Sunday, April 27, 2008

Evolve or perish

Evolve or perish

Monday, 28 April 2008

The mainstream media editors and journalists are once again demanding that the oppressive Printing Presses and Publications Act be reviewed, if not repealed.


This is the last chance for this government to get it right or else the usual 10-year electoral cycle of ‘rise and fall’ in the performance of the ruling party will be broken. It will be the fall and fall.
JUST Do It. This should have been the motto in 2004 when the Prime Minister received an overwhelming mandate for his change agenda.

But it took the verdict of March 8 to finally move Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to take substantive steps to deal with the long-standing demands from civil society and the opposition parties to redress past wrongs and strengthen Malaysia’s democratic structures and values.

First, his announcement to set up a Judicial Appointments Commission on April 17.

Then on April 21, the announcement to revamp the Anti Corruption Agency into an independent commission with accompanying new laws, enforcement powers and public procurement procedure. Over the past weeks, several ministers, new, and old ones with new portfolios, have talked about the urgent need for reform.

Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Chik and Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar have both promised more press freedom, with the latter undertaking a “re-look” at the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 to move with the times.

Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin has promised to table amendments by the end of the year to the unpopular Universities and University Colleges Act1971.

The Minister in charge of Law, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, has brought within one month more substantive change in the administration of justice in this country than what any other law minister has done in years.

He successfully pushed for the setting up of the Judicial Commission, first proposed by the Bar Council in 2003 and by Suhakam in 2005.

He remains committed to restoring Article 121(1) to its original wording as the 1988 amendment had diluted the doctrine of separation of powers between the Executive and the Judiciary.

And he has promised to review all the ouster clauses introduced in several laws in the mid to late 1980s which made the decision of the minister final and not subject to any judicial review.

The mainstream media editors and journalists are once again demanding that the oppressive Printing Presses and Publications Act be reviewed, if not repealed.

Stung and rejected by the public, the mainstream newspapers are now making up with a daily dose of often incisive and critical writing on Malaysian politics.

Reading the morning papers over breakfast could become a habit again. It takes March 8 for those in authority to realise that it is better to unleash mainstream journalism – once built on a tradition of fair, balanced, accurate, fact-checked reporting – to rebuild its reputation as a credible source of information or face the onslaught of unsubstantiated, unverified gossip and rumours turned into facts that pervade the new media.

The rakyat has spoken. They want change. The Prime Minister is beginning to institute change. The mainstream media is fast changing to rebuild its influence. And yet, many voices within Umno are pushing for the party’s self-destruction. I am amazed. For they seem to think that March 8 was just a blip in Umno’s inherent hegemonic powers. The only change they can think of is the need to replace the President and, hey presto, everything will be back to normal.

They think the only reason they lost those seats was because the Umno President and his family and coterie of advisers chose the wrong candidates and therefore the Umno machinery failed to deliver the votes.

If only the right candidates were chosen, they would not have lost the four additional states, the Federal Territory, and their two-thirds majority in Parliament. Yes, the party President must take the biggest responsibility for the damning results.

But the massive public repudiation of Barisan Nasional was not just a repudiation of the Prime Minister’s rule, but of all the corrupt, immoral, authoritarianism in BN politics and governance in its 50 years of domination.

The public has had enough. But these Umno politicians do not have it in them to see the writing on the wall.

Nor do they have the confidence, and certainly not the conviction, to deliver on the palpable demand for change – change in how they understood, used and abused power.

They seem to think that a return to sledgehammer rule under a strong leader, an appeal to Malay racialist sentiment, and spreading the patronage goodies from bigtime cronies to the divisional level cronies, would just do the trick to win them support again.

Basically, they want it to be business as usual.

That Pakatan Rakyat won votes on a platform of change from “ketuanan Melayu” to “ketuanan rakyat” and a smorgasbord of promises to make democracy and good governance work for all citizens seems to have escaped these Umno recalcitrants.

While this new alliance is fast capturing the shifting mood of Malaysian voters to a new political centre of equitable and fairer terms of engagement among the citizens, and between the citizen and the state, and generating excitement among young voters and community groups that their voices can indeed bring change, Umno members are more preoccupied with power grabbing in the run-up to party elections in December.

They forget the goodies the winners want to lay their grubby hands on might just be in someone else’s clutches by the next general election.

But what makes Umno politics even more wretched for us looking on from the outside is the fact that so many calling for leadership change in Umno are themselves so tainted and discredited.

They might win party elections whooping their “ketuanan Melayu” battle cry, but they will cause the party to lose the next general election. The ground has shifted and they still think the old tricks will deliver them victory.

What is there then for its key Barisan partners to remain in the coalition? They are already blaming Umno and its arrogant, intemperate and relentless stomping and condoning of ethno-religious supremacy for driving away Chinese and Indian voters into the waiting arms of PKR, DAP and PAS.

To now claim that Malay political power is under threat is hubris. It is Umno that has lost its dominance. As Karim Raslan in his column on April 22 said, what the Umno leaders don’t want to acknowledge is that their monopoly over the Malay vote is gone forever.

No, the Malays are not disunited. The Malay community has evolved into a more complex, sophisticated, diverse community with diverse interests.

There are those who want a democratic and secular Malaysia with justice and equality as core values; those who want an end to affirmative action that damaged Malay competitiveness; those who want an Islamic state and syariah rule; those who want Islam as a source of social values, but not an instrument of state power; those who want good governance and forget ideology; those who want an end to racebased politics and political parties; those who want to restore our rich tradition of embracing and celebrating our cultural and religious diversity ...

Malaysian politics is taking off into an epochal transformation from race-based to issue-based.
Increasingly, Malaysians are building new solidarities based on issues, not race or religion.

Be it human rights, women’s rights, democracy, good governance, freedom of the press, detention without trial, local government, environment, land rights, anti-corruption, reviving Malay culture killed by Islamisation … it is the issue that will bring Malaysians of all ethnic backgrounds together.

The modernity that development brings can only mean more and more diverse and differentiated interests. Umno and its Barisan Nasional partners have two choices before them: evolve or perish.

For the Prime Minister, the priority now is to fulfil the Barisan Nasional promises of 2004 to bring about a more transparent and accountable government.

He needs to steam ahead to transform Malaysia’s democratic institutions and structures and begin to undo the damage of Umno and Barisan’s hegemonic rule over the past decades.

This is the last chance for this government to get it right or else the usual 10-year electoral cycle of “rise and fall” in the performance of the ruling party will be broken. It will be the fall and fall.

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