Malaysiakini Letter

Malaysia lacks a balance of substantive political leadership

Ronald Benjamin
Published:  |  Modified:

At the latest Bersih rally, thousands of Malaysians went to the streets to demand for a clean and accountable government, even though the inner objectives may vary among a diverse population. The plus point from this rally is that different segments of civil society leadership collaborated to make the event successful to proclaim truth to the Barisan National leadership on the universal principles of good governance.

While this endeavour shows there is strength of civil society helmed by educated elites with a concrete agenda, what is missing in the nation’s political, economic and social narrative is leadership that represents a diverse spectrum of Malaysians on substantive issues related to environment, local government, peasants and workers .

These areas have been viewed as an area of budget allocation rather than areas that require structural change that comes from diverse leadership initiatives. It sad that we are yet to have a popular multiethnic movement that voices concern in these areas.

The critical challenge that is facing Malaysia today is the deficit of leadership from diverse backgrounds. In certain developed and developing nations, leadership emerges from local government who have experience on local community issues. There is also environmental leadership that brings different perspectives of how resources should be utilised without damaging the ecosystems, besides leaders that emerge from workers and peasant movements.

For example, I was amazed watching a documentary about environment-friendly leaders initiating organic farming in Bhutan, where the usage of harmful chemicals such pesticides are forbidden.

The current president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who has brought about a significant change in his country’s foreign policy, was a local government mayor of the city of Davao which iss part of Mindanao. His experience in the grassroots has made him more sympathetic to the cause of workers that has made the abolition of contractual labour as his major policy since coming to power.

In a developed nation like Norway, there was a red-green coalition of the Labour Party, Socialist Left Party and Centre Party concerned about environment, that governed Norway as a majority government from the 2005 general election until 2013.

It is obvious that a diversified political or civil movement brings different perspectives that would enrich the political consciousness of Malaysians. Sad to say in Malaysia we have tired faces of veteran leaders from the Barisan National and the opposition who still call the shots in Parliament.

The reason is obvious, we are an elite-driven democracy in the flavor of ethno-religiosity or so-called liberal leaders who are autocratic in their parties but put up a democratic image to the public, made worse by personality-driven politics. This has basically suppressed the development of diverse leadership which is critical if Malaysia is to achieve a so-called developed nation status.

The issues that face humanity are common, but in Malaysia our mainstream politicians are engrossed in Malay, Chinese and Indian issues, besides Islamisation, that are devoid of principles of good governance. The Bersih leaders have brought hope to Malaysians, but this should be a catalyst for a comprehensive change that would only come about when real alternatives emerge from diverse leadership from grassroots.

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