Saturday, September 20, 2008

Political Tsunami In Malaysia

Political Tsunami In Malaysia
Headline 16 Sept 2008-09-20 12:45
When the Malaysian government evoked the draconian Internal Security Act last week and arrested three civilians--journalist Tan Hoon Cheng, opposition politician Teresa Kok and Internet news portal editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin--on charges of racial instigation, one immediately sensed that a man-made political tsunami is in the offing.

For a country that has enjoyed economic progress and which positions itself as one of the world's leading economies, Malaysia cannot afford a manufactured crisis--especially on the issue of race relations.

The international community immediately condemned the crackdown and the use of the ISA, which allows detention without trial.

Apparently, the government is willing to play a dangerous game, banking on public fears of racial riots like those that occurred in 1969.

Indeed, the ruling National Front has used race as a template to instill a culture of fear that, without it running the show, the country will descend into chaos. This has worked for the past five decades. The question is: will it work now?

Racial tensions are not new in a country with various ethnic and religious groups. From time to time, senior government officials spark the tensions with comments that insult the Chinese and Indian minorities by claiming they are not patriotic. They are blamed for any and all ills in Malay society. But Malaysians have shown to the world that they are resilient people and appreciate racial harmony. The trouble is, politicians continue to stoke the fires of nationalism and 'Malayness', leaving this quality under scrutiny.

In the March 8 election, voters from the minorities shattered the National Front's grip on power, which it has enjoyed continuously for the past five decades since independence. But political discourse in Malaysian society has changed radically towards more openness and now touches on sensitive issues as never before. The current most popular topic is the changing of the country's guard. It will be sooner than later.

All Malaysian media reported the government's action with much surprise, although they did not criticise too much, except for the online media. But they know deep in their hearts that the use of the ISA is aimed at highlighting the danger of racial discord and the Pakatan Rakjat opposition's plan to unseat the government. Former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim reiterated over the weekend that his coalition has the number of cross-over votes to form a new government, but at this time he would rather tackle the issues related to political stability and security first and foremost.

Whatever the government has tried to do, it has backfired and greatly damaged the leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Already, discord among the leaders of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has reached the breaking point. Several leaders have already come forward to urge Abdullah to resign so that a new leader can be elected.

The current appointed successor, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, son of the country's second prime minister, who is supposed to succeed Abdullah in 2010, is no longer in waiting mode either.

Other contenders, including Tenku Razaleigh Hamzah and international trade minister Muhyiddin Yassin, are also challenging Abdullah. Worst of all, there is a growing chorus within UMNO that the only way to salvage the party is to invite ex-prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad to return as leader.

The National Front, the ruling coalition party with UMNO, has become complacent and has consistently ignored the concerns of Malaysians. Corruption and cronyism are rampant in this country with many mega-projects. With the ongoing infighting within UMNO and the use of the ISA, Anwar's chance of becoming the next leader has increased many-fold. Of course, there are still many hurdles for the opposition to cross.

Malaysians in general want assurances and tangible evidence that their country under a new leader will be more equal, while still as vibrant and dynamic as before. (The Nation/ANN)

MySinchew 2008.09.20

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