Malaysia: model democracy stumbles

Malaysia’ UMNO [United Malay National Organisations] led Barisan National [BN] government has not taken kindly to the long carried winds of the Arab spring that have wafted over the country.

In fact, under the leadership of Najib Razak, all stops are being pulled out against any demostrations challenging UMNO’s role or even the mildest of reforms, which, willy nilly, would shine the light on the party’s warts and corrupt practices.

Yesterday’s arrest of more than 1600 protesters from all racial groups and parties out of government in the capitol Kuala Lumpur is indicative of Najib’s determination to nip protest in the bud.
If anything it tore the mask off of a benign democracy. It is also the long hand of history taking its revenge against the UNMO inspired race riots of 13 May 1969: it is the sin of the prime minister’s father who had a hand in this racialist putsch 42 years ago. In 2007, declassified documents on the Riots became available at the Public Records Office in London. Suaram, a Malaysian human rights group, with the assistance of scholar and activist Kua Kia Soong, published a book challenging government accounts of the events of 13 May 1969.
Malaysia’s Internal Security Ministry, acting on the call of numerous politicians, seized and banned the book. [GuamDiary readers can order a copy from Select bookshop in Singapore.] The documents officially record a coup on the part of the elder Rajib & co., thereby establishing full Malay control of the electoral field, the economics, and setting up a hierarchy of privilege based on race through legally chaining Malaysian Chinese and Indians to second and third class citizenship in spite of constitutional protections.
UNMO benefitted from strong leadership of Mahatir Mohammed, copying the leadership style of Singapore’s Lee Kwong Yew and the flush of oil revenues, dragged the country from a ‘farnient’ image to a bustling modern economy, whilst at creating a middle class which especially advantaged Malays and increasing corruption and imposed heavy restrictions on Chinese and Indians in education, work, land ownership, so on and on.
Under Mahatir, a break in UNMO leadership occured: his heir presumptive Anwar Ibrahim broke with him over how to deal with the 1998 Asian financial collapse. Anwar was arrested, tried and sentenced for among other charges sodomy, and banned from political life. The courts ultimately freed him, but his ordeal is being played out still in the courtroom on the same charges. However, in the meantime, his party ended up breaking UNMO’s hold in key states. [Ironically, Anwar and his wife began emphasising early on a ‘return to Islam’ in dress, practice and piety. coincidentally, many young people attracted to his call ended up embracing strict interpresentation of Islam and may have fostered an attraction of Islamic terrorism’.]
Challenges to UNMO rule could no longer be swept under the carpet. UNMO had to descend into the political market place to thwart any further erosion of its power. Najib replaced the aging Mahatir, which earned him the old prime minister’s spleen [vide, Mahatir’s blog]. Razak is tainted with scandal in a hushed up affair of the murder of a Mongolian model; he was ‘washed’ of any involvement but the jury of public opinion is out on the matter until more documents are made public.

The rise of an urban youth with broader contact through the internet and social networks and travel and easy travel to neighbouring Singapore began chomping on the bit of a censorship, imposition of Islamic taboos even on non Muslims, and the lack of opportunities.
And now the Arab telegraph message of hope and change came loud and clear, adding more yeast to calls for reform.
It is hardly surprising that the UNMO led government mocked and condemned in no uncertain terms the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Clearly it is afraid of its own future and potential fall from power.
Protests in Malaysia raise concern in neighbouring Singapore, which has always offered a haven for Malaysians mainly of Chinese origin. Discontent there under the iron grip rule of the People’s Action Party for the last half century, is beginning to show if we rely on the last elections. Polls reveal the widespread discontent with the PAP.
How protest will play out in Malaysia is a work in progress. UNMO cannot give more lest unless it is willing to deconstruct the work of the 1969 coup d’etat.

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