Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stalled Reform Agenda

Most Malaysians are appalled by the succession of press conferences and statutory declarations hogging our headlines, but there are important lessons to be learnt.

First, the stalled reform agenda must proceed. In 2004, Abdullah Badawi promised change. He failed to deliver, suffered the consequences on March 8, and reiterated the same promises. Now we can see the extent to which our institutions – the police, the judiciary and the prosecution service in particular – have been weakened and politicised. We cannot wait for the Umno leadership battle to be resolved and the Prime Minister cannot disappoint us again. He must act and push the conservatives within the Cabinet to move forward.

Secondly, the government's credibility needs to be safeguarded. As one of the more open-minded ministers says: "credibility is something you build up. But once it's lost it's very difficult to regain." Given current pathetic levels of trust, the government has a tough job.

Thirdly, Umno needs to be brought to heel. Many of our problems are due to Umno's overwhelming influence within the administration and the inability to control powerful party members. The network of relationships linking the party, the civil service, business and the security apparatus needs to be exposed to the light of day and full media scrutiny.

"We needn't be afraid of openness." Such courage has earned Shabery the grudging respect of media practitioners."

For decades, Umno has presented itself as the saviour of the Malays and the arbiter of the national consensus. Past party's leaders such as Tun Dr Ismail and Tun Razak were wise and pragmatic, balancing out the conflicting demands of our multiracial society while delivering economic growth and prosperity.

But the party has since become middle-aged and lazy. The wheeler-dealer businessman in his black SUV has usurped the cikgu ethos. Umno warlords and their financial backers must learn they are accountable to the institutions of state: if they break the law they will suffer the consequences. This is where a more open, fair and law-abiding Malaysia are important. We need Abdullah Badawi to remain focused on this agenda. Get it right and it will be his legacy for the future. Get it wrong and nothing will save him. The institutions of state need to return to their true position – above the party.

But many in the party don't consider this to be a priority. For them it's something secondary – the kind of issue beloved of middle classes which Umno leaders felt 'betrayed' them. Well, I have news for them: we didn't 'betray' them – they betrayed us, and the culture and traditions of Umno's founders.

Whenever I discuss these issues with Umno types they'll reply – "Karim, the voters in my kawasan don't care about these things". I disagree with them: Umno's poor showing was due to its refusal to acknowledge and address core issues of justice, fairness and equality – issues that we experience across the country when 'enterprising' and 'clever' Umno leaders acquire large houses, expensive cars and go on lavish holidays.

Still, there are those in Cabinet like Zaid Ibrahim and Shahrir Samad who recognise these weaknesses and have been trying to convince their colleagues that restoring trust in institutions is a priority. Shabery Cheek, for one, has helped 'free up' the media, refreshingly saying: "We need to realise that we do have a track record and culture of service. We needn't be afraid of openness." Such courage has earned Shabery the grudging respect of media practitioners.

The face-off between Anwar Ibrahim and Najib Razak is directly attributable to the current imbalance of authority – on the one hand a severely compromised security and legal apparatus and on the other an executive beholden to no one but the party and its warlords, creating an environment riddled with corruption, slovenliness and racism.

The crisis is eating away at our national consensus, undermining our capacity to move forward at a critical juncture when focus is required to guide the nation through unprecedented inflationary turbulence. It has emboldened opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to play to the gallery, knowing that in the absence of a credible legal forum, the public becomes the ultimate arbiter of innocence or guilt.

The party of Merdeka has got to come to terms with modernity. Yes, Umno in its earlier incarnation helped bring Independence and ensured the position of the Malays within the Federation. But the party of the 1950s and 60s is no more. Fifty years on and Umno is symbolised by the extraordinary mansion in Klang. It has lost sense of propriety and service, focusing instead on its own needs. The mass of Malays and Malaysians have been forgotten. (By KARIM RASLAN/ MySinchew)

( The opinions expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of MySinchew ) MySinchew 2008.07.12

BERITADARIGUNUNG: China showed the way on the subject of reforms. China is never afraid. China put maturity in reforms. Russia is the opposite. For decades, Russia is tormented by reforms. Gorbachev is a child, cheated and naive. It takes Putin to cheer things up and place Russia higher and stronger.
Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 is for all to learn, including Shahrir, Shabery and Zaid. Make no mistake!

Buying the earliest ticket to China as soon as "tok ketampi" video surfaced is naive and childish...., just like Gorbachev. That got nothing to do with reforms, openess etc.