Saturday, November 17, 2007

Winter of discontent

This year, the 58th UMNO General Assembly meeting was reportedly tame - in comparison to last year's, where the Malay delegates, led by Tun Hishammuddin, wielded the Kris with much bravado. Was this a sign of the times? Malaysia's economy reportedly grew by 6.1% so far this year. Though lower than Singapore's expected 7.9%, it is still an achievement.

Wither the discontent, which exploded into mass demonstrations against the government in the streets of KL? Government sanctioned mass media are not reporting fully on it, so new media has taken over. You want the news about this demonstration? Read online newspapers and blogs. You want to look at pictures or better still, videos? Look at Youtube with the word 'bersih'. Truly the government is losing its battle of the minds. Gagging the official media is no longer effective. Malaysia can't control new media, unless it shuts off access to the internet, as governments in China and Myanmar are fond of doing from time to time.

I am not a political scientist to offer a reasoned analysis on the situation in Malaysia today. But it is clear that the administration of Abdullah Badawi is facing myriad problems. The biggest of these is the still smoking gun of judicial bribery brought to prominence by Anwar Ibrahim. He must really really hate the judiciary because he must have felt it the height of injustice when he was sent to jail for the charge of sodomy (subsequently overturned) and bribery/corruption (which has prevented him so far from seeking a seat in Parliament). Now that the video tape he released about a senior lawyer bribing a top judge has been acknowledged to be genuine, the ball is on Badawi's administration to appoint a royal commission to look further into the allegations. Badawi, it appears, is still dragging his foot on this. What is he worried about, unless the allegations are true? Lawyers subsequently staged a demonstration about the video tape's implications of complicity and injustice at the very citadel of justice. Truly, Malaysia' judiciary is now in tatters. How the mighty have fallen.

The word 'elections' has been on the mouth of many Malaysians for some time now. The elections process has often been viewed as not that clean in Malaysia. Out of nowhere, the people marched in KL under the banner 'bersih' or 'clean' where they demanded for clean elections, which is expected sometime early next year, and clean systems of government. The government's response - water cannons and news blackout.

Meanwhile in the Hague, Malaysia's lawyers are trying their level best to lay claim to a piece of rock in the South China Sea, called Pedra Branca (or Pulau Batus Puteh as the Malaysians prefer to call it). The protogonists? None other than the red dot of a nation far larger in size to Pedra Branca, on its southern tip that Malaysia unceremoniously ejected from its territories 42 years ago - Singapore. From the evidence and arguments presented so far, it appears that Singapore has a stronger case.

This is truly the winter of discontent in Malaysia. Hopefully it does not signal the winter of Badawi's political career. Why do I hope so? Because he has been good to and for Sinagapore.