Monday, April 22, 2013

Terence Gomez: It ain't over till the fat lady sings

That was the gist of Dr Terence Gomez's talk at Silverfish Books last Saturday: Malaysia's 13th General Elections: Policies, Institutions and Social Change. The turnout was not huge, but good, and, best of all, intelligent. (This is the first in a series of (hopefully) monthly public talks we have planned to cover literature, performing arts, history, philosophy, politics and so on, at Silverfish Books.) It was not a talk for those (on either side of the divide) who'd prefer to keep their prejudices intact, unencumbered by facts or logic. For those of you who'd have liked to be present, Dr Terence Gomez started by handing out two printed spreadsheets (five pages) showing Differences in BN support in Electoral Trends in (i) Malay Majority constituencies, and (ii) Non-Malay Majority constituencies, from 1990 to 2008. (We still have some copies left at Silverfish Books.) Briefly, the main ten points (there were many more) were:

  1. There is no material difference in the public policies as announced in the manifestos of BN or PR.
  2. Generally, percentage Malay support for the BN has been on the decline since 1990 (including the Mahathir era) except in 2004 (Abdullah Badawi's first GE).
  3. Chinese support for the BN rose in 1995 (Mahathir era), and dropped in 1999, up in 2004 and down 2008.
  4. Historically, DAP have done better on it's own than as part of a coalition.
  5. Historically, PAS have done better (outside Kelantan) in a coalition than on it's own.
  6. Historically, PAS have never done well in Johor.
  7. PR state governments have been seen to show better governance, accountability, and transparency (in the last 5 years).
  8. BN is seen not to have not been successful in tackling corruption.
  9. While the urban population has many sources of information, the rural folks get theirs only from BN controlled media.
  10. Most of the students in local universities come from lower income groups, while the middle class and above send their children overseas where teaching is perceived to be better.
But several other factors have come into play in this elections, and it is left to be seen how much impact they'll have. All will be known on May 5, 2013! The New Economic Policy of Malaysia (Affirmative Action, Ethnic Inequalities and Social Justice) by Terence Gomez and Johan Saravanamuthu addresses some of these other issues.

For more than 40 years the New Economic Policy and its successor programmes have shaped Malaysia’s socio-economic development and the allocation of political power. The original policy sought to eradicate poverty and achieve economic parity among the country’s various ethnic communities. However, it was based on an apparent paradox — the use of ethnic preference to promote national unity. The policy’s core tenet was affirmative action on behalf of the Bumiputra community.

Drawing on a wealth of statistical and documentary evidence, this major new book provides a comprehensive and rigorous assessment of the NEP. The contributors show that there have been some positive outcomes, among them a considerable reduction of poverty, greater inter-ethnic equity parity and the emergence of a resourceful Bumiputra middle class. But these partial success have to be weighed against persistent complaints associated with increasing intra-ethnic Bumiputra income disparities; the emergence of a small, politically powerful and disproportionately wealthy Bumiputra elite; a serious brain drain; and weak human capital.

Dr Terence Gomez, however, refuses to predict the outcome.