Malaysia could descend into chaos–Another Turkey

August 8, 2016

Malaysia could descend into chaos–Another Turkey

by Zainah Anwar

WHERE is the light and hope for change in the Muslim world today? The Arab Spring of five years ago has turned into an endless winter of despair.

The optimism of a long-awaited democratic transformation in the Middle East brings us today authoritarian rule in Egypt, civil war in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, and the barbarism of Islamic State (IS) on the global stage. Only Tunisia remains a source for hope with a peaceful democratic change of government, and an active civil society determined to push the reform process forward.

But what is even sadder is that the two Muslim countries that many Arabs saw as models of the kind of democratic developmental state they aspired to in 2011 are also today in turmoil.

Turkey and Malaysia are no longer a source of hope to the Muslim world as their leaders become mired in political and financial turbulence and their governing institutions undermined.

In 2011, President Recep Erdogan of Turkey went to Egypt and promoted the compatibility of  Islam with democracy and pluralism. He presented his party and government as the model that Arabs should be looking to emulate. The world welcomed the success story he was touting.

Similarly, Malaysia’s success story in economic development and a political framework to govern an ethnically divided society was another model touted to the Arabs to follow.

But how fast hopes are dashed. Even before the failed military coup, Turkey was already isolated in the Middle East as Erdogan was accused of taking the side of the Muslim Brotherhood, and aligning himself with conservative forces, and undermining his own rhetoric on democracy, pluralism, and rule of law.

And now, Turkey is in chaos as all major institutions of government, judiciary, military, police, schools, universities and media outlets have been purged of much of their leadership and staff or forced to shut down.  A party and its leader that had aspired to turn Turkey into a global player and leader of the Muslim world as the country approaches 2023, the 100th  anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Republic, is today decidedly authoritarian, and wrecked with instability and uncertainty.

Erdogan’s grandiose Vision 2023 seems illusory in the light of a colossal purge of tens of thousands of leaders and personnel that will have long term effects on its people and its governing institutions. How do you rebuild and bring together a country ripped apart at all levels towards your vision of a Grand Turkey by 2023?

In Malaysia, the politics of race and religion is the only antidote this government knows to counter the avalanche of evidence of malfeasance in office. This government has all but abandoned any pretence at pursuing a reform agenda to address long festering disgruntlement among the urban middle class and its eroding popular support.

As he took office in 2009, the sixth Prime Minister of Malaysia ominously warned his party to change or perish. He called on the people to restore the bridges that brought us together and tear the walls that separate us. He introduced 1Malaysia and he wanted repressive laws repealed.

But the top news story on the BBC World service on August 1 ominously implied that Malaysia was heading the way of Turkey. From the promise of reform in 2009, we have instead adopted the National Security Council Act which gives the Prime Minister unprecedented powers to declare security zones where troops may be deployed, citizens may be evacuated, search and arrest can be made without a warrant, curfew can be imposed, force can be justified and inquest into deaths can be dispensed with. And no judicial action can be instituted against any act of the National Security Council.

A leader who knew if the party did not change it would perish in 2009 found little courage nor will to bring real change. For the first time in its history, it lost popular support winning less than 50% of the votes in the 2013 general elections and it performed from bad to worse in two successive elections.

The signals are clear. The last poll conducted by the Merdeka Centre in October 2015 saw support for the government among Malays down to an unprecedented 31%, plummeting from 52% in January that year. The government’s overall approval rating also nose dived to 23%, the lowest ever since polling began in 2012. In 2013, the Barisan Nasional went into the general elections with a 43% approval rating and saw its worst electoral performance ever.

If at all, things have gotten from bad to worse since then as investigations into 1MDB and individuals and companies linked to it in the United States, Singapore,

Switzerland, Hong Kong, and reportedly six other countries promise to reveal more evidence documenting all manner of violations and transgressions. Now, if only the Barisan can look at the transformation that has taken place in Taiwan and South Korea.

It is possible for strong and dominant ruling parties in the face of defeat to transform themselves, embrace democratic values, remain a major force in a new democratic era, and even win again in freer and fairer elections.

But by now, we know this government and its leadership is devoid of will and courage to do what is right, even for its own long-term survival.

So is the only alternative then a headlong plunge into emergency rule? Are the Red Shirts priming for chaos should Bersih 5.0 take place, thus providing the perfect opportunity to declare an “emergency” in all but name and elevate the National Security Council into power?

As desperate citizens and civil society gather together to prevent what they see as the inevitable, is there any institution that they can depend on to do what is right for this country before we lose forever the path – no matter how flawed – so painstakingly negotiated and treaded by our past leaders?


17 thoughts on “Malaysia could descend into chaos–Another Turkey

  1. With due respect to the author I disagree for the reasons penned below;
    1. Foremost Malaysians are placid people who detest confrontation.
    2. Malaysians have been immunised from any concept of violation of human rights and denial of civil liberties ; hence their tolerance to abuse depth-less.
    3. Malaysian are not political creatures ; they economic functionaries more concerned on self survival. Their “middle class” syndrome encapsulates them in their comfort zone.
    4. Over the decades Malaysians have been conditioned to accept their degrading state as due to fate and the “will of ALLAH”. or one of the numerous deities or ancient Gurus.

    Unless the Malaysians, old and young, can be sufficiently charged with extreme anger and stress, they will not rise to occasion to confront the situation as it was in other countries,. Even yellow and orange shirts are mere symbols used for the passing occasion.

    Having made this observation, one can only admire the tenacity and perseverance of the few who are battling against great odds.

    Malaysians have to call on the decency of the international community for a helping hand to overcome the oppressive cloud that has descended upon them.

  2. Education is wasted on the UMNOb leaders. Oxbridge Minister KJ brain has suddenly become otak udang and he can no longer think or distinguish black from white or right from wrong.

    All the other UMNOb Ministers are also suffering from lack of grey matter in their skulls. They know what is wrong yet the continue to defend the MO1. They continue to deny who MO1 is and now are playing the bogeyman game that the US is trying to eliminate the Malays just like Syrians.

    Pathetic that Malaysia have Ministers like Rahman Dahlan, Ismail Sabri, Azalina Othman and the Cheras UMNOb Syed Alhabshi and the UMNOb youth leader who got away with filing a false police report.

    It clearly shows that Malays cannot govern and when given the authority, Malays will abuse the power and will probably end up like the Melaka Sultanate. Malaysia should remove the word Kerajaan as the actions of the government embarrasses the Rulers.

    US DoJ is not an agency to topple any government and their action to recover the billions of dollars is in line with the KARI legislation. Why is it so difficult for UMNOb Ministers to understand this? Perhaps no speaking English like that Mike Tyson feller.

    The US DoJ is just being polite and acting within the International Diplomatic Protocol in not naming and shaming a sitting Head of Government to avoid causing embarrassment. However all clues indicate the identity of MO1. It’s up to the Malaysian government and people to take the next step. Do Malaysians have the gall and moral courage to make the next move?

  3. Why the use of the word ‘could’? Just like Turkey, Institutional racism has always been there since the day I was born, in the post-NEP world. Some Turkish friends would joke to me that their nations is becoming Malaysia in their nation’s attempt to flirt with Wahhabism. Kassim Ahmad’s support for Medina Constitution is at least something we could see some change.

    On Turkey’s Racism.

  4. I share much sentiment of Zainah Anwar, but I share little with her on her prognosis of Malaysia’s problem and therefore share little with her on the solutions.

    Corruption is bad, but is not a primary cause that may one day make Malaysia a failed state.

    In a primitive human world where there were no government, a corruption happened when a family member sharp-elbowed other family members to gain a bigger piece of mutually hunted meat. A justice is served when the bully was slapped by the patriarch. That was the most harm a corruption can happen to a primitive world.

    When sophisticated human world was created primarily with advent of western ideas of institutions and rule of law, a political leader all of the sudden has many powerful levers such as tax collection and mega-billion projects and licensing schemes under his disposal. A serious corruption in this world happens when the leader pulls the levers without much check-and-balance of the institutions.

    Malaysia was blessed with institutions installed and nurtured by the former colonists. Malaysia managed to keep serious corruptions under checks during the first 2 decades after the independence. Along the way, the institutions especially the judiciary are left to rot. Now we no longer can keep corruption in check with the current institutions – regardless if Najib or Mahathir was out of office.

    Fortunately, Malaysia economy has acquired its strength so much that a corruption at the scale of 1MDB cannot make Malaysia a failed state. A loss of even RM40,000,000,000, causing an equivalent loss of each citizen RM1250, will not make Malaysia a failed state. A rich state, like a rich man, can afford to lose a lot of money. Similar corruption scandal would have caused North Korea to have million die of starvation – if there were no external humanitarian rescue.
    What will make Malaysia a failed state is expanded influence of Islamism, or political Islam rooted in the belief of Muhammad as the best model of human behaviors and Quran as direct literal revelation of God. That is what may make Turkey a precursor of Malaysia, and have Malaysia to see the tell-tale signs of failed state: frequent suicide bombings by the zealots, coups to stop Islamist government, violent secession movement as response to social engineering rooted in religiously motivated government, and purging 3000 judges. Islamic state is antithetical to Americanism in many aspects including rejection of nation-state idea, rejection of personal liberty and freedom of conscience, rejection of free enterprise, and rejecting abiding to truths when truths are not literally dictated in the scriptures. A rich state will fail and become poor when the foundation to which it built is hollowed out by the ideas of political Islam.

    Focusing on Najib’s corruption and his removal outside constitutional means is at best a missed opportunity. Malaysia oppositions would have contributed to future generations if they chose to compromise with Najib for a realistic change of our institutions in return to not removing him immediately.
    Shiou, you present a strange argument. Rm1250 is burden for most Malaysians. Furthermore why should we as citizens bear a burden which Najib created. As Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, he should be made to face the consequences of his decisions. We are a failed nation because our government is dysfunctional and incorrigibly corrupt. Najib and his associates must go before any reform can take place.–Din Merican

  5. Initially, the Islamist AK political party of Turkey did a good job ruling the country and managing its economy. But then ….

    I guess “power tends to corrupt, and absolute
    power corrupts absolutely” as Lord Acton said.

    The first warning sign was when Erdogan started building his massive palace.

  6. Kemalism remains strong as the ideology of the armed forces in Turkey.

    Unless Erdogan makes peace with the military, he will face resistance and future coup attempts by the Turkish armed forces.

  7. “Furthermore why should we as citizens bear a burden which Najib created. As Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, he should be made to face the consequences of his decisions,” Din.

    I think we need to suck it up for these reasons:

    1) Had our institutions and people been capable of bringing justice to alleged corruption of the head of executive branch, we would have done so long time ago. The fact that we have not done so means we don’t have the capability. Modern institutions are built and nurtured for a long time for it to function, and there is absolutely no reason to believe our institutions can all of the sudden acquire the capability. Why harbor illusion on capability that we don’t have?

    2) Citizens certainly should bear most of the consequences because we elected Najib and allowed him to be chairman of 1MDB board and are elated to have centrally-planned economy. Only with bearing the consequences would we face our mistake. Greed exists since time immemorial. Malaysians must at one point learn that condemning corruption will not tame corruption, but institutional check-and-balance will. Malaysians collectively will also learn there are consequences to giving monetary power to politicians, just like all people of developed world have learned. Why should we be exempted from learning from mistakes?

  8. A country is a “failed state” when the “government is dysfunctional”, regardless of whether it is “incorrigibly corrupt”

    Corruption alone does not make a state a “failed state”, if so, 80% of the countries of the World are failed states by definition.

    In the context of Malaysia, is the government “dysfunctional”?, though whether there is incorrigible corruption is a no-brainer.

    At the micro administrative level in Malaysia, that is in the daily / periodic interaction of the ordinary citizenry with the permanent civil service functionaries of the various departments of state, I would say Malaysia has not failed, relative to many other countries, Eastern or Western. Even a military coup, which happens with a predictable timetable as in Thailand, (which by all accounts is well run and peaceful), is extremely unlikely in Malaysia for the simple reason that our top generals were never fed on any diet which promotes political ambitions, and rightly so.

    It is at the apex macro overview level where the political functions of state are discharged by the chief executives, past and present, that we see a failure.

    So I submit that the government of Malaysia as a civil institutional entity governing the mundane lives of the citizens is not “dysfunctional” In fact in areas of personal concerns of the citizens, like work-a-day applications for passports, landed property transfers, dispensations of justice on non-political judicial disputes, etc, are functional though improvements are of course always welcomed.

    Having said that, a critical concern for all right-thinking Malaysians is whether failure at the top will permeate down into the micro civil administrative level, (or god forbid into the military control structure as well) and pollute and destroy it beyond repair.

    Some may even argue that this has already happened, as in the wiping out of immigration records of a certain dead female Mongolian, or the way a convicted murderer could waltz out of the country with bureaucratic ease and “detected” to be in Australia and captured with almost light speed, while senior officers and alleged co-conspirators accused of corporate / banking frauds and massive history-making money-laundering of public money with publicly disclosed evidential material are still at large with zero effort by our sworn public prosecutors and protectors to apprehend or even to question them.

    The cogent ingredients to potentially make Malaysia a truly failed state are already apparent and available and given the right, (or wrong), political catalyst, it will happen.

  9. It is important for our Doctors to give the right medication when Citizens go to the GH for help.If you give the wrong medication the illness will continue.

  10. When Mahathir was in his march to dismantle the judiciary’s independence in 1989 by setting kangaroo court to fire supreme court judges, Brazil made a reform to consolidate judiciary’s independence by making supreme judges appointment to be life-long. The fruit of Brazil’s reform ripened 26 year later — Brazil courts now have the credibility to press corruption charges to one-third of parliamentarians and Brazil Senate has the similar credibility to try the president.

    The fruit of Mahathir has also ripened, and we all know what it looks like.

    The lesson here, I think, is to plant seed now and patiently wait for 26 years or so. After all, we are talking about changing course of a supertanker of Malaysia.

  11. /// Erdogan’s grandiose Vision 2023 seems illusory…… ///
    Mahathir’s grandiose Vision 2020 also seems illusory…….

    Most of the Islamic states in the world are failed states or failing states.
    In the land of the blind, the one-eye man is king (and queen is cash).

    Turkey and Malaysia used to be the rare few among Islamic states that have embarked on modernization and about to join the developed world.

    Well, now these 2 are likely to join all the Islamic failed states. Is there hope for Indonesia?

  12. Thanks Wayne for another insightful comment.

    With regards to Passport application, I was in and out of the Malaysian High Commision in Belgrave Square in less than 10 mins, just two weeks ago. It was truly amazing. No form filling, no passport photos beforehand, etc.

    Only snag was the 3 hour wait (in the pub) to collect my passport. Hic!

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