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Monday, May 3, 2021

Malaysia in dystopia while seeking the Utopian dream

 

In the confusing world of Malaysia, instead of reading news reports on race, religion, corruption, government inefficiencies, party squabbles and the ailing economy, it’s good to rejuvenate yourself and read books like “Utopia”, “Why Nations Fail”, “How to Change the World” and “Post Truth”.

We can then pretend to be a professor of philosophy at a renowned university and intellectualise some of our frustrations about Malaysia and put it into limpid perspective. It may be a kind of escapism in an imaginary world where you can roam freely, but it’s good for your soul.

Utopian dream spoiled by corruption

Thomas Moore’s “Utopia” is an imagined community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens. We all have our own Utopian dream of Malaysia – getting rid of our corrupt political system and officials, eradication of religious and racial lines, equity in sharing of the economic pie, and where citizens welfare is taken care of by the state.

There are glimpses of Utopia at lovely places in Langkawi or Sabah, where we are pampered during short vacations by the beach with white sand and deep blue seas and the vast horizon without any pesky politicians masquerading as true Muslims blocking your view, no corrupt officials using your tax money to squirrel away their loot in various foundations and for personal use.

But then to quote Shakespeare, “life is but a dream”.

The Utopian dream is further shattered by the revelations of former attorney-general Tommy Thomas about the goings-on at the AG’s Chambers; revelations by retiring inspector-general of police Abdul Hamid Bador of graft in the police force and political corruption.

But will there be any reforms?

Going by the trend, many more high-ranking officials will write their memoirs and expose corruption when they leave office. Book publishers should walk the corridors of power and sign up all the senior officials to write their memoirs. It could be a lucrative deal for both sides.

These high-level exposés show that we still have principled and honest people in Malaysia who are just fed up with the lack of corporate governance and corruption. All is not lost yet.

Why nations fail

According to authors Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson, a nation fails because of poverty.

Using Egypt as an example, they said the country is poor because it has been ruled by a narrow elite that has organised society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people. Political power has been narrowly concentrated and has been used to create wealth for those who possessed it, such as the US$70 billion fortune apparently accumulated by ex-president Mubarak.

The same thing has happened in Malaysia with feudal parties and party patronage keeping them in power for decades.

Sabah being the poorest state in Malaysia is another good example of a failed state. Rich in resources, its oil money has been siphoned off by the central government. The billions squandered by 1MDB, also involving past leaders from Sabah, could have been used to take Sabah out of poverty decades ago.

How much rent-seeking money has gone into corrupt practices is anybody’s guess.

Using post-truth to stay in power

Post-truth amounts to a form of ideological supremacy, whose practitioners try to compel someone to believe in something whether there is good evidence for it or not. The Ketuanan Malay concept entailing Malay land and a Malay contract is a good example of post-truth.

Malaysia’s short history of 58 years shows there has been no such thing.

Don’t confuse Malaysian history with the history of Malaya. Malaysia is not Malaya.

AJ Stockwell in his book, “British documents on the end of British Empire” wrote, “Malaysia that was inaugurated on 16 September 1963, failed wholly to satisfy any of the parties to it. It was neither forged through nationalist struggle nor did it reflect a homogenous national identity. Rather it was the product of grudging compromise and underpinned by fragile guarantees, its formation was peppered with resistance and that it came into being at all was regarded by many at that time as a close-run thing”.

Sabah and Sarawak have been drifting apart from the central government and are flexing their muscles. The latest development is to upgrade the two states as “Wilayah”. Nobody really knows what that means. It’s just to make the two Borneo states happy – like upgrading your title from “Datuk” to “Tan Sri”. You only get front row seats, but no extra money.

Inching closer into dystopia

Instead of Utopia, Malaysia is in a state of dystopia. We have become a society characterised by corruption in politics, government and the police, with a suspended parliament, a declaration of a state of emergency, and human misery brought on by a virus.

Surprisingly, the backdoor government has lasted longer than expected. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is perhaps Umno’s best survivalist, having learned the trick of the trade from a sly fox like Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The only thing going for Malaysia is we don’t have a total breakdown of law and order yet.

How to change Malaysia

The obvious answer is to change the political order at GE15. Movements such as Gerak Independent have a long shot at fielding independent candidates. Young voters can also make a difference but their chance to vote at 18 has been dashed. The government has been dragging their feet, although the law was already been passed by Parliament in July 2019.

The disenfranchised voters who voted for a new government in May 2018 will have another bite at the cherry at the coming elections. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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