I write this as a Malaysian, as someone who, over forty seven years of political life, has had the privilege of playing some small part in the formation our country, the building of its institutions, and our achievement of a degree of economic sufficiency. I write out of deep concern about the present state of our country.
In the lives of nations as of individuals, there come moments of profound possibility, when the potential for self-transcendence and for self-destruction are simultaneously present.
As before some critical examination in our youth, we come to the daunting realization that we hold our future in our hands, when how we will fare many years hence, and whether we shall flourish or languish, will depend on how we conduct ourselves now, in this small window of time.
We are in a political impasse that threatens to metastasize into a Constitutional crisis. Political crises come and go, but the present crisis might well be the beginning of a cascade of failures leading to long-term instability and destruction.
1. Our impasse occurs at a time of heightened economic, political and security challenges. The global economy faces the prospect of a meltdown on a scale last seen in the Great Depression of the last century. As a trading nation, we are strongly exposed to its effects. Meanwhile, while we seem to have slept, the global economy is undergoing an epic transformation that we must either adapt to or are marginalized by.
2. This year’s ground-shfiting General Election result signaled a public sentiment that cannot be ignored. Malaysians want fundamental change, and they want it now, whether from within the ruling coalition or from outside it. The Malaysian demographic has changed dramatically over the last fifty years. We have seen the birth of a more sophisticated, demanding electorate that has rightly lost patience with incompetence and dishonesty.
3. The grievances of Sabah and Sarawak, which found only partial expression in the General Elections, remain unaddressed. This risks the very integrity of our Federation.
4. Misunderstandings over race and religion are ripe for political exploitation, with potentially disastrous consequences.
Post election promises notwithstanding however, the government now commands even less confidence than it did post March 8.
The public is in near despair over the prospects for change from within the ruling party. Rather than share the public’s sense of urgency, our present office-holders have redoubled efforts to frustrate renewal, cut off reform, and silence criticism. These efforts only underscore the weakness of the administration and its will to change.
We can no longer deny that in its present form, and under present leadership, the government, led by the party to which I have given my life, is now structurally and inherently incapable of providing the direction and confidence that the country needs, whether over the long or short term. The indications are there for all to see:
1. The government has been unable to respond to the economic crisis with even a basic plan of action. Business confidence has plummeted as capital flees the country. Our economic policy remains as uncoordinated and directionless as it has been in since the beginning of this administration.
2. The recommendations of two Royal Commissions of Inquiry have been ignored or watered down into insignificance.
3. In this context, Umno’s constitutional provision for the renewal of its leadership by triennial elections might have been expected to provide some hope of renewal. Instead of embracing this opportunity, however, the leadership of the party has retreated into the fantasy world of a “transition plan” which rides roughshod over the party’s constitution and the rights of its members. This risible attempt to treat public office and party trust as a private bequest between two individuals, one of whom wishes to hold office beyond his democratic mandate and the other to ascend without one, and the continuing effort to force feed the country with this notion, fools no one. Instead, and against background of rampant money politics, it kills the public’s hope of national renewal via Umno. Behind the babble about a “transition plan” the Prime Minister continues to be subverted by members of his own cabinet and subjected to thinly cloaked power plays to force his resignation.
This resort to a “transition plan” betrays a disturbing failure to grasp the meaning and purpose of public office. In the more mature society into which we aspire to grow, persons who demonstrate and moreover propagate such disregard for constitutional and democratic process would long ago have been disqualified from public life, let alone from national leadership. The news appears not to have sunk in that the public rejects leaders who shun the open light of democratic contest in favour of staged plays and backroom plots.
Given Umno’s core role in national politics, this is a dangerous state of affairs. Meanwhile the Opposition has made undeniable gains in the number of parliamentarians it commands. Beyond the hype and inflation, and regardless of whether Pakatan Rakyat now has “the numbers” to command a majority, what we cannot doubt is that support for the governing majority continues to erode, and that this erosion continues so long as there is no hope of real change in the type of leadership Umno provides. There is now a credible threat that the present government may at some time fall by a vote of no confidence, or by some otherwise constitutionally legitimate demonstration of parliamentary majority. After fifty-one years of rule by a single party, this is not a possibility that is well understood. It is justifiably viewed with trepidation. Neither sheer denial on the one hand, or inflated claims on the other, help the situation.
To all appearances, we are beginning to lose grip of the rule of law. The use of the Internal Security Act and of Sedition Laws to target particular individuals further erodes the credibility of the government. Our actions exacerbate rather than calm the fear that stokes civil and racial strife. In the present context of a leadership struggle within Umno and against a strong Opposition it is impossible to dispel the notion that these extreme measures are calculated to maintain certain individuals in power rather than to address verifiable threats to national security. Nothing does more to undermine the legitimacy of a government than plainly unjust acts. The ridiculous justifications given for some of these detentions has further undermined public confidence that the awesome powers of state are in safe hands.
We cannot afford to allow these disturbing trends to play out their destructive course while we suffer a de facto leadership vacuum, and while the rule of law is uncertain and the Constitution not upheld.
Against this background I appeal to all parties to come together in humility, beyond party politics, to hold an honest discussion, in the spirit of shared citizenship and with the gravest attitude of common responsibility towards a longsuffering rakyat, about what is happening to our country and how we might agree together on a peaceful way beyond our impasse. We need to come together to find unity and direction out of this dangerous situation. In doing so, we might turn our crisis into an opportunity and renew our unity and sense of direction as Malaysia.
Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah
31 Jalan Langgak Golf
55000 Kuala Lumpur