Political Discrimination, Neocolonialism Indeed
Two months ago, The Star quoted Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng as stating that the federal government's approach to dealing with the states was nothing more than "a new form of colonialism". A hundred days after the landmark elections of March 8, any assessment of federal-state relations cannot help but conclude that this is precisely what is going on. The Barisan Nasional government's attitude towards the Pakatan Rakyat-governed states has ranged from apathy to outright hostility, but always erred on the side of ignoring the elected state governments. In essence, it has erred on the side of rejecting democracy, of imposing the will of unelected tyrants on the people of these five states; it is nothing but colonialism all over again.
The most blatant, and thus most illuminating example of this new colonialism has been the federal government's termination of Memoranda of Understanding with the five PR-controlled state governments. Azalina Othman, the Tourism Minister, insisted that this was not discriminatory at all because the federal government would still fund tourism projects in the five states. The only difference of course is that they would channel the money through ministry-controlled committees, rather than the state governments. Hardly discriminatory, right?
Oh sure, it's hardly discriminatory to let eight states elect a government which can dole out tourism projects, while the other five elect governments which can't do jack shit about disbursing tourism development funds. Hardly discriminatory at all. Hardly undemocratic. Right?
Two things are certain in life — death and taxes — and as long as I can control who decides how to spend my taxes, I won't feel so bad about life's uncertainties. That was the whole point of ending colonialism, right? No taxation without representation? We want to be governed by a government of our own because only then can we hold those who spend our money accountable for their behaviour.
So when we elect a state government which has different spending priorities from the federal government, it's our prerogative, is it not? We should be free to decide who spends our money. End of story.
But for this federal government, apparently not. Instead of respecting our right to elect a government with different priorities, they refuse to fund this state government; they refuse to respect our choice in choosing our leaders. Why are the eight BN-governed states allowed to disburse tourism funds as they see fit, while the federal government has to babysit the five PR-governed states? Are we not responsible enough to elect our own leaders?
This is simply colonialism by another name: dictatorship. When a government sets aside the decision of its own people, there is no other word for this. Colonialism is dictatorship under tyrants in a faraway land. This is dictatorship under tyrants in the national capital.
Of course, this is only the most public, blatant, and egregious instance of dictatorship post-March 8. A few days ago, the Menteri Besar of Perak complained that locally elected village heads were not being recognised by the federal government, which instead appointed its own village heads. Wherever we turn, we see the federal government frustrating the demands of its own people; if that is not dictatorship and colonialism under a new name, I don't know what is.
Recently, a friend mentioned to me that she had been planning to vote for the BN candidate in her parliamentary constituency, right until the New Straits Times frontpaged a message to voters: vote for the opposition, and lose your voice. After that editorialism on the frontpage, she had no qualms about casting her vote for the opposition candidate; she really would have voted for anyone but the BN fellow after that. If BN wants to persuade more people to her line of thinking, they are welcome to; all they have to do is pursue the current course they are taking. Until they recognise that the Malaysian people are not their lackeys, blindly following their lead, they can expect us to reject any sort of tyrannical policy emanating from Putrajaya.