Better to Suffer the Little Uncertainty Now
In a post-March 8 Malaysia, every day brings with it new surprises. If you took a copy of any newspaper published after March 8, and sent it back in time to March 7, not a single person would think that could possibly be right. Samy Vellu saying he would seek overseas assistance for the Indian community if the government fails to deliver? The government apologizing to the judges sacked and humiliated in 1988? PKR increasing its share of Parliament seats 30-fold? Every day excites; every day, we feel the winds of change blowing. And yet, amidst all the excitement, many of us fear the uncertainty change brings.
All this political turbulence must be very frustrating for people who just want to put their heads down and earn an honest living. In particular, businesspeople need certainty to operate; they need to know who they will be working with and what conditions to expect. Many of us wonder if maybe having a little more stability would be so bad.
Well, there's not a lot of uncertainty in authoritarian countries — but then, there's not a whole lot of prosperity either. The only way to guarantee certainty is to attempt to hold back the winds of change. In the short run, this can be a phenomenal success, but in the long run, you will be about as successful as Canute was in holding back the tide.
The world is always changing; considering that the people who populate it change every few decades, that's hardly surprising. When we refuse to adjust to these changes, when we seek refuge in the certainty that nothing will ever change, we set ourselves up for an even bigger change in the future. Ask any country which has been torn apart by revolution or civil war: refusing to heed the changing needs of the times may bring short-term success, but heralds long-term ruin.
The beauty of democracy is that we do not need a revolution to settle things every few decades or centuries when change finally catches up with us. All we need are free and fair elections; as imperfect as they are, they are far more responsive to changing times than any single man or committee could ever be.
Our problem at the moment is that we are neither here nor there. Malaysia is in theory a democracy, but in practice, has always been a one-party state which somewhat tolerates opposition. As one BBC correspondent has observed, Malaysia has always been a watchword for stability — but it has also always been governed by one party because that is what Malaysians felt was best.
Now, Malaysians want something different; they want a stronger opposition to keep the government on its toes. You can't expect everyone to adjust to the changed situation overnight. We have no choice but to go through this rough patch because all the change that has passed us by for the past fifty years is now catching up with us — everyone, both in the government and the opposition, has had to dramatically change their ways in response to the demands of the electorate.
This rough patch is worrying because of all the uncertainty surrounding it; we have no way to know how things will pan out. But a democratic country cannot be governed by one party forever, unless that party itself is constantly changing. When time catches up with us, if we are not ready to change our ways, all will be lost. It is far better to suffer a little uncertainty now than risk losing it all in the future. Change has come by way of the ballot box, rather than the barrel of a gun. Let's work to keep change coming this way.
First published in The Malaysian Insider.