Malaysia’s Changing Political Landscape

I refer to Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai’s editorial “Talk less, listen harder” (Star, July 17). I agree entirely with his editorial, and would like to add my views on the changing
political landscape of the country.

One of my favourite Malaysian artists, Yee I-Lann, produced a beautiful body works in an exhibition entitled “Fluid World” last year. Simon Soon wrote:

“The Orang Besar series casts the modern democratic processes of the country in light of its traditional power structure. The Orang Besar […] stood as the mediating agent between the apex (represented by the Sultan) and the common man. The measure of the Sultan’s influence or power was not an account of his worldly wealth, but by the number of people dependent upon him […] Looking at the unstable clusters of human pyramids that narrate Kain Panjang with Parasitic Kepala (2010), one draws a parallel between the huddled formations and the kind of volatile and shaky alliances that spill over into today’s politics of patronage. ”

The Orang Besar socio-political paradigm is crumbling. Due to, I believe, a confluence of the following factors:

  • There are only so many people that the Orang Besars can support, before the structure falls apart (beautifully depicted in I-Lann’s work). In ancient times, young princes would go to distant lands, and found new kingdoms. Today, this is no longer possible. This is compounded by shrinking economic opportunities. Inevitably, there will be those who will not receive their fair share of the largess. The Orang Besars can no longer expect to receive blind loyalty simply by virtue of their position – loyalty has to be earned.
  • We have been influenced by western human rights movements since the 1960s. Concepts of social justice, individual rights, fundamental liberties, the various freedoms, etc are now part of our socio-political vocabulary.
  • Since the reformasi movement in 1998 and the pivotal 2008 elections, the rakyat have been empowered. They now believe they can effect change.
  • In the age of blogs, facebook and twitter, Orang Besars can no longer hide behind controlled media and archaic censorship laws.

It would serve our political leaders of both sides well to be reminded of Hang Jebat’s battle cry: “Raja adil raja disembah, raja zalim raja disanggah” (A fair king is a king to
obey, a cruel king is a king to fight against).

The winds of change are blowing, and they would be well served to set their sails in the right direction.

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Ed refuses to be defined by words. He is inspired by the words of Emerson in Representative Man: “We too must write Bibles, to unite again the heavens and the earthly world. The secret of genius is to suffer no fiction to exist for us; to realize all that we know”, and is falteringly attempting to write his own “bible”. He dreams of a day when everyone can freely do so.

Posted on 23 July 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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