The Malaysian Spring. Part 1 of 2.

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An analysis on the current Malaysian democracy.

I say the Malaysians have won this election.

This is unprecedented: the rise of strong national unity and a common identity of ‘Malaysians’, eclipsing the archaic, distinct racial identities.

Despite that, after Najib was sworn in, he immediately adopted a strongly racist stance, blaming the election result on a Chinese Tsunami. Government-controlled media helped spread the racial provocation, threatening to redivide the society and destroy the emerging unity.

Such strategy is a common reincarnation of ‘divide and rule.’ In doing that, he hopes to garner the support of non-liberal Malays, whom are still thought to be the majority. However, his perception is already outdated, for it is silently being replaced by the new emerging reality of liberal Malaysians.

With a rise of a common perceived enemy and an alternate leadership, the people are aligned and united to prove the ruling coalition wrong. We have done so in the election, despite the debatable outcome; we will do it again, in the protest on May 8. We can no longer be dismissed as a minority group, because apparently half of the population is unhappy with Najib.

The current twist in the Malaysian situation may very well be the solution to the persistent problem of a flawed democracy in a hegemonic state – this directly relates to a book I read earlier, titled Democratizing the Hegemonic States, written by my politics professor Ilan Peleg.

The Hegemonic States

In his book, he categorizes Malaysia as the type in which the hegemon–the majority Malays–controls the politics and public service. Whereas the minorities–the Chinese and Indians–controls the economy to retain their relevance. Of course, we are not the only country of such; the hegemonic states include the Great Britain, Canada, Eastern Europe, China, Syria and the Middle East, as long as a country is a multinational state.

In these hegemon states, the policies would be made to bias in favor of the hegemons, undermining equality and benefits for the minorities. This is an inherent part of the political reality due to the intrinsic behavior of humans to safeguard their identity group against aliens. Despite being democracies, the major ethnic group can collectively engage to exploit the democratic mechanism for its benefit. Ergo, this constitutes the aforementioned flaw in hegemonic democracy–the weaker minorities have no leverage over the polities, and are often sidelined.

It would be naïve to argue that the hegemons may act altruistically to ensure fairness for the minorities, but the observed fact is that in every case, the minorities have to fight for their own rights.

For decades, the dominance of Chinese and Indians in economy and the Malays’ grip on political power have kept things in a stall. There was not much change to the stalemate, until recently, when the people began to defy the hegemonic authority. This leads to an analysis of the reasons of an uprising.

Consider the Arab Spring, where plenty of analysis was done, with thousands of articles and books published. Most of the 18 Middle East countries involved are hegemonic states, though they were mostly authoritarian. My professor Peleg asked in class, “Why now?” The people have been oppressed for long, but what exactly sparked the revolutions?

Triggers of a Revolution

I. Open-mind.

The people, especially the younger generation, become more educated and open-minded. They understand and yearn for the idea of equality, human rights and liberal democracy. With intelligence, people as individuals can overcome their hostile instinct against alien social groups; open-mindedness effectively eliminates racism–the biggest defect in hegemonic democracy. The increased knowledge makes them unfit to be enslaved, and they learn to fight for their common rights.

II. Relative deprivation

People’s expectations increase, but the government either worsens of fails to create enough growth and improvement to meet the popular demand. These two countering trend cause an increasing gap, which in turn dissatisfies the people as they feel deprived of what they think they deserve. As the gap widens to a critical point, revolution happens.

III. The internet and free information exchange.

Rapid exchange and spread of information on the web and social media. With the proliferation of smartphones and internet in the Third World, people become more connected and informed. They are no longer ignorant and brain-washable. Despite heavy government censorship, liberal opinions and independent news media have found haven on the web, and can be accessed freely. In Tunisia, the video of a man’s self-immolation aired by Al Jazeera sparked the beginning of the Arab Spring, because the news was available to the mass instantaneously.

The Arab Spring has been studied extensively and compared to previous and upcoming uprisings. It is highly doubtful that violent upheavals on the level of Arab Spring would occur Malaysia, as the population is vying for peaceful resolution and stability. We see people coordinating carefully to avoid violent confrontations, and this helped to prevent the possible post-election riots perpetrated by the Mat Rempit gangsters.

Nevertheless, these factors of Arab Spring still resonate with what we are experiencing in Malaysia: people start to grow contempt for the government’s corruption and separatist agenda. We feel deprived of our deserved rights; we coordinated during the Bersih demonstration and then the election using social media. The entire election frauds and many suspicious events were spread via Facebook or messages to the population.

On the opposite end, in political realism, the core purpose of a regime is to gain power; the rest is secondary. We can observe that the ruling coalition, after more than half a century in power, got so addicted to power that it resorted to a realist’s scheme to retain its power at all costs. The dimension of electoral fraud by the ruling coalition is too blatant, but so far we have been unable to do anything. This is because they know how to remain in power. ❧

To be continued:
The Malaysian Spring. Part 2 of 2

Keng Wah Loon

A Malaysian currently studying in the U.S.