Terence Netto: High Stakes Politics in Malaysia

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BERSIH 2. 0 High Stakes Politics in Malaysia by Terence Netto as told to Dinmerican 28 June 2011

My friend, Terence Netto, writes about the on-going tussle between our Government and the civil society coalition called BERSIH2.0. Netto sees it in stark US versus THEM terms. I do not because I believe that the Prime Minister’s intervention will do the trick. He must display true leadership and act with wisdom.

The outcome of the July 9 rally will determine the course of democracy in the years to come. That is why the stakes are high. However, I am concerned about what can happen the day itself, if the protest takes place without Police  permit.

Opposing forces like PERKASA and UMNO Youth are going to disrupt it. The marching crowd will in turn react to provocations in unpredictable ways, and there is no way we can control the passions of the moment with water cannons, tear gas and truncheons. Both sides are headed for confrontation with tragic consequences on Malaysia’s body politik. God Forbid.

The issues are clear: most Malaysians want free and fair elections and this can come about only when there is electoral reform. An opportunity was created when the Elections Commission Chairman suggested that BERSIH2.0 organisers should meet up with him to deal with their well known 8 demands. The fact that this appeal has fallen on deaf ears indicates the level of public confidence in the Elections Commission’s  will  and capacity to institute electoral reforms.

It may be recalled similar demands were in November, 2007 when Malaysians marched in unprecedented numbers (some 60,000 in number) to Istana Negara to petition His Majesty The Yang DiPertuan Agong. Furthermore, if the recommendations of the two Royal Commissions on the Police and the Lingam Tapes were ignored by the Government (under Badawi at that time), there is no assurance that either the Chairman singly or collectively with his colleagues on the Elections Commission can do it now without the clearance from the Government. The Commission’s independence has been compromised far too often.

The onus now rests on Prime Minister Najib and his Government. At this time, given the pressure from the Malaysian public — to the extent that BERSIH2.0 represents them– and reactionary groups like PERKASA and UMNO Youth, the Government has responded to BERSH2.0 organisers and other dissidents including the well known poet and novelist, Dato A. Samad Said (picture above) with an iron fist. Police crackdown has begun with the threat of the draconic ISA looming. Only the Prime Minister can diffuse the mounting tension in the run-up to July 9.

There is still room for a peaceful resolution to this impending crisis. The Prime Minister’s leadership is required. Only he can stop this rally from happening with an olive branch. We all should start listening to each other, and work towards a united Malaysia where there is place for everyone. But we must recognise that there are elements in our society who could be itching for a fight to settle old scores. A showdown is in the works but it can be diffused. It requires an act of true leadership.–Din Merican

Government Versus BERSIH: An eyeball-to-eyeball situation

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: The parallels and differences between then and now have to be dwelt on for insight and illumination.

Then would be October 1987, when tensions were rising in the country over an issue to do with the placement of non-Mandarin speaking administrators in government-aided Chinese schools.

Party elections in UMNO earlier that year had resulted in a controversy-marred close victory for the incumbents. Internecine conflict in the dominant political party is always tinder for the lighting. The lighted match would come with the controversy over the government’s decision to appoint non-Mandarin speaking administrators in Chinese schools.

Switch forward 24 years and the country finds itself in a situation of rising tensions in the immediate prelude to the BERSIH 2.0 march planned for July 9, though this time the drivers for the heightened tensions have nothing to do with race or language.

True, there is competitive rivalry in the dominant political party, UMNO, but it does no longer bestride the political arena like a colossus as it used to.  Now the party displays symptoms of a different ailment to the one that afflicted it in 1987: its weakened position in the parliamentary calculus has emboldened right-wing elements within in to push for a crackdown on an opposition that could defeat it in the fast approaching general election.

Because perception is almost everything in Malaysian politics, the planned march for July 9, if it draws a bigger attendance than did its predecessor in the Bersih march of November 2007, it could well be curtains for UMNO-BN in the 13th general election.

As in the comparative 1987 period, the question, in the lead-up to the BERSIH 2.0 march in 11 days time, of how to assure the stability in power of the ruling elite is central to all other factors riding in the balance.

Issues of race, religion, independence of the law enforcement authorities and the like, are like patterns in a kaleidoscope whose formations are dependent on who does the shaking.

Najib miming the pantomime

As the baton of UMNO leadership was passed to him in April 2009, the prognostications for Prime Minister Najib Razak were that the man, whose father was the catalyst for the tectonic shifts to the Malaysian political landscape in the immediate post-May 13 1969 period, would either be the initiator of a radical revamp to save the construct or perish in the attempt.

In the two years since he has taken over, Najib has made the shifts and feints indicative of a desire to revamp the system, but a creaking edifice, entrenched in its ways, has budged but little.

This has left the leader miming the pantomime but unable to effect substance of change. On an array of issues, ranging from education to electoral reform, the entrenched system asserts its unchanged ways in spite of good intentions to effect change.

Perhaps the system has to be changed from top to bottom and the main superintendent of change is too embedded in the old to be a harbinger of the new. Sensing this, the opposition knows that a crumbling system and its defenders-cum-reformers are a final push away from oblivion.

This realisation has propelled them to arrive at a consensus that has shoveled away major differences in their agendas.They now enjoy unanimity of outlook and aim which is symbolised by their determined support for the BERSIH 2.0 march.

An Ode to Democracy

All successful mass movements need a rallying point around which their disparate aims can coalesce. The Malaysian opposition has found in the call for electoral reform.

It has helped that the ham-fisted manner in which the authorities are seeking to prevent the BERSIH 2.0 march has had the effect of widening the array of support for the event.

When the penning of a poem, ostensibly an ode to democracy, by a national literary laureate, Dato A. Samad Said (right), is occasion for the police to haul up the author for sedition – the indictment of the authorities by their asininity towards the march is self-evident.

Thus the immovable object, which is the BERSIH march itself, and a seemingly irresistible force, which is the security establishment, is poised in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.

The side that blinks would be the one that resorts to uncivil methods – repression by the one side and disorderly conduct by the other.


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7 Responses to “BERSIH 2.0: High Stakes Politics in Malaysia”

Din, I think you hold too high a regard for the Prime Minister. If he truly cared he can bring about the changes that Bersih and other NGOs are fighting for. If he truly cared, those policemen that are killing our kids would have been brought accountable. If he truly cared, the whole looting in Sarawak could have ended. If he truly cared those kids that scored 8A’s and their parents would not have been disappointed. If he truly cared, he would have ensured that our electricity tariffs are not being held to ransom by special IPP holders. If he truly cared, those AP permits would have been abolished. If he truly cared, those contract abuses in the Defense Ministry could not have transacted during his time.

There are just too many IFs.

But you are right about this Bersih rally. It will hurt Malaysians but bring much needed change. The people must raise above the fascism perpetuated by UMNO.

james  –  June 28, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I agree with James, Dato. I think you give the current Prime Minister too much credit and hope. I don’t it that way. I think he is the weakest Prime Minister this country ever had, perhaps he came to office with lots of baggages. But the truth is he did not act in any of the past crises when he was required to… it seems to me he prefers to give long speeches where “he does not mean what he says and does not say what he means.”

It seems to me Najib Tun Razak is afraid of something, sure he loves the pomps that come with the prime ministership, but perhaps he is held to ransom by some hidden hands – maybe at home domestically, maybe allegedly by the ex-PM Tun M or perhaps even by some party warlords.

Whatever it is, Najib comes across to me as a weakling and it is for this I see mayhem and chaos in the days leading to July 9 and perhaps even bigger chaos on the day itself. We are headed for big trouble, Dato, and no one is at the steering wheel!

Sentinel  –  June 28, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Until state terrorism and state piracy are named and shamed, the willing slaves will continue to get the whip.

semuanya OK kot  –  June 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm

You are thinking aloud!! Old man dream dreams. This PM is like a eunuch or headless chicken.
Yes, old men dream; they call it the Vision thing. This old man if given a chance can make dream real. It is matter of personal will to get things done. If Najib who is very much younger than I does nothing except what is politically expedient, then he won’t make it. If he does not heed advice, then he deserves what is coming to him.He is astute enough to know the price of power. He can be take away from him either by his rivals in the party or the people of Malaysia. I recommend he stops talking and start taking action.At least, Najib should know that there are still a few people around who will tell him what he does not like to hear. –Din Merican

Sam01  –  June 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm

There is nothing to stop Rosemajib and Kerismudin from allowing Bersih to march peacefully and alone on 9th July, supervised at a safe distance by the police.

After all Bersih proposed it first and therefore should be allowed their democratic rights. Perkasa can march the next day or week followed by UMNO Youth.

Why can’t this compromise work? Why should Rosemajib say Perkasa and UMNO Youth have the same right as Bersih to march the same route at the same time and place? Why is he suggesting a recipe for utter disaster? That’s the crux of the matter. Rosemajib is suggesting the scenario be deliberately seeded for a clash and riots. This is Prime Ministerial material?

And do remember that of the 3 parties, it is Ibrahim Ali and Perkasa who are threatening chaos, violence and rioting.

In that scenario, I ask Din and Rosemajib – who should be banned from marching and charged with inciting unrest and racial, religious and political hatred?

we are all of 1 Race, the Human Race
Donpp, PERKASA of course. But Ibrahim Ali and cohorts will be free since they play the bad cop role, and let UMNO be free from any flak. As long as PERKASA serves UMNO’s interest, Ibrahim Ali is untouchable. Despite my plea for good sense and true leadership, Najib will act according to the dictates of UMNO politics. He is a politician, not yet a statesman. –Din Merican

donplaypuks  –  June 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm

The Prime Minister’s leadership is required……Dato Din.

What makes you think he has the leadership, Dato’ ? All these while it shows he is being led by Big Mama, domestically ; by Al- Kutty , politically ; and by Apco administratively ! Otherwise, he won’t be saying and doing things differently.

That is why I said, BERSIH2.0 will be a true test of his leadership. I expect him to handle Rosmah himself. If he can’t manage and lead his wife and family, that is his problem. People can then decide whether they want him to be their Prime Minister in a free and fair elections.–Din Merican

samsaimon  –  June 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm

People can then decide whether they want him to be their Prime Minister in a free and fair elections.–Din Merican

The last time I checked, there is no direct election for the post of Prime Minister. UMNO members decide who their President should be. They decide who the Prime Minister should be. We don’t.

Mr Bean  –  June 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm

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