leader of the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition continuously insists that the currently “immovable” BN-lead government will fall by August or latest September 2008. He seem building up on the “unstoppable” forces of Makkal Sakhti that denied BN a two-third majority in Parliament for the first times in Malaysian election history. In that election, few top leaders and Ministers of the BN have been defeated include Samy Vellu (MIC president), Shahrizat Jalil, Koh Tsu Koon (Gerakan party acting President) and S. Kayveas (PPP President). The opposition coalition also won control of five states, namely Kedah, Penang, Perak, Kelantan and Selangor. Anwar “win” in his public debate with the Information Minister over the issue of oil price hike foster the forces of “unstoppable”. Yet, the BN still managed to form the federal government, giving them the invaluable chance to fortify their “immovable” defense.

Since the general election, everything remains status quo abide some non-Parliamentarians crossover between both coalitions. Anwar’s claims that Member of Parliament from the BN will be joining the PR never materialized thus far nor the BN’s claims of PAS members will cross over to UMNO and they will be taking back the Perak state. The battle remains evenly fought but will it still even few weeks or months down the road? How will the battle possibly unfold?

This battle game is simple. The BN just need to fade out the PR’s strength. Hence, time is on the BN side. The longer this battle drag on, the higher chance of victory for the BN. PR need speed and agility. Therefore, the sodomy case against Anwar is directly or indirectly a “time-buying” advantage for the BN. Perhaps, the same applies to the Prime Minister’s claim on “high level” talk between UMNO and PAS. Anwar Ibrahim is the PR’s greatest strength and also theirs greatest weakness as the whole hope of the coalition seem put on the shoulder of this man. Well, common investment lesson tells us that putting all egg in one basket is very risky but yet Warren Buffet has a different perspective – better to put all your egg in one basket (or very few baskets) and watch that basket very well to reap better return. PR seems follow the later advise that may be the reason to this phenomenon called “Anwar bashings”. Personal attacks on Anwar are obvious during and after the election campaigns and in the mentioned public debate, perhaps having the idea that if Anwar is defeated, so does the whole PR.

An interesting question here is whether the Malaysian can differentiate between logic and personal attacks? The answer to this question is a very difficult task, as it needs understanding of philosophy of logic versus rhetoric. Logic reasoning rooted back to Socrates who seeks the truth through questioning (known as “Socrates questioning”). Nowadays, his teaching hardly found not only in Malaysian but global academia, thus weakening the critical reasoning part of human mind. Of course, in Malaysian context, any critical mind is further subjected to government’s suppression, particularly causing the death of dialectics since schooling era (see Burniske 1998). There are some 47 pieces of legislation and ordinances affected mass media operations in the country. Some dated to the colonial era, such as the Printing Presses and Periodicals Act (1948) (Atkins 2002: 22). Specifically to education sector, there are various restrictions imposed on members of the academia through laws such as the Universities and Universities Colleges Act (UUCA) and Statutory Bodies Act (Manan 2005). All these instil fear for Malaysian to speak up, thus thwarting constructive support to the PR. In the absent of support from all layers of the society due to fear factor, the PR’s “unstoppable” could be running out of steam soon. Nevertheless, Malaysian praise the BN-led government’s effort to relax the control of media and freedom of speech recently, which among resulted in live telecast of Parliament preceding and agreeing to the live telecast of the public debate on oil price. On the other hand, all these freedom of speech and press are no good to the BN defence and may shaken its “immovable” dominance. Well, it is a hard decision for the BN to ponder but certainly Malaysian public do appreciate those efforts.

So, is that all their got in this historical battle of the Malaysian politic? Malaysian could expect more “unstoppable” forces from the blog; most celebrated one goes to Raja Petra Kamaruddin and perhaps the academic arena too. Anwar’s various ceramah on explaining the sodomy case ensure the “unstoppable” forces remain unfazed. There could be much more surprises from both sides as result from the on going high profile court cases. Whatever happens, this battle of “unstoppable forces against immovable object” is real, not movie and tends to have lasting impact to Malaysia’s politic, economy and social.


Atkins, William. (2002). The politics of Southeast Asia’s new media. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press.

Burniske, R. W. (1998). The shadow play: How the integration of technology annihilates debate in our schools. Phi Delta Kappan. Vol. 80 (2). Source: Access date: 7 January 2008.

Manan, Adriana Nordin. (2005). Chandra: Neo-feudal culture stifles academic freedom. 27 May. Source: Access date: 28 May 2005.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Dead-end to Malaysian Politics?

Written by Farish A. Noor
Wednesday, 09 July 2008

Access date: 9 July 2008

It has become the common blight of many a postcolonial state that the discrepancy between political idealism and the realities on the ground grow wider by the day. It has also been my singular misfortune that the nature of my work as a political scientist who studies the uneven development of many such nation-states means that I have grown somewhat jaded by such contradictions that are all too evident when one is distant from the country in question.

Over the past decade I have travelled across South and Southeast Asia looking at the painfully slow pace of development in countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia. The political elite of these countries talk on and on about development, progress, emancipation (both economic and mental) and yet remain beholden captives to the racialised ideologies of the colonial past. Their feeble attempts at deconstructing the legacy of Empire often dwindles down to little more than a vulgar pastiche of reversed Orientalism at best, (as if the racism of Asians is somehow better than the racism of the European colonialists who came before); and their steadfast refusal to adapt to changes around them is irritating and infuriating to witness at close range.

In India and Pakistan I watched as my fellow academic friends who play the role of public intellectuals and who have been calling for peace and reconciliation between the two countries have been systematically denounced as 'race traitors', 'cowards', the fifth column within, etc. Some of the best minds that secular democratic India has produced have been pilloried and harrangued by right-wing Hindutva fundamentalists who have called them 'traitors' to the great Hindu cause, labelled them 'Muslim-lovers' or worse still, apologists for the great Western conspiracy against the motherland.

The same level of puerile non-debate can be seen in Southeast Asia too: Thai pacifists who have called for a settled end to the hostilities in the Muslim south have been denounced as apologists for Muslim extremists; in Malaysia academics who have called for the re-working and re-negotiation of the social contract have been labelled 'race traitors'; in Indonesia moderate Muslim intellectuals who have defended Indonesia's plural society and culture have been branded enemies of Islam. So what gives?

The country that is closest to my heart is, of course, Malaysia and the recent developments in the country has given me reason to be worried about its future. Religious and racial sectarianism remain the dominant features on its political landscape and there is the apparent need for some form of national reconciliation and healing.

Yet events over the past two weeks have made a mockery of Malaysia's claim to be a developing country with first world ambitions: Despite the skyscrappers that claw at the heavens above Kuala Lumpur, the mega-malls that devour their consumers by the thousands, the massive highways that are crammed with cars; the state of Malaysian politics today beggars belief.

At a time when all of Asia is on the brink of a global recession sparked by the rising costs of oil and gas and the collapse of the American Dollar, the issues that count ought to be structural-economic ones instead. But what has transpired over the past two weeks have shown that despite the flashy suits and corporate videos broadcasting the bold and brazen image of Malaysia Inc., the country's politics remains trapped in the swamp of the banal and ridiculous.

For a start sodomy season has returned to Malaysia with a vengeance with allegations of sodomy being levelled against Anwar Ibrahim, de facto head of the Peoples Justice Party (PKR) and advisor to the Peoples Alliance opposition coalition. Not to be outdone, those close to Anwar have also made disclosures about the alleged sexcapades of Malaysia's ruling elite and senior politicians in the country; but only to have the very same allegations withdrawn a day later. The rally to protest the rise in oil prices on 6 July that was aiming to gather a million Malaysians only managed to bring together 25 to 30 thousand, and was marred by an equally embarrassing incident when conservative Islamists stormed the stage during the performance of a punk rock band, the lead singer of which decided to moon the crowd. In the midst of this, have we forgotten our economic essentials? And the real reason behind this global economic meltdown which happened to be the skewered uneven global economy we have all inadvertently created thanks to our dependency on the US economy? Or has politics been reduced to bottoms and sodomy for now?

All of this has made it increasingly difficult for me to explain the nature of Malaysian politics to my European colleagues where I am currently on the seminar circuit. How, pray tell, does a global economic crisis degenerate to the level of sodomy allegations and why on earth does the personality of politicians matter more at a time when the overbearing global economic structures have taken on a life of their own?

Voodoo politics was a term once fashionable in the 1970s and we seem to have returned to our political myths and ghost-stories with relish. As oil and gas prices are set to soar across Asia, the manifestations of public outrage and frustration is bound to spill into the streets. But in Malaysia, as in the case of Indonesia, the results are freaky and unpredictable at best. Why, in Indonesia the ones who seem to have benefitted the most are the Islamist parties that have been scoring hits at all the local elections. So once again, what gives?

Politics has always been influenced by elements that are variable and sometimes even irrational; but this time round the wierd and wonderful manifestation of collective anger and frustration may take us to the end of politics itself, and with that our aspirations for development, progress and political maturity can be dumped into the bin as well. How terribly sad.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Malaysia Should Move on Beyond Political Tsunami

The days since our 50th anniversary Merdeka celebration in 2007 to the coming 31st August 2008 seem too eventful, witnessing a so-called “political tsunami”, shocking fuel price increase, and repeated claims and denials of government change. As every natural disaster needs time to recover, Malaysian tsunami seem take too long, hence the nation forget that continuous progress is still utmost important. Increasing uncertainties in global economies, particularly the sub-prime crisis in the United States, rising global crude oil price and possible of China economy exhausting itself after the Olympic need our urgent attention. All Malaysians need to “sediakan payung sebelum hujan”, as said by the wisdom of this Malay proverb. Therefore, the country should move on. Attentions should not be stagnated at the days of political tsunami of the Malaysian 12th General Election in March 2008. The following list needs utmost important attention too.

1. Comprehensive plan on fuel price

There are already mountains of response on this issue since the announcement of the fuel hike. Nevertheless, the government neither calms the nation through its rebate compensation nor looks confident in their decision. Various new measures announced or proposed from time to time in respond to the citizens’ uproar, implying that the shakiness of the “subsidies restructuring plan”. Effect of inflation already felt, thus a comprehensive plan on fuel price and show of confident of the highest level from the government to its own plan are urgently needed for the benefit of the nation.

2. Proceed with banking reform

The banking mergers as the result of Asian Crisis 1997/98 were the only major and systematic reform we have so far. However, is that supposing not the last planned banking reform? So, when will be the next wave of strengthening our banking system? Globalization tsunami has already kicked in lots of pressure to liberalize the Malaysian economy, bringing in fierce competitions that might easily sweep our smaller banks into trouble water. Do we need to wait for another crisis?

3. How about the Corridors?

Since the Iskandar Development Region (now, renamed “Iskandar Malaysia”) was officially launched in November 2006, Malaysia proudly and rapidly launched four other economic corridors (regions) within the space of less than 16 months. On one hand, the ruling government claimed that these corridors will propel Malaysia to another higher stage of economic success but the oppositions beg to differ. Blueprint for each have been successfully developed but that was before the food crisis and fuel price hike. Would these two factors derail the progress of these five corridors? Most importantly, are these corridors, launched just before the general election, are for “show” as claimed by the oppositions? More transparency and highlights are needed to enable the public from laymen to academicians to monitor the development of these corridors. Hopefully, these corridors would not become white elephant nor the plan being derailed due to political reason.

4. FDI and new strategies for competitiveness

It cannot be denied that Malaysia has somehow lost its relative competitions in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) due to rising cost of labour. China, India and Vietnam have taken over as the major destination for FDI. Increase in Malaysian fuel price certainly doesn’t help either. So, are we going to sit idle and wait for our destiny? Well, Malaysia has other strength to capitalize on to attract FDI. Skill labours cum first-class infrastructures are the most obvious. Grassroots-education-to-all policy seems work well in generating abundance supply of skill labours in Malaysia. In addition, great supporting industry linkages, which might not be a commonly seen positive factor, should be further enhanced and promoted.

5. Poverty – Micro-finance as alternative solution

Last but not least, poverty issue should not be neglected from the needed attention in the period of the Millennium Development Goal that wish to halve, between 1990 and 2015, world poverty and proportion of people who suffer from hunger. In this aspect, Malaysia should learn from the success of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Grameen Bank and its founder Muhammad Yunus in reducing poverty in Bangladesh through micro-finance. In Malaysia, some of the most influential micro-finance institutions like Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM) did not performed well. Despite strong effort by Bank Negara Malaysia to come out with master plan to actively promote the development of micro-finance since end of 2007, concrete success like the Grameen Bank certainly not easy to emulate but it will greatly help reducing poverty in Malaysia. Thus, the nation should give more effort and support to the development of micro-finance as alternative solution to poverty alleviation.

Hopefully, Malaysians will not be celebrating a sunset economy comes this 31st August 2008, but an ever brightly shining “Malaysia Boleh” and “Malaysia Gemilang” economy.