02/29/2008, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Malaysia needs a political alternative to change

by JC Tansen*
A week from the general elections a Malaysian writer urges the population to stop dreaming and start developing instead a truly multiparty system, the only insurance for a healthy democracy. In power since 1959 the United Malays National Organisation is expected to win in the 8 March poll.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Malaysia will hold general elections on 8 March, a moment to start dreaming again; dream about a country where the sun shines again for everyone, warming every citizen with equal respect, opportunities and privileges without favours for creed, race or rank, where everyone feels the richer for it, a Malaysia that cares for those in need and values the web of life.  

Malaysians dream of a prime minister who believes that having these many races, indigenous peoples and religions and the country’s natural abundance of flora and fauna is Malaysia’s greatest resource and strength, and that everything must be done to let this diversity flourish, a place that is a cauldron of ideas, where alternative points of view are welcome and concerns of all kinds can be voiced. A Prime Minister who can give voice to this kind of vision and take meaningful action to achieve it would make news around the world every day! 

Instead we are in the spotlight of global media because in our country Bibles are seized at airports, bookshops are raided for carrying books that depict prophets mentioned in other books, publications are warned against using the word ‘Allah’ or dead people are deemed to have converted to the state religion, leaving no choice of belief for their living relatives, mass demonstrations by ethnic minorities take place to express dissatisfaction and their leaders are put in prison without trial. Events like these make the country look rather puny in the eyes of the world. 

Meanwhile, the quintessential Malaysia, cherished and dear to so many hearts, a natural wonderland of plants, animals and mystical landscapes, struggles to get out. 

These general elections should put an end to the long season of complaining about what the government has done or failed to do. The government we get and the country we have, have much to do with the way we use our vote. From the very beginning, Malaysians have voted not to ‘rock the boat’ or even change its direction, justifying their vote for ‘more of the same’ as the price that must be paid for peace. With this prevailing mode of thought, we cannot imagine a Malaysia that has stable peace but is also great and grand, the envy of the civilised world.

When the electorate gives one party a two-thirds majority over and over again, what it is clearly signalling to that party is, “The way you govern us is just fine. Carry on as usual.” Regardless of how it performs, the government expects to be re-elected in the next elections, and if it hears complaints, they are masterfully dismissed as noise in the classroom. 

Quite a few Malaysians are satisfied because all their dreams have been fulfilled. They have a fancy car or two in the porch, their children attend private school, all the work at home is done with paid help, their bank account has muscle and they feel free to worship piously.

This Malaysia of privileges comes at a price, paid by the increasing pain of the underclass and the environment. It is made possible by unequal opportunities and benefits for its citizens, underpaid migrant labour, unemployed locals and devastated natural habitats.

To begin to address these and other issues, the Malaysian voter must learn to support and nurture a variety of political parties.

Viable alternative parties will not only bring to light critical issues but like a true friend motivate the ruling party to be more vigilant, the media to be more honest and the judiciary to be fairer.

When the ruling party is powerful beyond all proportion, the media and judiciary, mindful of the need to please their one and only master, are rendered partial.

The media and judiciary have a vital role to play to keep democracy in good health. They provide checks and balances against the universal human tendency toward abuse when power is concentrated in the hands of the few.  

A different Malaysia cannot happen overnight, but we can plant the seed by voting for “less of the same.”

 

*Tansen is a Catholic writer involved in the defence of the country’s cultural and environmental heritage.

 

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