Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

In Malaysia, the Government Rules and UMNO Reigns

Written by johnleemk on 9:34:52 am Feb 28, 2007.

The core idea of democracy is that the leaders are servants of the people. The point of the ballot box is not to give particular people a mandate to do as they like for five years, but for the people to select who they wish to serve them, and to sack the servants who have failed to deliver.

This key concept, however, has never taken root in Malaysia. Our democracy, if it can be called that, has always revolved around the idea that the government has supreme power. It is subject to the whims of voters every five years or so, true, but this is only to reconfirm the government's mandate to do whatever it likes.

What our country has become, however, is even worse than this perverted concept of democracy that dates back to independence. Today, the government may rule, but it is the leading political party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which reigns.

After all, when bidding for government contracts, what is the number one necessary criterion that must be fulfilled for a successful bid? If you are a Malay, that's right — you have to be an UMNO member, or know someone at the apex of the UMNO hierarchy.

And when there is a conflict between the government, which is composed of UMNO and the other component parties of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, who prevails? UMNO, naturally.

To take just one example, last year, UMNO shocked the country when the proceedings of its annual general assembly were broadcast live. The country was greeted by brazen threats to abrogate the tolerant and multiracial Constitution, and by a blatant disregard for the entrenched provisions of the Constitution relating to citizenship.

These comments were in clear contravention of the Sedition Act — a law I find repugnant, but nevertheless a law that is a law — and therefore the UMNO delegates were open to prosecution. Several opposition parties filed police reports alleging sedition. The government trumpeted the fact that the Sedition Act still appeared necessary to contain extremist racial sentiments.

And then what happened? UMNO announced that there would be no need for the police to step in. They had reprimanded the delegates concerned, and they promised to avoid further occurrences of such demands. So, UMNO is above the law — if they commit a crime, it's an "internal party matter" and is to be settled by them.

To confirm this status, take the case of the Bandar Bukit Puchong branch of UMNO. Several months back, they placed a container on public land, ostensibly to be used as their office. The residents complained to them and held a public meeting to air their grievances. The UMNO members told them to get lost, as this was a "party matter". (Last time I checked, trespass is a crime...but then again, I suppose since UMNO reigns, they're not subject to the law.)

The local government concerned, the Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ), finally got fed up and told UMNO to get lost within 30 days from February 6, or else the container would be demolished. UMNO's response? It erected 30 flagpoles set in concrete on the property (which is public land, in case anyone forgot).

The MPSJ has since ordered UMNO to remove the flagpoles and the container. It remains to be seen if the government can impose the rule of law, or if it will decide to back down and make its status as UMNO's poodle clear. But I think that the latter is far more likely to happen — and that as far as the average Malaysian is concerned, we are no longer governed by the government. We are reigned over by the UMNOputras — princes of UMNO.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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