September 21, 2011
Towards a brave new Malaysia
By Karim Raslan-09-20-11
In doing so, he has also demonstrated that UMNO is capable of renewal. Indeed, the party of Merdeka – as I’ve always argued – is infinitely more diverse than many realise or wish to acknowledge. After all, it ranges from figures such as Deputy Minister of Higher Education Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah at the moderate end of the spectrum to hardliners such as Deputy Education Minister Dr Puad Zarkashi.
Moreover, in times of crisis, the party has the ability to adapt, discarding outdated thinking quickly and effectively. In this respect, its internal discipline and sense of common purpose allows for sudden shifts in direction by its leaders.
Of course, the same leaders then have to be able to win elections with these new policy initiatives – and win big at that. Losing is not an option. It’s also important to bear in mind that UMNO members possess a strong sense of self-preservation. Party members are not lemmings leaping to their doom.
On the face of it, the PM’s bold move returns UMNO to the moderate centre-ground. This is a major relief. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of work left to be done and the PM’s credibility will be utterly destroyed if he fails to make good on the September 15 announcements.
For a start, Najib will have to work hard and fast to repeal and replace these laws. He must prove that he can walk the talk. He must also head off the sceptics within UMNO’s right wing. So, while the move is to be applauded, ordinary Malaysians need to keep lobbying and pushing for change. We cannot let up or Barisan will revert to inertia.
As a writer, however, I’m most concerned with what will happen to the media. A functioning democracy needs a free and independent press and the PPPA has been a long-term stumbling block to both.
First off, I, along with most Malaysians, want more details. I totally disagree with the need for newspaper licences. The very concept is wrong-headed. Second, access to and ownership of the media are also critical. We need all sides of the political debate (Barisan and Pakatan) to be given fair and equal coverage.
Malaysians can only make informed decisions about who to vote for if they’re properly informed.It’s worth bearing in mind that blanket media coverage of BN leaders has been a major turn-off. Whoever thought we needed to watch the PM wishing the country Selamat Hari Raya again and again was wrong. With the media, less is more, especially when you have nothing to say.
The current order also makes BN politicians lazy and high-handed when dealing with journalists and editors. But a freeing up of the media will force BN cadres to change – let’s call it political Darwinism.
The Singapore Government is also experimenting with liberalisation. During its recent general election, Singapore’s ruling PAP allowed its press some latitude in their coverage of the opposition. While the opposition made substantial gains, the ruling party still won because ordinary Singaporeans saw the candidates for what they were and still felt safer with the PAP.
There’s no reason to assume why the same couldn’t happen here, all the more so if the Prime Minister maintains his humility and candour.
At this stage, I must add that I would personally like to see Najib go head-to-head with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in a live, no holds barred debate during the next polls. Such a debate would give Malaysians the chance to see who has a better vision for the country. Besides, UMNO leaders really need to overcome their pathological fear of Anwar’s supposed superhuman rhetorical skills.
The man is not invincible. Then Information Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek faced him back in 2008 and came out of the encounter very creditably.
Umno politicians also have to realise that constant communication and media coverage is the order of the day. Those who are not up to the exposure and pressure should be dropped – Barisan is better off without them. Certainly, if I had my way I’d dump over 80% of the present Cabinet. Most are ill-equipped for present-day challenges.
Also, reporters are stakeholders to be engaged, not hirelings to be ordered about. Treat them with respect and the returns will be considerable. Remember that the media, however tetchy and irritating, is the voice of the people.
At the same time, Malaysia’s mainstream media will now have to up its game. With Najib’s reforms, there’ll no longer be any excuse to not provide the critical news, investigative reporting and analysis that Malaysians crave.
We are tasked to serve the people and not our erstwhile political masters. Najib has opened the door to a new world. We know most of his Barisan Nasional colleagues are ill-prepared. The tougher question is this: are we – the Malaysian people – ready for what’s to come?