A few days ago I sent an old friend and a Ph. D colleague – Dr. James Anthony who now lives in Hawaii – a copy of a forum article on the sources of UMNO’s hegemony in the country. The article was written for Sahabat Rakyat, an NGO on the occasion of its 15th anniversary. See http://sahabatrakyatmy.blogspot.my/.
Jim worked on urban politics in Malaysia for his dissertation and has kept up a keen interest in Malaysia. This is his sharp and chastening reply reproduced with his permission.Ending on a dismal note, Jim is among many foreign friends who are concerned about the train wreck happening to our beloved country.–Dr. Lim Teck Ghee
Malaysia is a Garrison State–Fijian soldiers died in Vain
by James Anthony
Hegemony of this kind–or indeed any kind–is hard to dislodge with logic and appeals to reason.
In Malaysia there is a hardened (ossified is a better word), foundation of hegemonic systemic units in place and have been in place for close to six decades. That a while. Besides, consider the contextual political situation: For all intents and purposes UMNO’s long-standing position is that Malaysia is a Muslim country — all of the disinformation and blather and lip service to “democratic ideals” aside.
The Federal Treasury is UMNO’s piggy bank (bad metaphor for a so-called Muslim country). Deep pocket is a more value neutral metaphor. Old law of politics: Those who control the purse strings are effectively in control of the country. UMNO is not going to voluntarily give up on its stranglehold. In all likelihood UMNO will do whatever it can get away with to strengthen its stranglehold. People in power do not just give their power away to be nice and gracious. That is not the way the world works. You know that.
So what to do?
1.You keep talking about it as you are now doing and have been doing. Not much happens.
2. In a vague way reformers HOPE that something will happen to change things. HOPE IS NOT A PLAN
3. Any type of structural reform is not in the cards. You have a domestic army, stitched together from top to bottom with members of one ethnic group in control. Well armed and well-trained.
4. The Malaysian version of Islam is part of an Pan-Islamic movement very much on the move world-wide.
5. Push too much and what? –back to 1969?
6. If you expect too much from the Opposition you are headed for heartbreak. The Opposition is tied to the “system” — jobs, bread, money, some crumbs to distribute to followers.
You are on site, in the belly of the beast. Do you sense that the walls of Jericho are beginning to develop cracks, fissures? I do not sense that. The Malaysian elite is dug in. UMNO is dug in? The Judiciary is toothless, I think. There is no evidence from 1948 till now of the UMNO Malays giving in to anything–they are in power and intend to remain in power. I think they know that the Opposition, such as it is, –for want of a better term – is a limp penis.
Can Malaysia Be a Mature Democracy?
Malaysia does not act in its own best self interest by tenaciously clinging to anti human rights legislation that has been on its books since 1948. Malaysia needs to grow up and cast aside old myths and face new realities.
Malaysia’s repressive legislation, including the latest, does not enhance its standing in the world and — and this is of great importance — it also left-handedly taints Islam’s standing in the world. From the years of the ‘Emergency’ through the immediate post Emergency period when local government in both Kuala Lumpur and Penang were eviscerated by the then UMNO-MCA-MIC government (I know. I wrote a PhD dissertation on the subject based on CONFIDENTIAL files I pored over for more than a year). This slippery slide continued well into the tragic events of 1969 and on into the 21st century, Malaysia seems to be governed by sleight of hand and by double talk, worse than anything that Orwell could ever imagine.
Malaysia has become more of a Garrison State papered thinly over by paper-thin democratic forms which are symbolic and not much more.
Sad. Very sad. Malaysia’s assault on the human rights of its citizens makes it look shabby, cheap and unworthy of Islam’s great truths. Malaysia’s record of anti human rights legislation demeans and diminishes the best and the brightest of its citizens (and many others) and in that process demeans, diminishes and belittles its own image in the eyes of the world.
Hundreds of soldiers from the land of my birth (Fiji) fought in Malaysia’s jungles against freedom fighters dubbed “Communists” by the foreign regime which had been unceremoniously driven out by the Japanese at the outbreak of World War II. Fijians were told that they would be fighting to establish democracy in what was still then Malaya. Fijian soldiers fought and died for an empty promise. What they fought for was a lie. What you have in Malaysia today is anything but democracy. The big lie of the late 1940s is still a lie, a cancerous growth that has grown … and grown … and grown.
It is reasonable and plausible to argue that Malaysia has long been in the tightening grip of a religio-political-ethnic elite deeply committed to xenophobic religio-cultural–ethnic parochialism.
UMNO has the national government on a very short leash that has grown shorter over the years. Instruments that have had the net effect of diminishing human rights have been on the rise and continue to rise. Under these circumstances it appears that the national government can neither rule fairly nor govern in a way that remotely resembles democracy.
The instruments of accountability are weak, anemic might be a better word.. It might even be argued to good effect that the national government is running out of time. The national government might be well advised to do what train crossings advice: ‘Stop, Look, Listen.” There’s a train coming.