Monday, March 10, 2008

Pas Bolleh

Malaysia has just experienced a watershed election. The rulling party, known as the Barisan Nasionl (BN) managed to win enough seats to form a government but somehow along the way, they lost the 2/3 majority that they had held for the last fifty years. The opposition made up mainly of the Islamisist of PAS, the Chinese of the DAP and a cross cultural hodge podge lead by a former Deputy Prime Minister managed to win a record number of seats and more significantly four state governments, including Selengor, the state where the capital city, KL is located.

I'm actually delighted that Malaysia has had a watershed election. It was a sign that Malaysians have, without the "Guidence" of enlightened governement come allot further in political maturity than the rest of us in the ASEAN region, and as a Singaporean, I'm much humbled by the way our Malaysian cousins showed us how to deal with government.

I am particularly pleased with the fact that the PAS or Islamic party were returned with a larger majority in the state that the BN were desparately trying to win back. As with Singapore's election two years earlier, the federal government promissed money for development to get rid of the existing government. Instead, the electorate saw the bribe for what it was and returned the PAS with a larger majority.

PAS is a particularly interesting party. It is an Islamist party with a spritiual head, who wears robes. I think many Westerners and Western trained people get really worked up whenever they think of "Islamist" parties in Islamic countries actually win the popular vote. Somehow, Westerners (and for the sake of this entry, I include Westernised Asians) cannot get it arround their heads that there may be people who don't see Westernisation as being in tune with Modernisation.

I was particularly ammused when a young Muslim boy called me up, very upset with the fact that I had sent him an sms saying PAS BOLLEH (roughly translated as PAS ROCKS). Don't you know they're bringing in Islamic Law," he said. He pointed out to the fact that Kelantan is undeveloped under PAS rule (not that the preceeding UMNO rule did any better) and the fact that women wore headscarves. It was hillarious to see his inability to aknowledge that people could be happy without masses of development dollars, factories and sleazy night clubs at their doorsteps.

I guess you have to blame, Jenadas Devan, a Straits Times correspondent I met at my great aunt's 90th. He had come back from a visit in Kelantan and he noted that he ended up liking th e PAS people. It was so simple, he said. The guys from PAS were:

  • Humble
  • Honest
  • Competent
  • Friendly
  • Interested in the community they were supposed to serve.
This stood in contrast with the guys from UMNO (United Malay National Organisation - the main party behind the BN), who were arrogant, incompetent and corrupt. A PAS man, as Mr Devan noted, would happily ride his bike to speak to people in the coffee shops, while the UMNO crowd only seemed able to meet people in swish places that they drove their swish cars too.

I think this provides an interesting insight into what human beings look for in their leadership. For the most part, we're not worried about race or religion of the people leading us provided they can look after us. To a certain extent, people will tollerate some corruption - a case of its ok if the rich get richer as long as we get richer too. However, when this is no longer the case, people expect honesty from their leaders and competence.

Let's face it, PAS, DAP and PKR did not win extra seats. The BN, particularly UMNO lost the seats because it failed to deliver. In Mahatire's day, people tollerated the corruption because the country was developing a decent rate. The current PM, Abdullah Badawi was welcomed as the man who would keep Mahatire's development but clean up the corruption. He won a mandate and when he didn't deliver.......the electorate slapped him.

Similar lessons can be drawn from the Middle East. Fatah, the so called "Moderates" of the Palestinian movement were corrupt and incomptent. Hamas, when they were in local government showed themselves to be honest and competent. Unsprurpsingly they kicked Fattah in the teeth when they faced them in an open vote.

It's a shame the Western world freaks when political parties in this part of the world put up the word Islam in their manifesto. Why judge them on their religion - judge them on their honesty and competence, the things we'd judge other political parties by.

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