Thursday, December 4, 2008


I always look forward to what Dean Johns has to say about Malaysian politics - not only because we both seem to have pretty similar views on most subjects - but because he writes fabulously well and never fails to provide a few good chuckles. I'm cloning his latest column for the benefit of those who, for one reason or another, have yet to subscribe to Malaysiakini (Steven Gan, hope you don't mind my doing this for the public good :-)...

BN's lose-lose situation
Dean Johns | Dec 3, 08 10:51am

Since the so-called ‘tsunami’ swept away its two-thirds parliamentary majority and control of five states in the March general election, Barisan Nasional has clearly been faced with the imperative to reform itself or die.

So I’ve been increasingly puzzled to see no sign of improvement. Even Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s single token progressive move, the inclusion of law-reform zealot Zaid Ibrahim in his cabinet, has come to nothing. And populist posturings by minority coalition parties like Gerakan and the PPP have been routinely spurned.

So what’s been BN’s problem that it can’t change even for its own self-preservation? For months I put it down to stupidity, pride and pure bloody-mindedness. But I’m not so sure any more. Now I’m starting to suspect that BN simply doesn’t know which way to turn, as it’s realised that, as damned as it is if it doesn’t reform, it’s equally damned if it does.

If it doesn’t repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA), for example, or at least ‘amend’ the accursed thing as the PPP and MCA are pathetically proposing, the BN government will become even more unpopular.

And if it does do away with the ISA there will surely be more and more vigils, rallies and other public gatherings in protest against the government’s numerous other iniquities.

If it doesn’t stop misusing the Official Secrets Act (OSA) to cover-up its financial finagling and corrupt collusion with crony contractors and government-linked companies, the people will increasingly suspect it of conspiring to defraud them.

And if it does ever decide to go easy on its use of the OSA and behave with more transparency, its activities will be exposed as the can of worms that they evidently are.

And this lose-lose situation applies similarly to reform of any or all other aspects of the Barisan Nasional administration, including the judiciary, the police and the rest of the civil service.

If BN heeds Malaysians’ call for an attorney-general who honours his oath of office and deals with cases without fear or favour, the first case the new AG should bring would be against Gani Patail for tampering with evidence in the 1997 Anwar Ibrahim sodomy trial.

Any new attorney-general worthy of his office would also immediately call a halt to the clearly questionable trial of the Altantuya murder suspects and order a complete re-investigation of the crime, if necessary by Interpol or some other independent, international agency, thereby possibly revealing high-level BN involvement in ordering the killing and trying to conceal it by expunging the victim’s name from immigration records.

Time to listen to the people

If the BN government instituted a truly independent Anti-Corruption Agency, it would trigger investigations of current and former cabinet ministers, hundreds if not thousands of civil servants at all levels, and countless local-government appointees and officers.

Revolutionising the Royal Malaysian Police Force would uncover the reasons for failing to combat the spiraling rates of crime, especially those crimes committed, aided and abetted by the police themselves, ranging from wholesale corruption to deaths in custody and protection of drugs and vice syndicates.

Heeding the people’s call for free media would quickly unleash a storm of fearless investigative reporting of the BN government and its administration, and finally open Malaysians’ incredulous eyes to the appalling state of their "democracy" as a result of half a century of BN misrule.

Free news media would also shed some much-needed light on the true state of the Malaysian economy, which the government continues to claim is healthy, despite the crash in exports and plunges in the prices of commodities including palm oil as a result of the economic recession that’s impacting virtually every other country around the globe.

Reformation of the electoral commission would virtually ensure a victory in the next election for an opposition no longer unfairly disadvantaged by wildly gerrymandered electorates, suspect postal voting, officer-supervised voting by the police and armed services, and highly-suspect electoral rolls.

And of course reform of the elections within BN’s own component parties, like Umno with its notorious and now apparently traditional system of bribery euphemised as "money politics", might bring some new blood and even reformers into positions of influence in the coalition.

So it’s clear that, as poisonous to BN’s prospects as lack of reform will someday surely prove, any genuine reform would very likely be even more damaging to its grip on power, and sooner.

The only hope BN has of staying in power and out of jail a little longer is to keep doing what’s kept Abdullah in the premiership for the past five years: forever promising reform and then failing to deliver.

Though I see that as he waits to succeed Abdullah as PM, Najib Abdul Razak has started work on a strategy of denying that there’s a need for reform. Claiming recently that Malaysia’s crime rates are lower than those of Japan and Hong Kong, he called for a change in public perception of the police force.

The trouble with that concept, however, is that the public perception of Najib is even less positive, if possible, than of the police whose image he’s at pains to try and promote.

In fact many if not a majority of Malaysians see Najib as a living symbol of all they loathe about BN. So that his proposed elevation to the premiership, far from saving BN from its lose-lose situation, will only serve to change things from Abdullah to even worse.