Friday, 19 December 2008

Just smoke and mirrors

Brave New World (The Star)
October 16, 2008

"There are similarities between the world financial crisis and the possibility of Malaysians joining Barisan Nasional without having to join one of the component parties."


There is a strange parallel between what is happening to the world economy and what is happening here at home.

In recent days, it has been announced that a bailout deal measured in the trillions is being arranged by several governments in the world to help their ailing banks.

Also in recent days, it was announced that there is a possibility for Malaysians to join Barisan Nasional without having to join one of the component parties.

These two separate events strike me as being very similar. Both are attempts to fix a bad situation but neither is dealing with the key issue.

Firstly, let us look at the financial crisis. It all started with the banks. They were simply lending too much money, in particular to home buyers.

Money was being borrowed by people who could not afford to borrow that much and when they could not pay, the banks started to crumble.

This had a domino effect on others because the banks then could not lend to businesses and the latter’s survival started to be threatened too.

In this increasingly shrinking world, it did not take long for an event that started in America to spread the world over. Especially since America is such an economic powerhouse and what happens in their economy affects the world economy.

To give a simple example, if an American importer can’t pay his debts because he can’t get a loan, the foreign company that sold the goods to the American importer could suffer a disastrous loss.

Coming back to our shores, it is clear that the Barisan leadership has finally realised that some of us may be a wee bit tired of racial politics.

And yet, these very same people may actually be fond of Barisan and would like to be part of it. Which is a bit like saying I am a vegetarian but I like hanging out in steakhouses.

Be that as it may, let us assume there are such people out there. Well, it has now been proposed that they can join Barisan directly.

This is not to say that Barisan is moving towards becoming a single multi-racial party as opposed to being a coalition of largely race-based parties. The Prime Minister has said this is not so.

The proposal is merely giving the opportunity to individuals to be part of the ruling coalition.

Their non-racial views will then have a platform and the race-based parties in turn can explain to them what their worldview is.

The governments involved in the mega financial bailout and our very own Barisan are both merely covering the cracks in the wall with paper.

If we look at the banking crisis, the root cause was that banks were being too greedy.

They lent money like it was going out of style in order to reap the interest.

Behaving like the basest of gluttons, they ignored the basic rule of banking, which was to only lend to those who could pay.

And while things were going well, they patted themselves on their fat backs with huge bonuses and the like.

Bailing them out now may stop the world from sliding into a great depression like in the 1930s (the surge in the stock market prices suggests it may do just that) but unless the banks themselves are stopped from acting in such an irresponsible manner in the future, these same problems can arise again.

It is the same with the proposal of direct entry into Barisan.

Apart from the fact that there are many unanswered questions (for example, if Mr X were to join Barisan directly, can he become Prime Minister?), the crux of the matter is this: the powerful players in Barisan are still racially driven.

They have made representing their own ethnic group their raison d’ĂȘtre.

Until and unless this changes, for example by the complete disbanding of the Barisan component parties and the creation of a single BN multi-racial party (as suggested by Gerakan last year), direct membership is merely a superficial exercise in trying to appear more inclusive and less racially-based then they really are.

As it stands, many in the Barisan, like Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, have shown that they consider the existence of their own race-based party as being of paramount importance. I am sure many think in the same way.

Therefore, if an individual is really concerned about the creation of a Malaysia which does not use race as part of its modus operandi, would he or she want to join a group in which such thinking is still so prominent?

It is all well and good to try to improve affairs when things go wrong, both in the world financial sector and our local political scene, but unless the heart of the matter is dealt with, all we have is just smoke and mirrors.

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