I have been finding writing my monthly opinion piece an increasingly challenging task over the last year. It is not for a lack of material; this country is a veritable goldmine when it comes to things to write about, especially in a column on the rule of law.
In just the last two weeks, we have seen Anwar Ibrahim convicted of sodomy and sentenced by the Court of Appeal in a manner that has raised some eyebrows (while glasses have been raised in other quarters, I am sure), and Karpal Singh sentenced to a fine of RM4,000 for saying something which, it would appear, can only be thought of and done (but not spoken of) after a hearing in which the prosecution demanded that the court impose a deterrent custodial sentence on the wheelchair bound septuagenarian for his being a threat to the institutions of this country. Additionally, MH370 disappeared in circumstances which almost everyone but the Malaysian government is describing as questionable, and a Deputy Minister is reported to have described non-Malays as being less sensitive to the rape of their children. Marquez or Llosa could not have asked for better material with which to paint their caricatures of the banana republics that were often the focus of their writing.
The truth is evident, I think. We have plummeted as a nation to a level of intellectual and moral bankruptcy that is as staggering as it is banal. It seems that we are mired in the political schemes of an elite that no longer cares what others think of it and which believes it is entitled to act in its own interests over everything else. Were it not the case, the Government would be acknowledging that the nation is being brought to its knees, and is staring in the face of potential sectarianism, by the self-serving policies that it continues to impose on Malaysians.
It can, and probably will for as long as it is able to, continue to delude itself into believing that it is doing more than paying lip service to the legitimate expectations of all Malaysians to social security. Reality however has a tendency to impose itself in the most inconvenient manner.
For instance, who will provide for the thousands of unemployable Malaysians who have been churned out by academic institutions of dubious value that the regime continues to defend against criticism. If Malaysian universities are not getting into the top ranks of academic institutions internationally, is it not obvious that they are not being managed in a way that they need to be? Would it not be better to address the real problem rather than deflect the issue by blaming everything but what really needs to be blamed? It may be that Malaysian leaders have over the years have been hardwired to think and act in that way. How else can one explain the Defence Minister retorting: “There is only confusion is you want to see confusion” to suggestions from the international media on MH370.
What happens when racial policies have left the institutions in the hands of persons simply not qualified or competent to act in a manner their roles require, if that has not happened already? None of us would put ourselves in the hands of a cardio-thoracic surgeon who was not qualified and sufficiently experienced to do what he or she had to do. And yet, the Government continues to do just that with the nation. A cursory glance at the institutions of state would reveal that we do not, as a rule, have the best people for the job in the institutions of the state (this is not to say that all those in positions of leadership are not qualified or competent). I think the Government would be hard-pressed to say otherwise. And yet, these individuals are defining and implementing policies that will have a tremendous impact on the future of this country.
The point is that all of this has been said before. It has become an overarching theme in general, at all levels and in varied forms. Public discussion or agitation of these matters appears to have had little or no effect. Attempts at shaming our leadership have been met with stoic indifference. Efforts to engage in critical discourse have been skewed. In the meanwhile, business carries on as usual.
It seems therefore that the political elite operates in a completely different paradigm, one in which the notion of subordinating personal interests to those of the community is wholly repugnant. It has perhaps been foolish for us to think or expect otherwise.
For all that it promises that paradigm is seductive; wealth, influence, power and all that these things bring with them. For some, if not many, these are highly relevant considerations, particularly so in a society that has become ever more obsessed with material gain. Others, sickened by what it is that this country has become, have left or are planning to.
What purpose then does it serve to continue to highlight the deficiencies of the system, or to propose reforms? These efforts are only meaningful if Malaysians as a whole accept the fundamentals as being of universal application, which one system of governance applies equally to all of us, and not selectively.
It is true that the state of affairs in this country has now been brought under international scrutiny by the tragic disappearance of MH370. Describing Malaysia as “an ethnically polarized society where talent often does not rise to the top of government because of patronage politics within the ruling party and a system of ethnic preferences that discourages or blocks the country’s minorities, mainly ethnic Chinese and Indians, from government service”, Thomas Fuller of the New York Times recently noted that “worldwide bafflement at the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has challenged the country’s paternalistic political culture and exposed its coddled leaders to the withering judgments of critics from around the world.”
Judging by the response from our Government, it appears that very little will change.
(First published in The Edge, 22nd March 2014)