Malaysia is no Egypt

NEGATIVE advertisements are flooding mainstream newspapers in this very electric season of the 13th general election campaign, but many fail to convince. One full-page advertisement caught my attention, paid for by the MCA, a component party of the Barisan Nasional.

Its title reads “Ubah (Change) for the worst? What can we learn from the Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain free fall?” and describes what it imagines to have taken place in these countries during and after the Arab Spring.

The advertisement outlines the following series of events: “People get fed up with the government; Ruling party is forced to step down; Civil war in the streets and chaos in the country; Political instability, economic turmoil; Economy goes down, unemployment goes up; People get fed up with new government; Want to go back to the previous government.”

These are incredible generalisations about the named countries to create an argument against changing the government in Malaysia.

Change they did

I had the privilege of attending the 9th Aljazeera International Documentary Film Festival last week in Doha, Qatar, where my documentary on the late Teoh Beng Hock was competing. At the festival, documentary makers had the chance to share their stories from around the world.

Many films portrayed stories of hope and liberation juxtaposed against oppressive regimes, which included the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt.

In the documentary After the Storm: A New Beginning for Egypt’s Economy, it was clear that although Egypt continues to struggle with poverty and unemployment, these were caused by decades of the previous regime’s economic mismanagement which distorted competition and benefited the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

Second, it also showed how it is precisely because of the revolution that locals were now more optimistic and able to take control of their own economic situation.

By placing this poorly thought-through advertisement, is the MCA then implying that Egyptians ought to have been content with their previous leader Hosni Mubarak, and continue living under such appalling conditions?

This would have made them out to be weak and spineless, supporting a regime that would shamelessly continue to subject them to atrocities.

Different circumstances

Equating Malaysia to Egypt is inaccurate, since both countries operate under different circumstances and contexts.

Although this country is suffering from a heavy national debt and tremendously unhealthy levels of wastage and corruption, it is nowhere close to the conditions in which the Egyptian uprising took place.

In fact, each point laid out in the ad can easily be rebutted. First, Mubarak was forced to step down due to a people’s revolution; in Malaysia, any change in government would take place as part of the normal processes of democratic elections.

Second, it is presumptuous to predict that there would be chaos in the country should there be a change, since Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has already committed to there being a peaceful transition of power should it come to pass.

One hopes he will also ensure all accompanying government agencies like the police and military would assist in this.

Third, the ad assumes that the economy would get worse under a new government. The financial performance of Pakatan Rakyat state governments over the past five years speaks for itself, with budget surpluses and higher savings than ever before.

Bank Negara Malaysia, Securities Commission, Bursa Malaysia, and other fundamental institutions would also play their roles to responsibly ensure that no major shake-up would take place, safeguarding interests of investors and businesses.

Finally, the ad says that as a result of these upheavals, people would get fed up and want to return to the previous government, to which anyone who believes in free and fair elections would say, “By all means!”

Should there be dissatisfaction in the new government, it is the voters’ prerogative to change them when the time comes.

In the documentary, the filmmakers do not present a rosy Egypt – far from it, since there is much work to be done, reversing years of deep structural failure in the government and the economy.

Perhaps if there is a lesson to be learnt from their story it is that first, when the time is ripe for things to change for the better, this will be inevitable since it rides on the sentiments of the people. But second, that when such change does come, people must acknowledge the difficulty of correcting deeply entrenched wrongs.

Overhauling a system will not take place overnight, and so Malaysians must be willing to persevere over the long run as a new government works out the many intricate problems of a bureaucracy that has been for so long under one political coalition – accompanied by its problematic systems and structures.

Until polling results are known on May 6, perhaps political parties ought to present more rational and intellectually responsible advertisements to the electorate.

(First published in theSun on 26th April 2013)

Tricia Yeoh blogs on triciayeoh.com

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