Tag Archives: Malaysian Politics

Blame the Chinese!

I enjoy hearing from readers. Even when they express views I find disturbing.

Just before the last Malaysian general election, I wrote a blog-post about the corrupting influence of unfettered power (see Malaysia’s Election Eve). The article focused on corruption in Malaysia, not race. But as with most things Malaysian, race is never far behind.

In recent days, a reader picked up on this blog-post and delivered a simple message: you Chinese in Malaysia are the cause of our corruption. We Malays were innocents until the British ‘let’ you in to the country (my emphasis). Stop complaining, since it is your corrupting influence that is coming back to bite you. (To see the comment for yourself, scroll down along the comments section  below Malaysia’s Election Eve.)

Leaving aside the historical point that there were Chinese in Malaysia long before the British arrived, forgive me for stating the blindingly obvious: corruption in any country affects all its citizens. Corruption in Malaysia (which the reader appears to accept) affects Malay, Chinese, Indian and Orang Asli (the indigenous peoples of Malaysia) equally.

Blaming minority races in Malaysia is not new. The day after the recent general elections, when the ruling party lost the popular vote but nonetheless kept the majority of seats, the incumbent Prime Minister explained his performance in terms of a ‘Chinese tsunami’. Utusan Malaysia, a leading Malay-language newspaper, regularly publishes incendiary material which deliberately stokes racial feeling and attributes all kinds of evil to the Chinese. An infamous article with the heading Orang Cina Malaysia – apa lagi yang anda mahu? (Chinese of Malaysia – what more do you want?) listed Malaysia’s 10 wealthiest people, 8 of whom were Chinese. The message? You’re already rich, what more could you possibly want? Equality? This provocative title was repeated after the recent general election results, in yet another twisted article.

But let us put all this aside. Let us assume for a minute that what the reader contends is true – that palm-greasing is a peculiarly Chinese phenomenon. How does this explain Singapore, a country within spitting distance of Malaysia?

Singapore has a Chinese majority in power, yet it is consistently ranked amongst the least corrupt countries in the world. On the Tranparency International Index, where a lower number is better, Singapore is ranked 5th while Malaysia shares 54th place with the Czech Republic, Latvia and Turkey. Why the difference? What does Singapore have which Malaysia lacks?

The answer seems pretty clear to me: good governance.

I suggest that it is the absence of good governance – the absence of sufficient checks and balances to the wielding of power – which has put China, Mexico, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Russia in the top 5 in terms of illicit outflows between 2001 and 2010. Power corrupts, and in Malaysia, fifty six years of power corrupt absolutely. There is no evidence to suggest that the Chinese, Mexicans, Malays, Arabs and Russians are intrinsically more corrupt than anyone else on the planet, despite the staggering numbers in this report.

It is easier of course, to find a scapegoat than to face up to the real issues at hand. Why bother, when all you need do is point your finger at the successful minority groups in your midst? Malaysia today is nowhere near where it should be in this world, given the extent of its natural resources. Its tiny neighbour to the south, an island so small you need a magnifying glass to see it on the map, has left Malaysia far behind. How could a former mosquito-infested swamp which has to import everything, even drinking water, have raced ahead of a land as bountiful as Malaysia?

That is the question Malaysia’s ruling party and its acolytes should be asking. With the rise of China and India, Malaysia could benefit handsomely from home-grown ties, but instead of embracing its Chinese and Indian minorities, Malaysia treats its minorities as second-class citizens, forever fearing that the Malays will not be able to make it in this world unless they receive special help.

In blaming minority races for a host of travails, the ruling party and its acolytes are following a well-trodden path. When propaganda triumphs over reason, the consequences are stark, and the examples in other countries do not bear thinking about.

Malaysia is still far from such extremes, and I truly hope it remains that way. But I fear more and more for my country. It is already no longer as tolerant as the home I once knew, and I worry Malaysia will lose its way even more. Instead of the different races coming together, we may be pulled further apart. If we are to build the country we all want, we must…

I don’t have the answers, but one of them must surely be: stop blaming the Chinese.

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Filed under Cultural Identity, Malaysia

Malaysia’s Election Eve

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.’

Malaysia, Ubah!

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Filed under Malaysia