Friday, 31 August 2012
The angel you don't know...
COMMENT In this second part of my article in response to the growing criticism of Dr Mahathir Mohamad's "devil you know" remarks, Pakatan Rakyat can counter the BN's war of ideas by describing to Malaysians what sort of government we will get post-BN.
Here are five major issues that we hope Pakatan will address as part of their key policies.
Firstly, making society more equitable, yet more educated and competitive globally. The BN, the Pakatan said, has failed. There are pockets of wealth, education is on the decline in standards and Malaysia is generally not competitive if subsidies are removed.
How will Pakatan better the BN in making society more equitable? Higher spending on education has not worked so long as education is not managed rationally and with a merit-based system in place. More importantly, who in the Pakatan will lead this initiative?
Secondly, race and religion will continue to be thorny issues. More so when coupled with economic development or the lack of it, as in the case of certain segments of the Indian Malaysian community.
Hindraf leaders are correct when they ask the BN and PR to explain their strategies to alleviate cross-generational poverty and its associated social ills that have plagued certain segments of the Indian Malaysian community. I dare say that there are also equally serious pockets of poverty in Sabah and Sarawak.
Ultimately, effective and sustainable policies to deal with this problem have to take into consideration how Malaysia is predicated on ethnicity and religious divisions.
Inherited from the British, ethnic categorisation has given rise to ethnic profiling. This has resulted in certain ethnic groups getting the rough and short-end of the "stick". In what way will Pakatan deal with this problem that is more systematic and effective than the BN?
Can Pakatan describe these policies and how it will ensure that policies are ultimately translated into practice? The BN also has a raft of very good policies but they are not implemented. If the BN's failure is systemic, meaning that its ethnic-based policies are part of the problem, what is Pakatan's solution?
Ultimately, the real measure of success will be the end of movements like Hindraf, when Malaysians of whatever ethnic complexion find little need to support ethnic-based affirmative action.
Thirdly, it has to do with the transformation of the Malaysian economy. There is no doubt that we cannot continue to rely on Petronas to subsidise everything from Proton to sugar. We must get productivity up without spending our children's legacy.
Here, corruption, is only one reason why there is widespread anger against the BN. But how will Pakatan get to grips with the underlying problem? Malaysia is just not as efficient and productive as it should be.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng will be the first to tell you that there is only so much cost-cutting measures and savings from corruption will go. After the honeymoon period is over, how will Penang move forward into the post-industrial era?
Services will be one answer, but how to up standards when three-quarters of the workforce is not properly trained or educated? Penang suffers from a huge brain-drain: so, how to turn the situation around and create brain-gain?
Whatever happens to Penang will happen to Malaysia, except that Malaysia will not do as well. It was so during the days of trade and commerce; and it was so during the manufacturing period where Penang's growth was on average 2% points higher than that of Malaysia.
So, here is a problem that involves both short- and long-term policy changes. Can someone in Pakatan please tell us how they are going to deal with it? Once again, who will lead the charge?
If the 'angel' turns out to be worse?
Next comes the question of BN legacy issues. Pakatan has gone to town listing a raft of BN wrong-doings. From independent power-producers to the judiciary; how will Pakatan overhaul the system to make sure that the goose is not killed in the process of reform?
In most countries that experience regime change for the first time, there are two ways that things pan out. First, like in Kenya, the "angel you don't know", turns out to be worse than the regime you kicked out. It is "our turn to eat" as they say in Kenya.
With former Umno elements in PKR, including Anwar Ibrahim, this is a very real concern. Next, things turn really bad before they get any better. One sees this in most European countries in the early modern period. Again, how will Pakatan go about instilling discipline among its ranks and making sure that all its members follow the new rules and standards it intends to set?
Finally, democratisation is key to making sure items one to four are kept in good order. The BN is now doing window dressing, replacing odious laws that regulate individual freedom with ones that are worse and even more draconian.
Even the BN's own rank-and-file are not happy with newly passed legislation. Pakatan has highlighted this and a lack of local level democracy like local elections as part of it public manifesto, the Buku Jingga.
How will Pakatan go about guaranteeing the freedoms of its own critics without resorting to the law, courts and police to silence them? Even if they are as "extreme" as Perkasa, how will Pakatan deal with demonstrations, student activism and civil society movements?
If it reintroduces local elections and a strong opposition to it emerges, what will Pakatan vow not to do to make sure that local elections and local government truly become a third level of democratic representation?
Devolving of power from Putrajaya
Equally important and related to democratisation is the devolving of power from Putrajaya to the state capitals. This involves giving states more incentives to balance their budgets and putting greater pressure on non-performing state governments to become more efficient.
At the same time, those states that are doing better should be rewarded with more fiscal autonomy. Will Pakatan make the necessary sacrifices at federal level to give away power to the states?
The five issues above are all inter-related and Pakatan should make a systematic effort to describe how a government it leads can do better than the current BN on all these matters. Of course, there is one thing that Mahathir said, which may be true - if Pakatan comes to power, the BN may never recover.
This is not so much because Pakatan will use its authority to crush the BN but because the BN is a coalition of convenience. Once power is removed, the reason for being dissolves. It is not that Pakatan will use extra-constitutional means to prevent the BN from coming back, it is the BN that, without power, will disintegrate.
That is also an outcome that we do not want for Malaysia. It is best to keep the two political camps alive, competing and in perpetual "gratefulness" to the electorate.
If politicians are all power-hungry and corrupt feral beasts, it is better to have two groups of thieves jealously guarding against each other, rather than being dependent on any one. In the end, there are no angels in politics, just whiter devils.
Part I: The devil you know
NEIL KHOR completed his PhD at Cambridge University and now writes occasionally on matters that he thinks requires better historical treatment. He is quietly optimistic about Malaysia's future.