Friday, April 11, 2008

Blast From The Past - "The Malaysian Dilemma" Part 1 of 6



by D.P. Pangai


The current dilemma in the form of the economic crisis that Malaysia faces raises more questions perhaps than answers, questions which largely it would appear the Malaysian government does not want to ask or be asked and answers which it cannot or will not provide nor will listen to.

Who is to blame for the crisis, is it the dastardly currency speculators (as the Malaysian government - or rather, Mahathir - claims) or the inherent self-induced structural weaknesses of an over-heated and silently ravaged economic system? Was it just a bubble which burst like all the other bubbles in Asia?

Is it the undeserved result of a Zionist plot (part of a wider scheme to undermine the whole ASEAN/Asian region and to further a nefarious globalist agenda) or the deserved ultimate and inevitable outcome of years of systematic economic buccaneering, plundering and looting by the locals themselves?

How was this up and coming economic tiger of the East brought to its knees? Can it avoid being floored?

Its policies only appeared to be good, but their implementation left a lot to be desired while mismanagement and plain "robber baron" mentality sapped the system and ensured that it was a disaster just waiting to happen. One thing is certain, and that is if Malaysians want to get over the economic crisis they must first rid their country of the powerful local and foreign vested interests that continue to hold them hostage without them becoming hostage to new vested interests.

Can the present Malaysian culture of extravagance be replaced by one of austerity and sobriety? Can the present neo-feudal political system be replaced by a more responsible and responsive one? Do Malaysians see the problem and are they willing to do what it takes to change for the better or will they be convinced by Mahathir’s attempts to obfuscate and side-track the real issues? Those attempts have now taken on a dramatic and indeed "shocking" turn over the last few weeks with the sacking of Anwar from all his government and party posts and from UMNO itself.

If anything, it is Anwar who stood for reformation and has returned to that call. Will reformation succeed with or without Anwar? Do the people understand what it means? Can it catch the imagination of the majority of the Malaysian public in time for the national elections which Mahathir is expected to call at any time after the Commonwealth Games or the October Budget?

Does Islam have the answers, and can Anwar and his Gerakan Reformasi Rakyat convince the Malaysian public that it is capable of running the Federal government, possibly in coalition with PAS and DAP? That appears to be the stark choice facing Malaysians today - Barisan Reformasi or Barisan Nasional? Take your pick and live with it at least for the next 5 years.

Will Anwar form a political party (now known by the proposed name of Gerakan Reformasi Rakyat) and can he do it in time? Will Mahathir withhold the purported "evidence" against Anwar only to use it to full effect to cripple a Barisan Reformasi led by Anwar in the elections?

Is it Anwar which is the real issue or is it Mahathir?

Will the people's attention be diverted from the cause of Reformasi by the scandalous and as yet unproven accusations and allegations against Anwar or will the people play smart and ignore these issues and focus on the real issues - the rampant corruption, nepotism and cronyism, abuse of power, lack of transparency, misuse and mismanagement of public funds and many other significant abuses of the system perpetrated by the Mahathir regime?

Muslim Malaysians appear to be returning to their religion in droves, driven perhaps more by the shock of the economic crisis than any other factor, as all walks of life continue to be affected by a situation which deteriorates daily. The government itself appears caught in the grip of its own vested interests determined to salvage whatever they can personally out of the economic and financial straits they find themselves in, even at the expense of the common people.

Many formerly enriched businessmen linked to the government now find themselves technically bankrupt, their companies technically insolvent, unable to pay even the interest on their loans. They continue to blame everyone else except themselves for the whole situation, hoping that people will forget what they themselves have done to lay the breeding ground for the problems that now beset them and the country. These are the cronies whom Mahathir wishes to help using government and public funds at the expense of the ordinary people.

Most Malaysians say that these people deserve to be in their present predicaments for their own greed, extravagance, mismanagement, abuse of position and trust, corruption and lack of charity during good times.

None of them will be missed if they went down or decided to exit. Taking the exit route would of course be least traumatic on the Malaysian public and one which will allow the much needed corporate, economic and social (and also political) restructuring and re-engineering to take place as it should - this is Reformasi.

Mahathir the neo-feudal lord on the other hand seems just as determined to cling to power, maintain the status quo and all its vested interests and to save those accused of being his and Daim Zainuddin's, UMNO Treasurer and Special Functions Minister’s, cronies even though he cannot offer any cogent answers other than to blame it on foreign currency speculators and to urge the people to unite behind the government and give it complete trust in its largely undetermined, undefined and ineffective approaches to the economic crisis.

It is the inept Mahathir government which got Malaysia into this mess in the first place - can or should it be trusted to get Malaysia out of the mess? Will Malaysians allow themselves to be deceived yet again?

Mahathir has toured the whole country in a bid to "explain" his version of the economic crisis to the people. While cracking down on rumours of riots in the central KL market of Chow Kit which spread like wildfire chiefly on newsgroups through the Internet (for which 4 people have been arrested and detained without trial under Malaysia’s draconian Internal Security Act - a British legacy meant to be used against Communist insurgents in the 1950’s), the irony is that Mahathir himself has been desperately exhorting the people not to riot, strike or incite racial and religious disharmony or conflicts. Why the need to do this if there is no such threat? Or is he himself out to create such a threat, which is not beyond him?

It is also not beyond Mahathir to see Anwar and the crowds that throng (in the thousands and even tens of thousands) his residence and other places he visits as a threat to "public order". But it is unlikely that Mahathir will risk arresting Anwar in view of his continually rising popularity, not unless he is also contemplating imposing emergency rule, a move which could rapidly backfire and cause the otherwise calm situation to deteriorate beyond repair.

In a message aimed at PAS and other opposition parties and their supporters and people generally inclined to disbelieve the government (for which it is now clear they have ample reason), Mahathir "advised the people to continue to practise moderation and to discard extremism" (New Straits Times, 16.8.98). It is also clear that Mahathir himself is not averse to using the fear of racial and religious "extremism" to scare the people into supporting the government. Of course he himself will not see this as inciting racial and religious disharmony.

By his definition, anyone who disagrees with him is an "extremist" of some form or another. This combined with the purported threat from foreigners bent on stealing Malaysia’s freedom and its political and economic sovereignty represents a highly potent scare tactic. Will it work this time and will it be potent enough to deceive the Malaysian people once again? Is Malaysia’s national security really at stake here or is this just another desperate ploy by Mahathir to stay in power by whatever means at his disposal? Will the will of the people be disposed of or dispensed with?

Will the Malaysian people continue to surrender their future to the self-interested dictates of Mahathir and his cabal? The likely answer, judging from the crowds, of all colours, persuasions and creeds, that greet Anwar, is a loud resounding "NO!"

Anwar Ibrahim, the ex-Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister’s premature attempt (as Mahathir saw it) to ease or force Mahathir out of office fizzled out at the last UMNO General Assembly and has compromised his efforts at tackling the crisis and has now cost him his position, as Mahathir (who moves fast for a man in his 70’s) swiftly moved to re-establish control over an increasingly divided UMNO. Can Mahathir do enough damage control with the help of all the yes-men in the party to prevent UMNO and the BN from losing the next elections? There is a great deal of doubt about this.

Whatever the case may be, two editors of Malay-language newspapers who are linked to Anwar were forced to resign for voicing opinions and emphasizing news which did not show the government in good light. Their criticisms centred on lack of transparency and accountability and the bad effects of the crony capitalism practised by the government. What they said was true, but they paid the price for their candidness.

(To be continued...Part 2)

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