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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The compromised loyalty of civil service and armed forces



“Men are not corrupted by the exercise of power, or debased by the habit of obedience; but by the exercise of a power which they believe to be illegitimate, and by obedience to a rule which they consider to be usurped and oppressive.”
- Alexis de Tocqueville
Malaysiakini columnist Mariam Mokhtar wrote a great piece about the narratives of the state of defending “bangsa” and “agama”. I just want to hone in on this paragraph - “Those in the civil service, the police and the armed forces are mostly Malay. The cabinet members, the GLC bosses and the heads of government departments are mostly Malay. The majority of Malays benefit from educational scholarships, affordable home purchases, business funding, or petrol station operating licences.”
This brings us to Public Service Department director-general Zainal Rahim’s rejoinder to the civil service to remain “loyal” to the government and Perlis Menteri Besar Azlan Man chastising retired armed forces personnel for “opposing” the government. Both political statements are because loyalty is not derived so much from any qualitative benefits that the government provides, but rather based on race.
While non-Malays have to put up with Malay potentates who live off their taxes but constantly remind them to be grateful, the majority of the Malay polity are constantly reminded that they need the government and hence have to remain loyal to the dominant Malay power structure. A power structure which through social engineering and economic banditry has ensured that the feudalistic system remains intact even if the idea of a constitutional monarchy has been chipped away over the years by the Umno hegemon, the latest being the National Security Council (NSC) Act.
Let us not kid ourselves. There is a big difference between the propaganda aimed at the non-Malays and for the non-Malays, and the propaganda for the Malay community and against those Malays who are seen as rebelling against Umno rule. Senior Malay civil servants, retired or still serving, can tell you comical stories of how the establishment attempts to ensure compliance. This, of course, goes back to the days of the old maverick.
While high-ranking (thinking) armed forces personnel, who have had the benefit of tutelage under now-retired servicemen, cringe at the moronic displays of vote-getting by the establishment, there are far too many retired armed forces personnel who benefit from the largess of Umno.
This is why when patriots like Brigadier-General (Rtd) Arshad Raji points out the corruption and inequalities of the system (based on) years of service, the Umno hegemon is taken aback. Not only has he been on the receiving end of scurrilous attacks on his reputation, he has always been on the receiving end of the right-wing Malay intelligentsia who view the armed forces as the armed wing of a ruling party.
If you were to talk to the average wage earner in the civil service or the armed forces, you would understand that even with all the “benefits” they receive, they are still struggling.
Here is a prime example of how the government spends so much on “defence” but what the armed forces get is “third world facilities” and mockery from international military organisation they serve with – “Former army deputy chief Lt-Gen (Rtd) Abdul Ghafir Abdul Hamid said today the military camps were like ‘Third World facilities’ that have not been maintained and ‘when the men are asked to serve overseas, they are mocked by the international forces’.”
And this was just five years ago. Does anyone really think that things have improved?
Now some folks may wonder that if the wage earners of the state are struggling, what more the average citizen - Malay and non-Malay - who do not have the safety net provided by the state? If you are non-Malay, you pay double when it comes to not having a security blanket. 
A shift in voting patterns?
While the opposition rightly worries about the armed forces postal votes and military base votes are suspect - that old Stalin rejoinder of the people counting the votes are more important than the ones casting their votes - the reality is that there are many people, those who have left the armed forces or are in the process of leaving, who understand that there is something very wrong with the way how this country is governed.
Mind you, they are not too concerned about all those fancy principles that opposition political parties like to throw about but what they do understand is that their lives are affected by the way how this country is run and no amount of pandering to race and religion can alleviate their problems.
The same applies to the civil service. One mid-level bureaucrat was pissed off that the MACC was going after small fish when the sharks were allowed to feed from the trough without any action from the state. This, of course, was unfair to the "average" corrupt small fish but was also demoralising to those civil servants who actually wanted to do their job.
Furthermore, when political loyalties are based on the petty fiefdoms aligned to greater power structures, the harassment of individuals deemed unfriendly to the current regime and thus ripe for targeting has agitated whole sections of the civil service waiting to express their disdain at the ballot box or are sympathetic to opposition political personalities wanting dirt on the current government. All this has created a toxic atmosphere in the civil service, with people questioning loyalties and allegiances.
This is not to say that race and religion are not a factor when it comes to the Malay vote, only that the opposition may not have as much to fear when it comes to the civil service and armed forces votes. While the average citizen may still be prey to the gung-ho nationalism of Umno, those within the bureaucracy, which is an important voting bloc, may just surprise the Umno state.
This is the reason why the Umno hegemon is busy reminding Malays in the civil service and the armed forces that they should be loyal to the government. This is why a whole range of initiatives are mooted to dissuade the civil service from voting for anyone other than Umno.  
However, all these promises amount to a hill of beans because if anything, while the standard of the civil service has improved over the years, the agitation brought by the class dialectic of the opposition, the religious propaganda of PAS and the split in the Malay vote, has made traditional vote banks open to opposition intrusion.
I, for one, would not be surprised if there were a shift in voting patterns in the civil service and retired armed forces personnel.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.- Mkini

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