Malaysia: Feudal Politics Alive

August 11,2018

Malaysia: Feudal Politics Alive

by James Chai

Image result for the new malaysian cabinet


COMMENT | Many Pakatan Harapan supporters are extremely fearful of criticising Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s government.

They take criticism to be like throwing stones at an already-delicate glasshouse. If we criticise this supposedly infant government, it would tumble and we would usher  another era of BN-UMNO and Najib Abdul Razak. Thus, what we should do is be staunch defenders of Mahathir’s government; anyone who thinks otherwise is a BN supporter on a hangover.

But this fear is wholly irrational. Criticising the current government will not cause it to tumble; criticising Mahathir’s regime will not bring us back to Najib’s regime; criticising powerholders does not make you a corrupt, unprincipled, unkindly BN supporter.

Image result for Feudal Malaysia

I have no doubt that many fearmongers are driven primarily by the good intention of protecting the precious spoils of the sweet May 9 victory. But if we truly intend to prevent a return of BN-UMNO and Najib, then we must be ready to criticise our government openly and frequently.


What we should fear is not criticism; what we should fear is the fear of criticism.

Why we should criticise

First, we should always be prepared to criticise the government because it is in the public interest to do so–to hold government accountable. While Najib may have treated the government coffers as his personal property, we must ensure that Mahathir’s government recognises the fundamental principle that governments are public trustees of our tax money.


It follows logically that every decision the government makes must be transparent, and upon any suspicion of wrongdoing, we must be ready to demand an explanation and/or criticise. For example, before the government embarks on a major project such as a third national car or the maintenance of the National Civics Bureau (BTN), we are entitled to demand full disclosure and explanations. If there are no explanations forthcoming, or if they were unsatisfactory, we must criticise.

Second, we are entitled to criticise because the politicians in government are chosen by us. They are not humans of a special kind chosen by the heavens; they are merely our representatives. So if we are unhappy with a particular action or inaction, policy or decision, then we are entitled to criticise.

Third, and most important, criticisms of Mahathir’s government is the true litmus test of accountability. The essence of accountability is seen not when you successfully criticise your opponents – that is too easy. The true test of accountability is whether you can start criticising your allies on the same side. Because if you can hold accountable peers who have erred, then our country has passed the test for accountability. You must always be ready to criticise the government.


We have a weak government if it constantly requires defending. The government has at its disposal all the resources, expertise, and willpower available in the country  to respond to criticism and act accordingly.

The only exception, perhaps, is when the criticism is disproportionate or factually incorrect. But other than that, no criticism should be feared.

Why would the most powerful entity of the country require defending? What the government requires is not praise or defence; what it requires is criticism to keep it in check.

Power corrupts

We must always be vigilant and guard against the insidious risk of corruption of power. History showers us with plentiful tales of how even the most honest politician in the world may eventually be corrupt when he becomes too comfortable with power.

Image result for xavier jayakumar at swearing ceremony


The Laksamanas of the New Malaysia Government

To limit power, we must create viable systems. We must make sure the prime minister only holds two terms in office; does not concentrate all state powers in his hands; and does not do anything without prior consultation.

But lest we forget, the single most important component of this accountability system is the people. We can have the most progressive laws and constitution in the world, but without the people and their willingness to criticise, nothing will matter.

Our duty as citizens is not to hope for politicians to be incorruptible. Our duty as citizens is to create systems to make sure that even the most dishonest politician has no opportunity to be corrupt. And we do this by criticising openly and frequently.

You will have a functioning democracy only if you can keep it.

I don’t blame anyone who still fears to criticise, though. It takes some getting used to. We have lived so long under an authoritarian regime. Our residual feudalistic instincts made it easier to keep our eyes, ears, and mouths shut. We have yet to awaken from the tragic days of BN-Umno and Najib.

Image result for Mahathir the New Emperor

Malay Feudal Lords on Display–Artifacts of the Past?

However, the greatest tragedy is not that we have lived so long under oppressive laws that stifled criticism. The greatest tragedy is when we choose to stifle our criticism voluntarily even when there are no more oppressive laws hanging over us.

The only way to protect the victory of May 9 is to criticise, criticise, criticise. If we fear, then the gloomy clouds may come back to our shores, and we will have tyrants in different clothes.

After all, Najib was not a special kind of evil—he was merely a product of a failed system.

JAMES CHAI works at a law firm. His voyage in life is made less lonely with a family of deep love, friends of good humour and teachers of selfless giving. This affirms his conviction in the common goodness of people: the better angels of our nature. He tweets at @JamesJSChai.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


9 thoughts on “Malaysia: Feudal Politics Alive

  1. 60 years of history has been compressed in a thousand words. What is the hurry. Not even 100days. Give them 5 years and then we the citizens will decide without fear or favour
    If PH can promise that then it is good enough for me.

  2. Let us be fair, friends…Harapan needs time…a lot more time…this has nothing to do with being afraid to criticise…

  3. Articulating criticism towards wrong doing is important and necessary.

    But to be good at this , one has to be self critical too. Without self criticism as a way of live , criticism for the sake of criticism cannot be productive.

    • What has self-criticism to do with the performance of our national government. Please yourself!!!

  4. Malaysians need to be vigilant lest we repeat the most part of history.
    1. BTN
    Start with PM4 and degenerated into a set up under PM6 which Joseph Goebbels the AgitProp head of Hitler would be proud of. Let us not be nostalgic. Just get it out of the way;
    2. National Car 2
    We cannot afford to repeat the Proton Saga. The automotive industry is evolving at a frantic pace and without a huge outlay, our chances of success is minimal;
    3. Primary Industries
    Listening to the Industry Minister promoting KENAF makes me wonder whether she or her Ministry advisers have study the subject history. Kenaf was proposed more than 10 years ago to move the Tobacco growers away from the trade. Pilot plots were started in UPM under Prof. Jallaludin, the current Chairman of MTIB. The smallholders have found the project to be unlucrative.

    4. UEC
    Why does it need to take 5 years of study? Is the Minister trying to test the theory of cepat lupa? Can PH afford to face the next election with whatever decision it make then?

  5. I find this article full of simplistic liners without real substance to back it up. Mahathir and PH should be criticized but priorities need to be placed – not everything is equal in priorities in reality..Like it or not, the priority is economics and finances – way way above anything because “its the economy, stupid” very much is always true but more so now with a new PH govt because fact is with China, which we are now dependent on, facing headwinds and the US, Europe bubble economies driven by tax cuts and cheap money, we are at risk like never before if our finances are not fixed quickly and new economic policies must be put in place before bad winds come out way..

    The risk is not UMNO/BN returning to power, the risk is PAS coming into power – a theocratic kleptocracy does not end even with blood all over the streets.

    We are all to be blamed, if PAS comes to power. It is obvious and that is why PH is playing with fire. Anyway, PH will be over when Dr. Mahathir is no longer Prime Minister. This is because the coalition was formed as a matter of convenience to defeat Najib. –Din Merican

  6. /// We have a weak government if it constantly requires defending. ///

    Substitute “government” with “religion” and we see what’s ailing the country.

  7. Identity politics is all about reinforcing the hierarchy of voice and power of the various Malay/Muslim groups……in large part is about economic and racial resentment and keeping the minorities in their place eg. Orang Asli are totally disregarded in national development.

  8. The HARAPAN leadership should get Dr. M off the centre stage quickly…100 days of hogging the limelight is more than enough…

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