Tarani Palani and Teoh El Sen
The historic win by Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her National League for Democracy in Sunday’s by-elections will send ripples in Malaysia, but not enough to develop into a storm that will topple the incumbent Barisan Nasional government.
This was what several political analysts said. They agreed that the global trend of changing old guards – evident in the Arab world and now in Myanmar – would influence Malaysian politics, including the way voters would cast their ballots.
Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Jayum Jawan, who teaches politics and government, said:
“No country is immune to the winds of change. It is already happening. People are already having this euphoria. If any ruling party wants to remain relevant or return to power, it has to change and govern to reflect what the people want.
“These old guards are people who are out of tune with the current scenario. The people cannot accept them any longer and those leaders are swept away with the currents of change that is taking place around us.”
He noted that both BN and Pakatan Rakyat were talking about change, but he said no one was “making a big move”.
“We see minor changes and I don’t know if that is acceptable to the electorate. BN, PKR, PAS, are all changing. For example, PAS is no longer the Islamic and Malay party of the 90s. But it is now reaching out to non-Malays and non-Muslims. Whether this is enough will be tested in the next general election.”
Jayum described such changes as “minor adjustments”, not the “big bang” that the people wanted.
“When the BN talks about winnable candidates, it is talking about expired politicians being rejuvenated again. Is that change? We have to give way to young people who are hungry to participate in nation building.
“Extensive change needs to come from young people with good ideas, not old people who are conservative. They have to address the needs and wants of young Malaysians who no longer talk along ethnic lines.”
Jayum added that the concept of 1Malaysia was good, but the implementation was lacking.
Ooi Kee Beng, the deputy director of the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies (ISEAS) concurred that Suu Kyi’s victory gave some optimism to the Malaysian opposition.
However, he cautioned against seeing too much relevance for Malaysia in international political developments, saying local conditions were different from those in Myanmar and the Middle East.
“Malaysia’s inner dynamics and conditions are very different,” he said.
He said the issue in Malaysia was not about achieving a revolution but rather changing the government.
“In the case of the Arab Spring, there was an uprising and people didn’t know what to put in place of the old regime. In the case of Myanmar, our conditions are different from theirs.”
Contrary to the developments in those countries, he added, the opposition in Malaysia had managed to consolidate its position to some extent.
“In Malaysia, the opposition has managed to articulate their views and capture what is wrong and want to change it. They can argue with the incumbent.”
Status quo expected
Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Sivamurugan Pandian said the Myanmar and Arab experience would have an effect on how Malaysians vote, but mostly in the urban areas.
He said he did not expect BN to lose in the coming election. “It will remain very much a status quo. Maybe the changes can happen in the 14th or 15th election if BN does not change more drastically by then.”
He said the BN leadership at the top level had changed and that this was most apparent in Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. However, he lamented that since 2008, the two rival coalitions had focused so much on each other’s weaknesses that they had neglected explaining their policies.
“They are focusing on character assassination,” he said, “and voters now see these things as pointless.”
Mohammad Agus Yusoff of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said that no country in the world could rule forever without people standing up against injustices.
“The regime that is not democratic and is autocratic has to change its political style,” he said. “You cannot go on ruling the country with your own political style of intimidating the people. People are more open now. They know their rights. They want to participate in politics.
“Everything on the market has to be up to date. In Myanmar, people waited for so long for Suu Kyi to lead them.”
He described BN as neither autocratic nor fully democratic. “Sometimes it is very open, sometimes it is not. Sometimes it looks like it wants to change. And we wait for it. But the reforms don’t come.
“There are things like ETP and GTP, but let’s wait and see if these are good.”
“Changes have to be firmer, clearer, so that the people do not only hear about them, but see and feel them too.
“So far, BN has been inconsistent. Flip-flopping is so common. For example, the Peaceful Assembly Bill was to enable more freedom, but in actual fact it has effectively stopped people from going for street protests.
“You talk about 1Malaysia, it sounds good. But Umno members are still talking about Malay rights and so on. That’s the problem, you are not walking the talk.
“Some things have to be changed and realigned. If what we are seeing go on continuously, it is not good for the BN, for the government, or for the people.”