Malaysians reject fear tactics and opt for change

May 12, 2018

Malaysians reject fear tactics and opt for change


by Chandran Nair

The Financial Times

A first ever opposition victory signals voters’ disgust with corruption

Millions of Malaysians woke up on Thursday (May 10) to a new reality.

Image result for mahathir and wan azizah

With the unexpected victory of Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope), Malaysians have overcome their fear of change and voted out the Barisan Nasional (National Front), after more than 60 years in power. The people have seized an opportunity to reshape their country after years of underachieving and feelings of shame.

Pakatan Harapan should work to create a new system of politics that does not distinguish between races, ethnicities and religions. It needs to restore meritocracy in the civil service and it needs to start reforming the country’s national development policy so that it serves all disadvantaged Malaysians equally.–Chandran Nair

Malaysia may have elected the world’s oldest Prime Minister in Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, aged 92, but it has also elected its youngest ever MP at 22 years old, and chosen its first ever female Deputy Prime Minister.

For the first time since independence, power will be transferred between political parties. Only Singapore has remained under single party control for longer: its People’s Action party has governed since 1959, before the country was independent.

This recent election should restore faith in democracy, at least a little, at a time when it is now common to talk about “democracy in retreat”. The truth is that many Malaysian reformers worked tirelessly and peacefully for years with little reward until now. It is also important to note that power is changing hands without incident, a testament to the endurance of state institutions despite allegations of corruption and legal manoeuvres aimed at keeping the ruling party in power.

Malaysia is perhaps the most culturally diverse country in its region, with a mix of Malays, Chinese, Indians and other ethnicities. Four of the world’s major religions have a vibrant presence: Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. There is also a thriving Sikh community.

It is also wealthy, behind only Singapore in South-East Asia. It is well-educated, with a sizeable middle-class workforce proficient in English. The country really should be much more of a player on the world stage, but it has not capitalised on its competitive advantages. In addition, pride in the country has been hammered hard in recent years and many professionals have left.

Much of the credit for this change goes to Dr. Mahathir, perhaps Malaysia’s most well-respected and revered politician. In Malaysia, the deck is heavily stacked against the opposition. Opposition parties are denied coverage in the press and television. Leaders are often harassed, if not arrested, by the government. Dr. Mahathir’s decision to come out of retirement to stand as the Head of the opposition gave Pakatan Harapan the strength to go toe-to-toe with the government. He was not someone who could be threatened or thrown into jail.

Dr. Mahathir is not perfect, of course: he also harassed the opposition during his previous tenure as Prime Minister. But he has apologised for his past mistakes and has promised to give up his prime ministerial position to his former nemesis and current ally Anwar Ibrahim within two years.

But this result is also about outgoing Prime Minister Najib Razak, who pushed his luck and ultimately went too far.

Corruption has always been a problem in Malaysia, but the 1MDB scandal is the worst the country has ever seen. Lurid stories about bribery and money laundering have embarrassed Malaysia on the world stage. Malaysians were used to poor business practices and dirty money in politics, but this brought shame to the nation.

Perhaps Malaysians needed to face the stark choice between someone as discredited as Mr. Najib and as revered as Dr. Mahathir before they would vote for change. But at least it has now happened.

Image result for Malaysians celebrate Pakatan Harapan Victory


This election saw voters reject politics based on ethnic, racial and religious divisions. Mr. Najib’s campaign tried to capitalise on the old division between the Malays — the bumiputra — and ethnic minorities. He routinely tried to instil fear in the majority by arguing that Pakatan Harapan would be far more sympathetic to the Chinese and Indian minorities. Pakatan Harapan inherits a country with many problems, including stagnating wages, a bloated civil service, unethical business practices and declining education standards. But, several immediate steps come to mind.

Image result for Malaysia's New Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir

First, Pakatan Harapan needs to clean up the 1MDB scandal. If Malaysia resolves this problem within the Rule of Law, which Dr. Mahathir has stated he is committed to, it would restore international confidence in the country and allay fears about the state of the public coffers.

Pakatan Harapan should work to create a new system of politics that does not distinguish between races, ethnicities and religions. It needs to restore meritocracy in the civil service and it needs to start reforming the country’s national development policy so that it serves all disadvantaged Malaysians equally.

A Malaysian society and economy structured along these lines would give any economy in South-East Asia, if not the entire continent, a run for its money.

4 thoughts on “Malaysians reject fear tactics and opt for change

  1. Now comes the hard part. The expectations of the non Malays are high. How does the new government satisfy them without upsetting the Malays? Meritocracy implies removing the special privileges of the Malays who have been indoctrinated that it is their permanent entitlement. Meritocracy cannot be implemented immediately or too fast as it will exacerbate the anxieties of the Malays who are now unsecured of their places in society. There are at least 36% of them who voted for UMNO not to mention those who voted for a new government. The leaders of the component parties must address this issue, come to a compromise and placate their followers that not all their expectations can be met immediately. There must be a spirit of compromise for all Malaysians to make Malaysia a country we all can be proud again. I was proud to be a Malaysian when TDM became the PM and we hosted the Commonwealth Games. Then came the downfall with Operation Lalang, the emasculation of the judiciary etc. On 10 May I again became proud to be a Malaysian with full of hope and ironically TDM was responsible again. Hopefully we will not be disappointed this time.

  2. Quote:- “The expectations of the non Malays are high. How does the new government satisfy them without upsetting the Malays?”

    This was precisely the “old thinking” that brought the UMNO / BN government down, i.e. scare the shit out of the Malays, (which was what the gerrymandering was all about), and UMNO / BN would romp comfortably home.

    Did it work? It did not work but instead backfired because the Malays, (or rather at least enough of them), are no longer as insecure as they used to be. They want to put the shameful label of a lazy dependent race behind them.

    On the Chinese side they know that money, privileges, golden eggs will not rain down on them no matter which government is in power. Their ancestors back in China had known about this for the last 4000 years; why should anything change now in Malaysia?

    So expectations would not run high even if Xi Jin Ping is PM of Malaysia, and the new finance minister, Lim Guan Eng, is not going to give all Malaysian Chinese companies any extra tax breaks. If anything, I think the Malaysian Chinese would work even harder and happily pay their taxes now because they know, or at least hope, that their taxed dollars would not be corruptly pilfered away into private pockets of Malay, Chinese and Indian BN politicians but go to lifting up the more unfortunate members of society which everyone knows happen to comprise more Malays.

    If I am PM, my first priority is housing for the poor because once a family of any race has a secure roof over their heads the future generations that lived and come out from there will almost always be better nourished, educated and disciplined. Look at Singapore and you will find that a large number of professionals, successful businessmen and PAP politicians were from Housing Board flats.

    Houses are therefore not just shelters from sun and rain but incubators.

  3. “Malays are no longer unsecured”. Don’t forget that almost 50% of the voters (Malays) voted for UMNO and PAS. A sizeable number of Malays voted Harapan because they want Najib out and trusted TDM to safeguard them. Without TDM I doubt Harapan can win. Harapan ignore the anxieties of these these “secured” Malays at their own perils. Racial thinking is still the norm in this country. It does not just disappear overnight. Hopefully we can one day think and rationalise without considering our race. If someone walks with a walking stick for the past 60 years , it is unrealistic to remove their walking aid and immediately expect them to walk normally.

  4. Something really good , the End of this undefineable ‘ Fakery / thing…. – what authority says is (absolute ) truth , others not in power will usually be accused of fakery….. – a one sided law, if passed …… ?

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