Change or be changed, US think-tank advises BNKUALA LUMPUR, May 30 — The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) must change the way it does business or risk attack from a stronger opposition with the backing of fed-up Malaysians who have become more politically aware and adept at using social media, a US policy think-tank has said in an opinion piece published in the Houston Chronicle, the superpower’s sixth-largest newspaper.
In an analysis of the May 5 polls on Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in its Baker Institute Blog column said that the direction of Malaysia’s anti-graft agenda will be determined by how the ruling coalition responds to its newly felt electoral vulnerability.
“Will it understand that pandering to special interests, money politics and crony capitalism are no longer a viable strategy?
“But if BN returns to business as usual, it will risk attack from an opposition that appears resurgent, backed by a more mobilized and fed up public,” said the institute, which ranks 13th among university-affiliated think-tanks worldwide, according to a 2012 study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Programme.
The think-tank noted that Malaysia has so far managed to dodge the harmful effects of corruption on the investment climate to remain one of Asia’s most vibrant economies.
But it said that Malaysians had shown they were more politically aware, judging from the increased social media coverage of the polls, and were no longer willing to tolerate corruption.
The results of the recently-concluded general election saw the BN retain power by a simple majority although it lost the popular vote to a resurgent opposition.
BN won 133 seats in the 222-member Parliament against the opposition Pakatan Rakyat’s 89 seats, drawing a weaker score than in Election 2008 and which the think-tank noted has put the 13-party ruling coalition in a precarious position unless it moves to reform the way it has conducted business by tackling corruption seriously.
The Baker Institute suggested that Malaysia’s anti-corruption agenda may be better served if BN could focus on reaping the results of a successful economy.
“To motivate itself to implement a major change towards clean behaviour, BN should focus on reaping the rewards of a successful economy.
“In order to facilitate long-term inclusive growth, the government should promote policies that will be applied fairly and transparently to all,” it said in its analysis headlined “Malaysia: Looking forward” carried yesterday.
The think-tank noted that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has made the first step by pulling back some affirmative action policies favouring Bumiputeras who form over half the population and which other analysts believe to be at the root of Malaysian corruption.
“Removing race-based policies is the first step in bringing the country together. However, it is unlikely that Najib will completely abolish these policies, as he still needs to appeal to his Malay supporters, which make up the base of BN,” the Rice University said.
It added that the PM needs to follow through on his electoral promises by detailing the steps for his administration to move forward and to enforce them, suggesting the government install “a more transparent, meritocratic system for selecting project managers... to avoid appointment based on family or political ties.”
It also suggested that the government consider dismantle the current practice of political party ownership of selective media enterprises as a move in the direction of greater transparency, noting the imbalance in news coverage as parties attempt to exert their influence.
The Baker Institute also suggested that public institutions, namely the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and Public Complaints Bureau, also need to buck up reform, highlighting that “proper treatment of high profile cases could maximize the impact anti-corruption organizations have on the government.”
“While it remains to be seen whether the government will respond as hoped, its people are pushing for radical change.
“Malaysia needs leaders who are willing to take drastic measures to tackle corruption,” it said.