“What happens if fully rational politicians compete for the support of irrational voters – specifically, voters with irrational beliefs about the effects of various policies? It is a recipe for mendacity.”
– Bryan Caplan (The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies)
Whether you believe that the Forest City project and other “Chinese” deals are a good thing for Malaysia depends entirely on how bad you want to dethrone Chairman Najib. Is some money from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) bailing out this regime? Definitely.
Is all PRC money bailing out this regime? This depends if you believe if the Communist Party of China (CPC) is going to turn Malaysia into some kind of protectorate like back in the good ole days of the Ming dynasty. That is the Chinese dynasty and not the Emperor from Flash Gordon.
I made two points in my piece about the murky identity politics of these China deals –
(1) The meme, however, that these deals were made merely to bail out Najib Abdul Razak and serves no long-term purpose or that these deals were made mala fide ignores the reality that Malaysia has an ongoing and evolving relationship with China outside the 1MDB bubble.
(2) Furthermore, the business class that supports the establishment and the opposition have always attempted to find ways to strengthen economic and bilateral ties with China.
De facto opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad’s broadside against the Johor royalty and these deals is merely building on the foundation of the Malay dilemma that is the bedrock of Malay Establishment politics.
When Koon Yew Yin writes, “I think the figure of 700,000 mainland Chinese staying in JB and becoming citizens is being used by Mahathir as a scare tactic to frighten the Malay electorate.” this is exactly the same tactic as when Chairman Najib claims that the DAP will rule by proxy if the opposition ever comes into power.
While I broadly agree with what Koon wrote in his latest piece about these deals (I have never had a problem publically acknowledging that somebody I have disagreed with makes a valid argument), I do think he reaches when he writes – “I would like him to tell us how many properties and details of other assets he and his family members have kept abroad.”
This is the problem right here. If anybody were interested in transparency, they would like to know how many “properties and details of other assets”, the royalty and their entourages have here and abroad and whom they are selling them to.
Zaid Ibrahim’s rejoinder to reject the naysaying of political pundits of an opposition loss in the coming elections is always welcome simply because – speaking only for myself – I have been right as much as wrong when it comes to reading the political tea leaves.
When I suggested that, the last Bersih march should be a “Malay” tsunami because – “Malays friends of mine – former diplomats, civil servants and military officers – bemoan the fact that ‘Malay’ leadership has devolved into a quagmire of corruption and racism, our public institutions the public face of ‘Malay superiority’ and safety nets for a ‘Malay’ subclass, there to prop up a corrupt regime” – it really did not pan out the way I had hoped for.
While I have no doubt that Zaid truly believes that there would a “Malay” tsunami because the Malay polity is chafing under Umno hubris, the reality is that none of the polemics, rhetoric or strategies that have been employed by the opposition of making the corruption case has worked with the demographic they sorely need to enter Putrajaya.
This is why, the former prime minister, the ultimate insider – whose outsider status he carefully nurtures – is engaging in the kind of racial politics that has sustained his regime for decades. Mind you, this is the same type of leadership that was endorsed by the majority of Malaysians regardless of electoral maleficence, which is not a new phenomenon.
When I interviewed Zaid, he said – “The only thing that matters is to do what’s right for the people. Today Malaysian political environment is highly partisan and divided. It’s difficult to represent or say the real stuff without being seen as supporting the other side.”
The “real stuff” is that by engaging in this kind of fearmongering, deleterious values become further entrenched and by simply endorsing such an agenda for the cause of removing Najib, will make it even more difficult for future generations of Malaysians to shed these values for something more egalitarian.
Making the argument that nothing is sacred
The only upside to this – and please remember that Mahathir’s premiership was not an indictment on him but rather Malaysians – is that Mahathir is still slaying Malay sacred cows all by his lonesome. By attacking Umno cash cows linked to the establishment royalty, he is making the argument that nothing is sacred in his quest to remove the current Umno president.
While some erroneously assumed that the nonagenarian would back down from a royal rumble, they were sadly mistaken. In fact, in his letter to The Star he said – “It is easy to accuse me of being a racist. I have been called a Malay ultra before. This labelling, this demonising actually exposes the lack of credible arguments against what I do or say. It reflects a fundamental lack of basis for the arguments against me”
Which is really a brilliant strategy because his alignment and endorsement by the opposition is a tabula rasa for his every policy that was spurned by the very same opposition when he was in power. Furthermore, the Royal response to his letter was problematic – “I don’t make assumptions or create fears, that’s all.”
This sounds hollow considering the fear-mongering that the Umno state does nearly all the time. When one does not speak up on that, the effectiveness of dismissing the fear mongering tactics of the de facto opposition leader loses potency.
Meanwhile, Mahathir’s major domo, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) president Muhyiddin Yassin, went even further, reminding everyone but no doubt speaking to the Malay polity that loyalty must not be blind and warning of a possible neo-colonialism by a foreign power.
Where is Jamal Md Yunos when you need him? All this open transgression against “Malay” institutions must vex the hell out of him. Oh wait, Malay institutions only mattered when they serve a purpose and what this fear-mongering has shown is that the Najib regime has made all these Malay sacred cows a target for possible culling.
The real test of national sovereignty (or if it was ever in any real danger) is if the opposition comes into power, would there be efforts to reverse these deals or if these deals suddenly become pure becomes the sins of the Najib regime are cleansed with the formation of a new government.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.