Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Can Barisan Nasional Government accept criticism?

Farah Fahmy is based in London, and has written for the media. She is intrigued by trans- and international relations between Malaysia (ns) and the Rest of the World.
Critical thinking, anyone?
July 18, 2012 ― Recently Datuk Seri Najib Razak called on young Malaysians to “think critically” and not be unduly influenced by the Internet and social media.
Frankly, I think this is an excellent statement from our prime minister. I am all for the encouragement of critical thinking in our country, and I would agree with anyone who says that you cannot trust everything that is written or said on the Internet.
The thing is, though, once you start thinking critically about an issue, often you soon find plenty to criticise. Yet our government, and quite possibly most of our political class, is simply unable to accept any criticism, even when it is constructive.
Whenever I talk about our country’s current affairs, a lot of people automatically assume that I support the opposition. “Why do you keep on bashing the government?” I was asked once. “Why don’t you bash the opposition, too?”
Actually, I think Barisan Nasional has mostly done a good job of getting us where we are now. Compare our country with Ghana, for instance, which also achieved independence in 1957. In 2011, our GDP was US$278 billion (RM879 billion), compared to Ghana’s US$39 billion.
Or compare our country with others that have roughly the same number of people: Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia. Venezuela and Saudi Arabia have a much higher GDP than us, but I’m willing to bet that if we take away all the oil production, our country would do better than either.
However, while I recognise and acknowledge BN’s contribution to our country, I fervently believe that we as a country can do better. By this I don’t mean that we must necessarily change governments in the next election, but that we must continually strive for better governance ― whether that comes from BN or Pakatan Rakyat.
This, you see, is where I’m coming from. A strong Parliament is one that is able to continually check the actions of the current government. Can we have a strong Parliament without a strong opposition? Maybe, but I doubt it.
How can a Parliament that is more or less controlled by the ruling parties be able to scrutinise all the issues that come its way? I don’t want Parliament to be a body that merely endorses the government’s actions; if that were the case we might as well do away with elections.
Too often those who criticise the government are given negative labels. Why? Is our country, our government, so perfect that there is absolutely no room for improvement left?
Yes, I agree that not all criticisms are valid. But often criticisms contain a kernel of truth. Truthfully, do we have a perfect electoral process? Even the Election Commission admits that phantom voters exist. There, an undisputed fact. So why denounce Bersih, when what they’re fighting for is making improvements to the current, flawed system?
Today, Kuala Lumpur will get a new mayor. How did this happen? Did the people of KL choose the new mayor? Were the people of KL given the chance to scrutinise the different options for the city’s growth? No, because our country does not believe in local elections. Therefore mayoral elections do not take place. The mayor of our capital city is appointed by the government.
Here, to me, is a clear example of the deficit in democracy that persists in our country. Local elections were abolished in 1970. Your local authorities and KL’s mayor have the same thing in common ― they are appointed to the job by politicians currently in power.
Now, think about it. If you were appointed to a position of power and wanted to keep that position, who would you want to keep happy, the people whom you are supposed to serve, or the person or system that put you there in the first place? Surely I can’t be the only one who thinks that political appointees perpetuate the system of patronage that exists at all levels of our politics?
Actually, thinking about it, how do we know that our local authorities are doing a good job? Every time I come back to KL I am staggered by the number of skyscrapers that are being built. A couple of tall towers housing luxury condominiums was being built on what used to be a playing field near my parents’ house the last time I went back. Meanwhile Hospital Kuala Lumpur, a mere stone’s throw away, is looking more and more dilapidated.
The rich parts of KL become more and more polished, and the poorer parts of KL continue to look shabby, neglected and dirty. KL is not just the Golden Triangle, or Bangsar, or Sri Hartamas. KL is also Chow Kit, and Jalan Pudu and Jalan Raja Laut. Who looks after the poorer parts of town? After all, KL’s affluent citizens aren’t the only ones who need clean roads and a better environment, are they?
So here you have it ― I completely agree with our PM when he says that our youths must become critical thinkers. If we are to continue to forge ahead as a nation, we must critically evaluate and scrutinise what we have ― and sometimes this means criticising the actions of those in power.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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