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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Malaysia could go the way of the Philippines

MARCH 19 — Brian Yap | malaysianinsider

In the early 1960s, the Philippines was an economic power. In fact, during the era, the archipelago nation boasted one of the largest economies in Asia, behind only Japan.

Today, while it remains an important part of Asean and the world community at large, it's safe to say that those glory days are long over. When most outsiders think of the Philippines today, it is political instability, economic struggle, crime and corruption that often come to mind.

Those insisting on science and maths continuing to be taught in English here, take note: the Philippines uses English as a medium of instruction. But when fundamental issues are neglected, failure is a word that exists in any language.

In such difficult circumstances, it's no surprise that resourceful Filipinos have looked for opportunities abroad. About 8 per cent of the country's population are employed as migrant labour outside the Philippines. The people are willing to work. Unfortunately, the jobs are elsewhere.

The past two to three decades has seen Malaysia go through a period of overall growth. While we may not have reached the status of the Philippines in its heyday, it's hard to dispute the fact that the quality of life has improved for many Malaysians.

But, as the example of the Philippines shows, no nation can claim continuous prosperity and stability as its destiny. Elections matter. Politics matter. Government policies, the strength of our institutions, the education and culture of our people, they all matter. If you don't think these things have an impact on your everyday lives, then you are sadly oblivious to all that is going on around you.

As we are facing both an economic recession and a political transition, Malaysians are understandably anxious and worried. It is certainly of no consolation that all of this is occurring amidst a toxic political climate.

Our worries are compounded by the fact that most Malaysians are expected to behave like mere observers in the coming transition. In fact, we're often not even regarded as spectators, but more like Peeping Toms who are trying to find a gap in the door in order to gain an insight into the process.

What we've seen so far hasn't been pretty. A leading contender for the Umno deputy presidency (and by convention, the post of the deputy prime minister) has been barred from contesting due to corruption, something which both former and current Umno leaders say is rampant throughout the party.

While I am no fan of Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam (who famously said even God cannot sink his party), the decision to bar him undoubtedly has the stench of selective prosecution for political reasons. Disqualifying him from the contest while neither suspending him of his Umno membership nor replacing him as the chief minister of Malacca makes the political motive all the more obvious.

The entire Umno election is becoming a farce worthy of a banana republic. Except, well, when the future of our nation depends on the outcome, it is far less amusing. The corrupting influence of money can be found everywhere. Again, not my words, but those of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, all once prominent leaders of both the party and the nation who have had their differences.

It would be one thing if all the bribery and vote buying were limited to lower positions. But as we have all seen, those on top are very much involved. Supreme council members. Cabinet ministers, current and future. Potential deputy prime ministers. The entire process is tainted by both the givers and receivers of these bribes, and all ordinary Malaysians feel they can do is watch in silent dread.

To top it off, the man destined, as his wife recently said, to be our next Prime Minister is covered in unanswered allegations and questionable actions that cannot be washed off with a simple charm offensive. As there is no contest for this top post, even Umno members don't get to have a choice in this matter, let alone the rest of the country.

It pains me to say this, but Malaysia has been on a steady decline for the past decade. It pains me because for every lame-brained decision by those in charge, I see Malaysians who are talented, hardworking, resourceful and intelligent.

These Malaysians exist all over the country, from Perlis to Sabah, and they can be found in the arts, sports, business, politics, and in many unlikely areas. Many of these Malaysians can also be found all over the world.

But unless all that is great about this country and its people are reflected in the administration of our nation, our path to despair might very well be the only thing we see on the horizon. This mustn't happen. But it surely could.

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