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Malaysia a federation in name only

 | January 10, 2011

Malaysia is in reality a unitary state with a central – not a federal – government.

COMMENT

THE tussle over the appointment of the Selangor state secretary illustrates in dramatic fashion just how meaningless it has become to refer to Malaysia as a federation of states. Malaysia is in reality a unitary state with a central – not a federal – government. It has a strong centre, weak states and unelected local governments with no powers at all.

The result of the emergence of the unitary state in Malaysia can be seen in the Prime Minister’s Department, the word “department” being a misnomer for hyperministry. Anything that is important to the control freaks in the Umno supreme council – the body of men and women that rule Malaysia— has been taken away from the regular ministries and accommodated within the PM’s Department. Petronas is a case in point. It should by right be under the Energy Ministry.

Another example is the relegation of the judiciary to a status similar to that of a government department of clerks but reporting to the PM’s Department.

The doctrine of separation of powers holds that the three branches of government – the legislative, executive and judicial – are separate and equal. This separation is supposed to be part of a system of checks and balances that ensures democracy thrives.

In reality, Parliament has been reduced to being a mere rubber stamp of the Barisan Nasional. This is evident in the recent six-month suspension of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and others.

Meanwhile, the judiciary has been reduced to impotence, especially at the High Court and Court of Appeal levels. Examples of this emasculation can be seen in the recent Goddess of the Sea case in Sabah and the shameful episodes in the Perak state assembly. The judiciary will never be able to live down these two cases, and so many others.

The over-centralisation of power in Putrajaya was an insidious process that was stepped up during the time of Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Hence, the oft-repeated accusation that Mahathir was a dictator. His lame defence against this particular charge was that he was “the only dictator in the world who was repeatedly re-elected”. At other times, he has whined and moaned: “Why should the Malays –meaning him and the fat cats in tow – do anything that doesn’t benefit them?”

One of the ways Umno maintains its tight grip on power is to refuse to repeal emergency ordinances that came into force in 1964 (arising out of the confrontation with Indonesia), 1966 (to pave the way for the imposition of proxy rule in Sarawak), 1969 (in the wake of the May 13 racial clashes) and 1979 (when Umno did a number on PAS in Kelantan).

Police state

These emergency laws have effectively reduced Malaysia to a police state. If anyone is wondering why the Malaysian police have become the Frankenstein monster that it is today, blame it on the emergency ordinances. This fact has been highlighted in the annual reports published by Suhakam, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission.

The police have the power to shoot and kill anyone in public and no questions will be asked and no cases will be filed in court. Those who escape the killing in police shoot-outs run the risk of dying mysteriously in their custody.

A Kugan, an alleged luxury car thief, is not their only victim. The police are responsible for many Kugans. They are also responsible for attacking the Penan and other natives in Sabah and Sarawak defending their land against encroachment by timbermen and plantation companies acting in cahoots with crooked local politicians. The Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia have similarly suffered at the hands of the police.

Only a United Nations Security Council demobilisation of the Malaysian police force, as done in Iraq in the wake of the downfall of Saddam Hussein, can help solve the problem of a rogue force that is now in runaway mode, propping up the Umno government.

The pathetic excuse dredged up by the police time and again for their despicable behaviour is that they have to maintain the peace at all costs. In short, justice does not figure at all in the equation.

The peace that they seek to enforce by force and at gunpoint is the kind that favours the ruling coalition at the expense of the people, the NGOs and the political opposition. It is also a peace that compromises the rule of law.

No one is sure how the current tussle in Selangor will eventually turn out. The signs are bad, since the Sultan, as in Perak, seems to be accommodating Umno.

These sultans, it must be remembered, were the same ones that delayed the formation of the opposition-ruled state government by a week. This won the outgoing Umno-dominated state governments sufficient and valuable time to shred important official documents that would have otherwise incriminated many BN politicians. The rest is even more history.

It is unfortunate that the sultans, as the heads of their states, are in a vulnerable position under the present order that was finalised by Mahathir. They can easily be compromised as they are also engaged in private business in one form or another. There is a price to pay for this.

The tide is against Umno and BN as they have been in power for far too long – 54 years this year – and will have to make way sooner rather than later for a new government in Putrajaya helmed by Pakatan Rakyat and the Third Force.

They can consider themselves extremely lucky if they are not pensioned off like so many monarchs elsewhere in the world. Half the reigning monarchs in the world today are in Malaysia. This is a burden that the people would not be able to carry for much longer.


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