HAVING witnessed democracy in action in the form of state assembly elections in Sarawak recently, it is worthwhile looking at what the Sarawak elections had exposed. Political analysts have already made pronouncements about identity politics, that is, the politics of race and community, being pushed to the side by new demands for development. They have pronounced on the virtues of being “with the people” in the manner of Taib Mahmud, the Chief Minister of Sarawak, as opposed to the “parachute politics” of Anwar Ibrahim.
Corruption has been mentioned, but in terms that are not very clear, at least to lay people like myself. Has this exercise in democracy proved that there is widespread anger at the corruption that exists in almost all parts of society, in public bodies and authorities as well as in private entities? From what one can comprehend, the answer is the familiar “yes-and-no” that analysts take shelter behind when faced with a phenomenon they cannot really understand.
The verdict cannot be against corruption in, for example, Sarawak, where the reputation of the ruling Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) and the other Sarawak BN component parties combine is not of its being a group of saints, to put it mildly. For the record, the perception about the party that lost badly, the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) which lost 13 of 19 seats it contested and its President Dr. George Chan Hong Nam, Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak, humiliating defeat in the hands of the DAP, is no better.
In Sarawak, no one will take you seriously if you claim that the Barisan National Sarawak is pure as driven snow; that the losing SUPP was seen as utterly corrupt, which is why it lost; and that the Sarawak BN and Taib Mahmud is responsible for the chopping down of most of Sarawak’s rainforests at the expense of the indigenous communities; and Taib Mahmud was also seen as corrupt and the protector of corrupt allies. The fact is that all of them are seen as corrupt.
Without making any solemn pronouncements on why a party won or lost, or the role played by rebel candidates of all parties in splitting vote banks, one can say with a degree of certainty that a rejection of corruption was not really the main issue in the election. And that is the truly worrying factor in this round of exercise of democracy.
Equally worrying is the sense one gets that the major political parties know this and are not really bothered. They also know, from the look of things, that the public protestation of corruption will never ever amount to anything as far as political power in our system is concerned. The parties strategise their moves and countermoves on the basis of other considerations, which they think to be more effective and relevant. So we can continue to bark corruption, coruption, coruption but nothing is gonna happen and nothing is gonna change, it has not change for the last 50 years.
An article that appeared not so long ago in The Nation cited a study by a group of scholars in the London School of Economics, which said that the comparisons made by various writers and experts between Malaysia and Singapore as emerging economic powers were erroneous; that Malaysia could never hope to be a rival to the economic powerhouse that Singapore already is. One reason given for this is the all-pervasive corruption in Malaysia.
This trend of thinking will in all likelihood catch on, despite brave words from leaders of Barisan National. One can sense it in the way the Malaysian stock market has behaved; in the way the ringgit has got weaker by the day; and in the general gloom among bankers, which they will not admit to publicly but will talk about mainly among themselves. It is not gloom about the immediate future – it is about Malaysia in the long term. It is, finally, about the nature of Malaysian democracy.
There are those who increasingly see signs of fatal flaws in Malaysian democracy because of the way it has developed. Political parties in power, from regional parties to so-called national parties, depend on corruption from the top down to survive, and survival is all that matters. An even more dangerous trend was the failure to improve the education standards.
Malaysia’s failure to provide quality education means that eventually our young men and women will lack the intellectual capabilities, leading to a falling off of quality of work, of skill levels and so on, with its inevitable ill effects on the economy as a whole. But are our politicians who are engaged in the task of survival, interested or concerned?
Eventually, one has to conclude that Malaysian-style democracy and the ills afflicting our economy, our industry, our infrastructure, our health services and our education system will ensure that Malaysia does not become an economic superpower, emerging or otherwise, and that it will have to depend on aid to keep itself going after all the natural resources have depleted. Then, multinational corporations will start to invest in other more lucrative ASEAN countries. Remember, Malaysia’s debts is now a whopping RM0.5 TRILLION.
Now, a lot depends on what young leaders such as Nurul Izzah and others such as Chief Ministers Musa Aman of Sabah and Lim Guan Eng of Penang do. There is little to be gained by looking at any other leader; those who are indeed leaders are either erratic and whimsical, or interested only in lining their pockets. Some like Taib Mahmud although in his twilight may well take Sarawak towards development, but he has to provide proof of that, as Musa Aman has done so admirably.