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Friday, January 02, 2009

Oh Oh Nein!

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As a follow up to yesterday's post entitled Goodbye 2008, Walski was almost going to title this one "Hello Kitty!". For some strange reason, he has this morbid fascination with that annoying, but iconic, cartoon figure.

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In any case, before he gets totally and kitty-fyingly sidetracked, a very Happy 2009 to everyone. Hope that the last night of '08 didn't take too much of a toll on ya. Walski celebrated the ushering in of the year with some friends in Seremban. It was also said friend's "official" wedding dinner. Suffice it to say, the evening ended very late, and so the daylight hours started very late yesterday morning, too.

And then he had to do some real world stuff... which is more satisfying than just staying cooped up in cyberspace. Plus, why join the crowd and wish his readers a Happy '09 on January 1st, when Walski can do it a day later?

Ok... excuses out of the way... on with the first post of '09.

Walski had originally planned this to be a retrospective of 2008, plus a look ahead at what to expect of 2009. And then he realized that everyone else had pretty much done the same thing. So, does he stick to the plan, or just make this first post of the year about something else?

Not that he wants to dwell on the recent past, but there were a few important things that happened last year, which will have some bearing on how this year will likely turn out. 2008 was, as Dickens would probably have said, the best of years, and the worst of years... 
(optimistic pessimism, past and future, in the full post)

2008 - The Good
There are probably a lot more good things that happened in 2008 than what Walski has listed below. But these are perhaps the most memorable to him. Plus, being he has the memory of a sieve, some events Walski may have simply forgotten.

The most important good thing that happened in 2008, Walski thinks, is the 12th General Election, which saw Barisan Nasional lose its 2/3 majority in Parliament for the first time in history (not counting 1969). Although what has ensued since is probably less than satisfactory, it did show that the people are pretty much fed up with the UMNO-dominated coalition.

Within BN, while most of the other component parties were calling for some sort of reform, UMNO remains in denial, blaming any plausible (and sometimes not so plausible) cause external to the party for the dismal showing on March 8th. Which, in the long run, is probably going to cause the party (and BN) to lose ground even more. Walski thinks that this, too, is probably a good thing. At the very least, it shows that the shock and awe of the status quo is losing its effect on the voting public, indicating a growing maturity in how the voting population thinks.

Another good thing that we saw in 2008 is an explosive and exponential increase in blogs. Walski thinks this, too, is positive, as it showed (to him at least) that people had things to say, but before discovering blogging, had no avenue to vent those thoughts. Quality of blogs, however, remains sporadic. But hey... it's very rare that quality comes with quantity, in any case. Overall, though, the increase in blogging is a good thing, if Walski may say so.

Because of blogging, and other alternative web-based media, 2008 also saw more exposure to how Malaysia really felt about issues. Certain things getting pushed through as policy and getting the whitewash treatment as far as public acceptability is concerned by the media mainstream became a thing of the past. The true pulse of what the nation was thinking can now be surmised via what the blogs are talking about. The most recent examples would probably be the yoga and pengkid (lesbian tomboys) fatwas. The outcry from the public (initially via the blogs, and later picked up by the press) was too loud to ignore. It now becomes more difficult to shove things down the people's throats. Which, in Walski's book, is a darned good thing.

What Zaid Ibrahim did - resigning from his position in the Cabinet and subsequently from the Senate - in protest over the unlawful detentions under the ISA last year (more below) - was something of a positive, in Walski's books. In Malaysia, it's very uncommon for a minister to resign on the grounds of principle. Which is possibly an indication of how un-principled most ministers generally are - but that's just Walski's point of view.

All things considered, the overall good thing that happened in 2008 was the desire for change. But change is a double-edged sword, and that is something that most people have difficulty coming to grips with. And with that, we now segue-way into....

2008 - The Bad
Yes, change is good, but change always comes with a price. It seems to Walski that many expected overnight improvements after March 8th. Compounding this expectation was the rhetoric of turn-coat politics, promoted by Anwar Ibrahim, putting specific deadlines for a change in government. Well, the deadline came, and went. Twice. And faster than you could've said "WTF!", absolutely NOTHING happened.

Disappointed? Well, to an extent, Walski decided that he should suspend his enthusiasm and put his cynical hat on... Yes, Anwar was a bit of a disappointment. Walski's sure that what was promised didn't happen for a good reason. The moral of the story? Don't count your frogs while they're still tadpoles squirming in your wishing pond.

Another moral of the whole deal - if you're gonna do something drastic, don't publicize it to death... just fucking do it. Anwar - please take note.

But in truth, exacting change isn't easy, especially if said change isn't thorough. And Pakatan Rakyat getting control of 5 state governments only means that the Federal Government is only going to turn the screws on tighter, to undermine any positive change that the local governments can manage.

Malaysia, after all, is governed based on a centralist Federal mandate, and the Feds have control over many national institutions. Like the police, for example. As long as the Federal Government doesn't change, real and lasting change can't be realized.

And so, while March 8 was a good start, it merely was just that - a start. And Malaysians need to realize that. Do read The People's Parliament post on this very subject. It puts expectations into proper perspective.

It's damn near impossible to undo in 9 months, what has been festering for the good part of almost 40 years (counting from 1969). The roots of familiar contempt do grow deep in four decades. And that's something we shouldn't ever overlook.

Yes, the police played their part in making 2008 a little more lackluster than what we'd have hoped. Instead of being apolitical, the PDRM certainly made it clear whose side they were on, giving leeway to public protest gatherings which were BN Government friendly, while ensuring those protesting against the status quo got their 15 minutes in Hell... and then some.

Compare and contrast: 

... with some of the other keeping of the peace that the police did in '08 (all links via Malaysiakini):

... and other incidents, where the police acted in a very heavy-handed way, compared to the kid glove treatment the pro-Government protests generally got.

2008 - The Fugly
Probably the ugliest thing that happened in '08 was the apparent renewed hatred for the ubiquitous "other" - be it in the form of racism, religious exclusivism, or simply the generalified us-against-them-ism...

The FUD-planting exercise by some, surrounding March 8 continues even into the new year, and Walski doesn't expect this to change much in 2009, at least not until the UMNO elections are done in March. At which point, they will either diminish (which Walski hopes to be the case), or will get worse.

Perhaps the biggest mindset problem Malaysians have, generally, is this idea that "if you're not with us, you're against us". We just can't seem to agree to disagree on things. We sometimes embody our ideas to the extent that any criticism of the ideas becomes a physical affront to our being. So, for example, if Walski opines that the NEP (as is) is detrimental to the nation, Walski is all of a sudden anti-Malay, and therefore must be put down, in the most inhumane way imaginable. Like calling him names and stuff...

Another related ugliness that reared its head in '08 was growing conservatism and exclusivism, especially on the religious front. Any public discussion that even touched on Islam was met with vehement protest. Like the protest against the Bar Council forum in August last year.

2009 - the 364.25 days ahead
As Walski mentioned earlier in the post, what happened last year will have some bearing on what we can expect this year. Truth be told, he is apprehensively enthusiastic about 2009 - hence the title of the post.

Come March, Rosmah Najib will become the new PM, after "winning" the UMNO elections uncontested. Yes, Walski is psychic that way... The bigger question, which Walski's psychic ability cannot foresee, is "And then what?" Well, the jury's still out on that one. One thing's for sure, though - the guy will be taking up office with a lot of baggage with him. Perceived or real, Walski really doesn't know, but that seems to be the case.

One fear is that as a means to unload some of that baggage, a clamping down on speech may be a recourse taken. Eeek. But that, of course, is speculation. And on Walski's part, he'll be keeping his virtual grubby fingers on the pulse.

The other thing that could happen not too long after Najib takes over is snap elections. Walski's not the first to think along these lines. Perhaps what happens in Kuala Terengganu this month will be a better indicator. If BN loses, then snap elections is almost a given, Walski thinks. 

The key thing on many people's mind will be how the nation will weather the global economic slowdown. The so-far feel good messaging from the Government is not very convincing. Rumor has it that even Petronas is feeling a little jittery, what with the price of crude oil being at the levels they are.

A friend of Walski's told him that the state of the economy will only be more apparent after the end of January. Or more specifically, after the coming Chinese New Year.  But the uncertainty surrounding the economy is another area that is getting folks jittery.

Another area of concern is the atmosphere of conservatism that continues to spread like a malignant tumor. The uproar over the Bar Council forum, the posturing by Jakim and the rest of the Islamic bureaucracy, and the continued mantra of "Islam under threat", all point to a situation that is far from comforting. When "respect for the ulama" is cited as one of the factors why Muslims are not successful (without much of any empirical data to support the statement), one does expect that implicitly the atmosphere of conservatism is being encouraged. The worst thing is that this conservatism is non-partisan politically.

And to make matters even worse, the utter lack of political will to keep Malaysia the happy non-religiously aligned nation that it's meant to be, per the Federal Constitution. Secular, in other words. Which does not equate to being God-less, as many would prefer to see it.

To wrap up an already to long post, Walski is a little hesitant to say that he's optimistic about 2009 being a great year. It just is too early to tell. And being that nothing actually got reset at the stroke of midnight (except the calendar), it's natural to expect a continuum of what we saw last year. 

Same (or worse) shit, different year, in other words....

Or maybe Walski's just being paranoid. In which case, he'd be more than happy to be proven wrong.

Sorry for the bleak and less than ecstatic outlook, folks, but that's how Walski sees things for right now. And for what it's worth, a Happy 2009 anyway... he does honestly hope it's a real good year for everybody...

Walski's acronymical explanatory footnote: The acronym FUD is a popular marketing term, and stands for "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt", a term made popular because of how IBM was putting the fear into the hearts of their customers as a means to sway them from considering more nimble computing technologies that were up and coming (this was in the Mainframe days), saying that it was new-fangled, unproven, risky, etc. The political FUD we've been seeing ain't very much different...