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Pakatan Rakyat faces four challenges: |
one, constraints in getting enough state development funds from the federal government run by its opponent, Barisan Nasional,
two, constraints in getting enough seasoned officers to run and administrate the state government machinery in which are still positioned many lower-ranked officers still harboring some loyalty to their past masters in Barisan Nasional who can slow things down for the Pakatan administration;
three, internal difficulties in ironing out working arrangements between its own three component parties, the multi-racial PKR, the Chinese-based DAP and the Islam-based PAS, in which PAS would like to have an islamic state, DAP wants to retain a secular state and PKR sits in between;
four, economic difficulties especially in the electricals and electronics sector whose multinational factories are located in Penang and Selangor, two of the five states under Pakatan, which have started to retrench and slow down production in keeping with the world downturn.
These four challenges cover the full spectrum of reality in that country: race, religion, economics, politics and future development.
That Pakatan Rakyat can come up from zero to be hero of half the peoples shows one face of the democratic process in that country. However the other face - the operational issues - is also equally important, and may even be decisive in the future.
Barisan Nasional has been quietly raising the employment benefits for the civil service sector which it employs as the federal government; numbering almost two million, they are mainly Malays and many are no doubt Umno members; given the ballooning fiscal budget which will create yet another year of government deficit, one wonders how Umno/Barisan Nasional is going to finance such benefits. Probably more debts will be created in the future that is not healthy for the country, in exchange for the next few years of loyalty from the civil service whose vote at the next elections will be important, in fact critical if the other two states, Sabah and Sarawak, swing towards Pakatan Rakyat.
Over forty percent of the federal government budget is drawn from oil and gas revenues. These two commodities are reducing rapidly in supply. In three years time, the country will probably be a net oil importer. Meanwhile, oil and gas prices have fallen. While this will reduce price pressures on the citizens and arrest inflation, it will also reduce the federal government's funds for development. As the country is a global trading house and thus much exposed to the US and European economies, its economy is much exposed to the current downturn. It is trying to mitigate the situation by economic pump-priming, or infusing funds into such sectors as construction, which affects some 120 smaller industries down the line. By swirling money within the local market, it is hoped that x will help keep y alive which will then fund z's survival..at least until the next cycle of growth begins....
All this of course will depend on a number of factors. One of which, political stability. In this case, a fine balance of powers between the federal Barisan Nasional government led by Umno, and the the opposition Pakatan Rakyat state governments in five states. One victory by Pakatan Rakyat in the last election was to deny Barisan Nasional a two-third majority in the parliament of that country. That was a psychological boost for the opposition because it was something that Umno/BN had assumed could not be broken. That the record has been broken means that Umno/BN now has to try and change themselves in order to be/appear more humble and caring to all the citizens, especially the Chinese, Indians and indigenous natives. But it is caught in a dilemma; because to do so, it will run the risk of aggravating some of the more diehard Malay elements who are rebuffing the call for 'change' by bringing back the need to protect the Malay ways and privileges. There has also been some very ugly and bigoted taunts against the other citizens by this group. So the 'political stability' is based on a balance of powers, and sits somewhere on top of 'social stability' whose tectonic plates are moving beneath it.
There are other factors...education, retraining, demographics, judiciary and police systems, mobility, influence of the modern and progressive Malay, reduction in factionalism, higher worldviews, and so on. The underlying principle is this: nation-building depends on continuous and intelligent development of the people first in order to train up the human capital properly; any short-cut that throws some up over others when they are not yet trained completely will only jeopardize the projects they lead, encourage bad practices, and inflate costs that will increase future debts which will in turn reduce overall potential for further growth. Depending on natural resources which cannot grow in size is just falling for the 'resource curse' which has hampered continued prosperity of those countries which have been rich in oil and minerals. In other words, the 'software' of society is important for the future, just as the 'hardware' of a country is important for the present.
It should not be lost on us that a democratic system can only work well if voters are mature in their thinking, educated enough to weigh all consequences carefully and the economy which provides for them is stable and improving constantly. In the case of Thailand, there is a rift between the voters in the cities and those in the farms. Considering that Bangkok and its immediate surroundings contribute some fifty percent to Thailand's GDP, that's also an economic split down the centre, in addition to political divisiveness. As we can see, the democratic process has increased divisiveness, even to the extent of closing down their major airport. In the case of Malaysia, the democratic process is more mature but the present situation is a balance of power - whether that will lead to more stability and greater awareness will depend on how much control is exerted on the extremist elements who want to drum up Malay racist sentiments, and their acts are as desperate as how much they see Umno being threatened by its own inability to change and be more inclusive towards the other races.
Whatever the system of government, at the end of the day it is all about having a right vehicle to efficiently deliver good services to the peoples. When the peoples face many unresolved problems, the best and most caring delivery system is the one which should be supported further.
This post is dedicated to the 22 innocent young Chinese farmers butchered in cold blood in front of their families by the Scots regiment of the British army in old Malaya. Malaysia's own unwritten MyLai.