Selamat Pagi from Penang. Have been back in Malaysia for a couple of weeks now enjoying the sun shine and food. Thought it might be of interest to share with you my take on the state of Malaysian politics which has always fascinated me. The trap, as a Mat Sellah, (white male in Malaysia) is to look at it based on your own norms. The trick is to see it through Malaysian eyes.
When I served on attachment to the Malaysian Army I became aware of the old Malaysian joke which went something like this ... The Malay will sit under the coconut tree and know that by the goodness of Allah a coconut will eventually fall down and he will have something to eat and drink; the Indian will climb up the tree and cut the coconut down and he will have something to eat and drink while the Chinese will pay the Indian to climb up the tree and get him three coconuts, one to eat and drink and two to sell. In a small way that goes to illustrate the challenges facing Malaysia and those same challenges reflect in Malaysian politics.
Since Merdeka (Independence) in 1957 Malaysian has been governed by an alliance of three main parties (originally called the Alliance but now Barisan Nasional) comprising UMNO (United Malay National Organisation), MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress). All three parties are led by the 'aristocracy' of their respective ethnic groups while UMNO in particular enjoys substantial (but diminishing) Bumiputra (grass root Malay) support. If you were forced to place BN in the political spectrum you would probably designate it Centre/Right.
Up until the 2008 election the Opposition was fractured. In the main it comprised the Chinese based DAP (Democratic Action Party) the Multi Ethnic PJP (Peoples Justice Party) and PAS (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party. PAS alone controlled some State governments. At federal level they failed to make much of an impact. All that changed 4 years ago when they came together to form an informal coalition called PR (Pakatan Rakyat - Peoples Pact/Alliance) under the charismatic leadership of the former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (more later). In that election they won four States (Kehah, Kelantan, Penang and Selangor) and 82 seats in the Federal Parliamet denying BN Government the 2/3 majority it had enjoyed up until then. You might consider the PR to be Left Wing)
There is no doubt the BN and especially UMNO fear Anwar Ibrahim for the support has has among working Malays. He was seen as an effective Minister of Finance and a fighter against corruption and nepotism in UMNO. In 1999 he was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption and a year later to nine years for sodomy with that conviction overturned on appeal. In prison he was severely beaten. In 2008 he was again arrested for sodomy. That charge was dismissed earlier this year with the evidence seen as tainted but just this week the Prosecution filed papers appealing the acquittal. Many hold the view that all the charges/actions against Anwar were/are politically motivated.
The PM refuses to debate with Anwar (who is an effective communicator). The Government has suggested that if he (Anwar) wants to debate it should be with the previous PM (Matathir Mohamad) as he was his Deputy. I think I reflect the view of many in Malaysia that they are scared of giving him any sort of platform.
Whatever, the election is due within the next nine months. BN are smarting their drubbing four years ago.
They will have no hesitation in pulling all the levers of government to ensure they remain in power. You can see that in the 'supposedly'; free press. The two main English medium newspapers (the Straits Times and the Star) are unashamedly pro BN. On an average each daily paper contains contains three/four pro government stories and a similar number anti PR and Anwar stories. There are no pro PR stories.
Will the election be fair and free? In the Malaysian context ... Yes. Can PR win? On a level playing field they just might ... 55 years is a long time for any government. But the level playing field ain't level in the way we know it.
I feel a Tiger Beer and Ikan Bilis a calling along with the pool.
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