Power corrupts. Fifty six years of power corrupt absolutely. That is how long the ruling elite has held the reins of power in Malaysia.
What new ideas could it possibly offer which it had not thought of during its half century of uninterrupted rule?
In a country thousands of miles away, I remember the Thatcher years. I became an adult in Britain then, and watched an initially energetic government run out of steam by 1992, a mere thirteen years later. The Conservatives limped on for another five years, but change was inevitable.
Imagine if the Conservative Party had carried on for three times longer than their run of eighteen years. The governmental coalition in Malaysia, known as Barisan Nasional (National Front in Malay), has done exactly that. Is it plausible that any regime which has held authority for so long could remain uncorrupted? (This is something neighbouring Singapore has achieved, but Singapore is an exceptional country; see for example Transparency International’s 2012 League Table.)
Tomorrow, Malaysians will go to the polls. Some of us overseas have already handed in our postal votes (a right which incidentally, we were denied until a few months ago. Before then, the only Malaysians living overseas who were given postal votes were students, public servants and members of the military).
I, like many of my fellow-Malaysians, will be following the election results closely. I have no illusion over whether this 13th General Election will be free and fair. It has so far been a dirty election, and is likely to be up to the last minute. Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the Opposition Coalition, has complained of dubious voters being flown in from neighbouring countries. The Malaysian ‘Electoral Commission’, a purportedly impartial organisation, has admitted that voters have been flown in from abroad by ‘friends of the ruling regime’, but the Commission has actually defended this practice! (Such is the state of Malaysia today).
These are the desperate actions of a morally bankrupt regime. Despite all this, I am filled with anticipation, a little excitement, and plenty of apprehension too, for I know I could yet be disappointed.
The possibility of change is frightening. I have no idea what form any change in Malaysia would actually take, should it happen.
Do I trust Anwar Ibrahim? No. But he’s the best hope we have.
His Opposition Coalition includes an Islamist party, the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, commonly known as PAS. Does PAS worry me? Yes, but the incumbents, who have abused religion and race through the years as tools with which to divide Malaysians – solely to keep themselves in power – worry me even more.
Malaysians do not take easily to the streets. We are often afraid of expressing our true opinions. But the political scandals have become too numerous to list, or ignore. Let me quote just one statistic: under the current government, Malaysia became the third most corrupt country in the world as measured by illicit outflows between 2001 and 2010 (third after China and Mexico, both far larger and more populous countries).
For Malaysia, change must come, if not tomorrow, then on another day. I know that no maggot-filled regime has ever survived indefinitely in history. At some point the maggots will run out of flesh and will have to feed on themselves, or be overthrown. Unfortunately this could take decades, even centuries.
Tomorrow, whatever happens, I will take heart from the words of American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’