Election fever

Malaysia\'s National flag festooned on the back of a lorry or truck

It’s human nature not to care who’s running the country when everyone can make a comfortable living.

But when the economy takes a downturn and the price of gas skyrockets, we all sit up and pay attention.

Elections dominate our daily conversations. The masses who are not empowered look for a saviour in a politician naturally.

Will you lose your job due to the downturn in the economy?

Even if you’re lucky enough to survive the downsizing, life doesn’t get easier.

Employees lost are never replaced, so the “survivors” are expected to do more as a result.  When unemployment is high, needless to say crime  naturally goes up.

All one vicious cycle. Public services tend to be cut as well when government doesn’t have the budget.

So I am like most folks. Normally I find politics boring, but this presidential election in the US has just about everybody’s attention because our economy is not exactly vibrant.

On the domestic front, gas is inching closer and closer to $5 a gallon.

On the other side of the world, Malaysia, my birth country, just had their general elections .

And their economy is, shall I say, not in good shape. That explains the results of their recent general election.
Malaysia\'s Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi

For the first time in Malaysia’s 50-year history the National Front or Barisan National lost control of 5 states. Previously, the citizenry voted along their ethnic lines with the majority Malays always voting for the National Front candidates.

This time the swing vote by Malays showed their dissatisfaction with the prime minister Badawi’s leadership and the corrupt leaders of UMNO. If that is not a vote of no confidence in Badawi, I don’t know what is.

The thing is this though: he doesn’t get it.

Bear in mind, Malaysia is the only democracy I know where the Prime Minister Badawi is conveniently also the Finance and Internal Security minister.

There is not even a  pretense of having a puppet figure in charge of that ministry. The man is in charge of the 2 most powerful ministries in the government.

Imagine if you will, George W Bush being the Commander-in-Chief, Secretary of the Treasury and also Homeland Security! Most Malaysians reading  this blog are probably saying, what do I know about Malaysia? I don’t even live there anymore. 

Actually I know enough that I am thankful for my children’s future that I don’t live there anymore. I have to thank Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and his predecessors for this.

Their racial discrimination policy  forced my generation of non-Malays to seek our fortunes abroad.

And to add insult to injury Mahathir Mohamad actually portrayed himself as a champion of the Third World lambasting Western nations for stealing the best brains and minds of these lesser fortunate countries.

He also went on to say the Third World nations need to be compensated for this brain drain. If I didn’t have any regard for the audience reading this, I would use a string of expletives and profanity here to describe “Saint” Mahathir.  

The Malaysia of today is flashier, more modern and boasts of the same amenities of the more industrialized countries.

My visit last August convinced me of this. Who can’t be in  awe, standing at KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Center, I think) looking up at the one-time world’s tallest building the Petronas Twin Towers?The Petronas Twin Towers, in Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia

Did Kuala Lumpur need a building of such stature and cost? Probably not. It was done mostly for the vanity of the then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

But that is the topic of another entry in my blog.

Most of these amenities are cosmetic. Just as in the Malaysia of my youth, infrastructure tend to become “white elephants” and eyesores quick.

On my 2007 visit, especially to Penang where I was born, high rise buildings dominated the landscape. 

During my visit, prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was spent loads of money in trying to gain re-election for Barisan Nasional,  the ruling coalition.

Most outsiders don’t have any idea what type of democracy Malaysia has. It isn’t the garden variety that most Westerners think of.

For one thing, the mainstream media is nothing more than a loudspeaker for the ruling goverment.

There is no such thing as equal time in the mass media for all political parties. In fact, there is no air time whatsoever for another voice or opinion.

Well, Badawi’s popularity is probably pretty low because he has done little to fight corruption despite promises to make that his priority when he came to power.

My aunt in Penang spoke with anxiety about the general elections because she worried there’ll be civil unrest following the elections.

Half way across the world, this notion of unrest due to elections is so alien to us. How so? It’s unthinkable that there could be anything but a peaceful change in leadership.

Those of us living in the US should not take these freedoms so lightly and for granted.

So I’m left with a nagging question, who has my vote for the president this November? The “change artist” Obama whom I don’t trust, or the geriatric McCain with the hot, rich wife?