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The problem with change for the sake of change


The truest and most important measure in politics is competence. But this simple enough concept apparently doesn’t apply to Pakatan. Ambiga Sreenevasan, the former co-chairperson of Bersih, recently told a forum that, “Despite how incompetent [the opposition] may seem, I think we will still vote for them because we want change.”


Bravo. I mean, what could go wrong? Ambiga’s words remind me of a certain Donald Trump, who once boasted, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” And to his credit (and our horror), he was essentially right. Trump’s numerous personal controversies, embarrassing ignorance, outrageous insults, and badly flailing campaign didn’t bar him from the most powerful office in the world.


The American people were desperate for change and so they took a leap of faith. Look at the results: Trump is already a national embarrassment just six months after his inauguration. Among other things, the bumbling orange monster is now the subject of a criminal investigation into possible obstruction of justice. So, let the Trump fiasco be a warning to would-be reformists around the world: For crying out loud, look before you leap.


There’s this silly belief among Pakatan diehards that changing governments is the magical cure for all our ills. We must throw out the old and the established, and bring in the new and the insurgent. Then, good governance would logically follow. But there’s little historical or contemporary evidence that this charming theory works in practice. Change just doesn’t work that way.


Indonesia and the Philippines – both said to be far more ‘democratic’ than Malaysia – have repeatedly changed governments through elections and even protests. Yet they still lag far behind Malaysia in every key aspect – whether corruption rankings, competitiveness rankings, or living standards. Money politics is rife in Indonesia and the Philippines – what’s worse, journalists are routinely murdered in the latter. Hardly the change you can believe in.


Moreover, I challenge Ambiga and friends to name one historical instance where working with a former dictator (like Mahathir) led to positive results – more democracy, more accountability, more prosperity. Seriously, just name one. I must have slept off during history class because I can’t think any. I am, however, familiar with the painful experience of the African continent, where one dictator is frequently replaced with another. We wouldn’t want that, would we?


The broader point is this: Whether change happens is and will always be much less important than what that change is. On the latter point, Pakatan leaders have been deliberately vague because they have no clue. They have struggled mightily to come up with a common policy agenda and a candidate for prime minister, and to no avail. No worries, they tell us – let’s just focus on defeating Najib and Umno-BN first, and figure out the details later.


In this respect, Pakatan finds itself in the same company with every anti-government movement in history that has ended in ignominious disaster. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Ask yourself these questions: Would you quit your job if you weren’t confident of getting a better one? What if a potential employer suggested figuring out your salary details only after you joined? Would you still be interested in ‘change’?


Yet Ambiga would still have us take that plunge, albeit in the political world. It seems Pakatan’s relentless squabbling and utter lack of substance mustn’t detract us from our insatiable lust for change. How lucky Pakatan politicians must feel. Like the perpetually failing crony companies of the Mahathir era, they’re always guaranteed a bailout. Pakatan is the new Proton.


Like Mahathir’s blind loyalty to his automotive baby, Ambiga seems determined to coddle and reward Pakatan’s incompetence till the end of time. (Has she considered that she may be actively enabling it?) Call me old-fashioned but I believe that competence matters and details matter. Politics isn’t about throwing a childish tantrum at the establishment – come GE14, I’ll be voting as a rational adult.



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