Malaysia is in need of good governance rather than regressive ideologies that do not serve the common good of the nation, writes Ronald Benjamin.
There has been quite a rumbling among the Malaysian public on two principle national issues that have far-reaching consequences for the future of the nation.
The tabling of the hudud bill in the Kelantan State Assembly and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax have characteristics that oppose the common good of the nation even though the issues are different. One is a religious ideology of ethno-religious conviction that is more to do with ethno-centric self-righteous identity which some might view as a poor alternative to common progress, and the other is a regressive tax that empowers big corporations more than common people.
When one comprehends the zeal for Islamic laws and the GST, it is basically rooted in an ideological construct that favours the dominant class of society whether it is economic, religious or ceremonial elites.
The religious elites strive to exert control over the gullible masses through religious laws creating exclusivity to justify their lust for power. On the other hand, the GST transfers financial power to the rich through lower taxes while burdening the poor and the middle class.
These ideological constructs are basically a transfer of power from the masses to the elites and this is why it goes against the common good of all Malaysians.
For example, the ethno-religious elites from Umno and Pas fear local government elections because it creates conditions for the creation of independent multi-ethnic grassroots movements that could challenge their ethno-religious grip and monopoly of power: power could be transferred to local urban communities that share common aspirations and suffering even though the people could come from different ethnic backgrounds.
The GST is basically an instrument of neo-liberal ideology that protects and empowers the super rich through lower taxes and provides a buffer for financial abuse and corruption by domestic elites.
It is a pity that the mainstream media have been selective in analysing the GST purely from an economic point of view without any analysis of the power structure it creates. They have also analysed the hudud from a constitutional perspective without going to the root of the correlation between religion and power politics and its effect on common people.
The inter-connection of variables would help common people understand the background of these ideologies in the national and International context and the power structures they create.
In both these realities facing the nation, it is the common people who will be affected by these self- seeking ideologies. The hudud implications would create a glaring gap in relations among the multi-ethnic people of Malaysia and perhaps some kind of immunity for the upper echelon of Malaysians. The GST would result in a reinforcement of income disparities even within a particular ethnic group.
Malaysia is in need of good governance rather than regressive ideologies that do not serve the common good of the nation. Building the foundation for good governance, which abhors corruption and wastage, and understanding the complex realities of human affairs that do not fit into the mould of religious zealots should be the way forward for Malaysian politicians – that is, if they don’t want the country to become another Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Nigeria.
Can the current politicians live up to these expectations? If not, the nation risks moving into regressive mode and, if these trends are left unchecked, it could even sink deeper.