Giving up on Hindraf and the Malaysian Middle-Class
The following is mail I received this morning from commenter Olek Skilgannon, a regular here. I have decided to share with readers what he's shared with me, given that it's highly unlikely that you will read this in the New Straits Times or the other mainstream papers. From time to time I hope to share some of mails sent to me by readers.
I would like to draw your attention to two items in the Singapore Straits Times (http://straitstimes.com.sg) today (Jan 3).The first is a reprint of a commentary that was published in the Jakarta Post recently. Written by M. Taufiqurrahman, its theme is that middle-class support in Malaysia keeps Umno safe. An interesting thesis, yes?The writer said in his commentary:"It is the attitude of the middle class that could help shed some light on why democracy is all too rare in Malaysia."More than 30 years of economic patronage from the ruling Umno party, which favours the Malay majority in its distribution of resources, have given rise to a complacent middle class that has been resistant to any change that would threaten its privileged position...."Members of the middle class have shut out the clarion call of Reformasi. Parti Keadilan Nasional (PKN), led by Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of Datuk Seri Anwar, exposed the alleged corrupt practices of the regime in the hope of appealing to "liberal" Malays and those who valued the economic growth fostered by Umno but were alienated by the government."The issue proved to be a hard sell and the PKN failed miserably. In the last general election, in 2004, the PKN's share of the votes fell from 11.5 per cent in 1999 to 8.27 per cent, while its share of seats in Parliament dropped from 2.6 per cent to a meagre 0.45 per cent....."The unwillingness of the middle class to punish a corrupt regime in Malaysia has only bolstered the resolve of the elite to perpetuate its stranglehold on society. This will only make it more difficult to establish a true democratic polity."The likelihood of Malaysia emulating Indonesia's experience of a mass-movement-driven democratic transition led by a disaffected middle class is very low, simply because there is no dissatisfaction among the middle class to begin with."The Umno regime has not reached the point where it has started alienating the middle class in the way that Indonesia's former president Suharto did with his odious rent-seeking activities."Middle-class inertia in Malaysia has been compounded by the unity of the elite."For most of modern Malaysian history, major political changes have been the result of wheeling and dealing by the country's elite....."But Malaysian elites are known to be cohesive. After a bitter conflict, top politicians traditionally embrace those who have fallen from grace."Such a quasi-democracy will likely reign for years to come in our neighbouring country".A pretty astute analysis, wouldn't you think?If the writer's thesis is correct, Hindraf, Bersih and opposition parties (and bloggers and journalists too) are just passing irritations in the wind, as far as the Malaysian government is concerned.The second item in the Straits Times is an AP report on P. Waytha Moorthy, the chairman of Hindraf, who is in self-imposed exile in London.Headlined "Indians 'fighting losing battle for equal rights'", it reports that Mr Moorthy has more or less given up hope of achieving anything substantial in Malaysia.The report quotes him as saying:Dear Rocky,"We are fighting a losing battle, we know. We try our level best, but if we don't succeed, we have to call it a day, isn't it? We may have to close the chapter. There may be a new chapter, but we may not be part of the next chapter. I know, eventually, we will also fail...."He said, according to the report, that if the Indian minority in Malaysia could get "two or three real concessions, we are willing to keep our mouths shut.""Why isn't the government conceding? We are not asking for super rights, we are asking for basic rights."And he went on: "What can we do, we will still do. But if the whole struggle is going to die, what can we do? As it stands now, I don't think we can accelerate...I will keep pushing it, but again, to what extent? Funds are limited. Once we have exhausted our funds, that's it. It's sad but there is nothing I can do after that. Let somebody else continue".He said his biggest worry was that when Hindraf fails, poor and uneducated Indians will come to hate the government even more and may resort to violence. He stressed, however, that he did not condone violence."So by stopping us today, they are actually planting the seeds of future hatred....I would prefer to keep pushing, keep the people's spirits high. The safest thing to do is to conduct prayers."
You can literally feel the man's discouragement. Add in his chilling warning of "planting the seeds of future hatred" and I am reminded of the Biblical adage that one reaps what he or she sows.I don't think that the mainstream Malaysian newspapers will carry either the Jakarta Post commentary or the AP report on Mr Waytha Moorthy. Hopefully, your blog could disseminate these to a wider audience.