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?