Of late, many political observers have expressed alarm about how deep the “rot” has seeped into many aspects of Malaysian life, including the country’s institutions of governance.
The latest alarm bell is the drop of five places to 62nd out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s ranking of the cleanest nations.
This rot did not take place overnight. It is something that has been growing over the years – no, decades.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the rot in Malaysia began. But it was already apparent by the mid-1980s.
In 1981, the “two M’s” rode into power – Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister and Musa Hitam as his deputy – on a wave of optimism. Mahathir indicated he would discard the draconian Internal Security Act, which allowed detention without charge, and the government released almost 170 detainees.
Five years later, in February 1986, Musa shocked many when he suddenly resigned. The mood had soured.
By mid-1986, the Aliran team saw fit to publish an edition of Aliran Monthly, with “Stop The Rot” splashed on the cover. You may download the entire issue for free in a PDF file.
Read the cover story especially, to see how wide-ranging the rot was at the time: the BMF scandal, amendments to the Official Secrets Act, deteriorating ethnic relations, corruption scandals, ‘money politics’ among Barisan Nasional parties, selective action by the then Anti-Corruption Agency, and the buying of Sabah state assembly members (some things are hard to change – sigh!).
Many of these issues are depressingly familiar – a forerunner of what we are experiencing today. They set the stage for the dark years that followed: the Operation Lalang ISA crackdown in 1987 and the judicial crisis in 1988. The ISA crackdown on dissidents trampled on constitutional rights and freedom of speech, foreshadowing future attempts at suppressing the opposition and civil society. The sacking and suspension of top judges a year later struck at the heart of the judiciary, eroding the independence of this key institution.
It was clear to the Aliran team – ahead of the general election on 3 August 1986 – that something had to be done to “stop the rot”.
Today, as we prepare for another general election, that rallying cry will only grow louder.