Sunday, June 15, 2008
Minimax Malaysia

Given Anwar Ibrahim's savvy return from political wilderness and his rapid ascendancy to the forefront of Malaysian consciousness as chief nemesis of the Badawi government, it is not surprising that those displeased with the old consociationist order have come to regard him and his opposition alliance as bringers of truth, justice and equality—the new Malaysian way, so to speak.

Anwar, however, is not the universal panacea we imagine him to be. He is not the man to cure all our ills. He cannot single-handedly extract us by sheer strength of personal conviction (some say political posturing) from the morass we have so willingly led ourselves into. He definitely is not some sort of saviour come from up on high, administering succor to an oppressed people. He is none of the above; he is merely a politician, a member of an occupational class deserving only circumspect regard given that any man who thinks himself good enough to govern is only one short step away from thinking himself good enough to rule.

And yet Anwar is of greater significance than his own self, insomuch as he represents the idea of balance, a diametric symmetry heretofore lacking in Malaysian politics. With this equivalence, in which neither incumbent nor opposition sides can boast a supermajority, we have come one step closer to achieving true democratic checks and balances, for it is only with this parity that we are able to contain the tyranny of the majority. With this we are able to remind government—members of whom are, in the words of Mill, 'merely tenants ... revocable at [our] pleasure'—that they would do well to heed the leverage that citizens hold.

The opposition is therefore of no use other than as a counterweight. Anwar, in and of himself, is of no consequence. Should he make good on his claim to form government by September 16, we should treat his administration with as much skepticism as the we do the current one, and aim to keep from him the same qualified majority denied to Badawi. There are no guarantees in politics, and it would not surprise me to find out that we had simply exchanged one yoke for another, with the difference between the two being merely semantic. If this should indeed come to be, we should have no compunctions about showing them the door too.

Only when we have learned to be wary of all forms of government and their factotums, and only when a strong link between administrative performance and accountability has been firmly established will we see days of better governance; in the meanwhile, we keep voting.

posted by Hong at 6:02 am | Permalink |