An childhood friend who spent seven years in Malaysia during the 1960s when he studied at Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur was pretty horrified at the state of Malaysian politics as described in the book by S. Thayaparan, Commander (retired) Royal Malaysian Navy. My friend bought the book whilst browsing a bookshop in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Originally a Thai national and now an Australian citizen, he left Malaysia in the late 1960s to continue his studies in Australia and last visited Malaysia in 2004 or over 12 years ago.
Having read through some chapters I find that Commander Thayaparan's description of Malaysian politics in both the ruling and opposition camps very much concurs with mine, especially with regards to how both sides play the race and religion card, with the main antagonisms right now being between ethnic Malays and Chinese and between Muslims and Christians, which have especially worsened since the May 2013 general elections.
Whilst mainly opposed to the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front coalition), Thayaparan pulls no punches in his criticism of the follies and weaknesses of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact). The book was Published in 2014, before the fallout between the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and the formation of a new opposition pact the Pakatan Harapan (Pact of Hope), comprised of the DAP, People's Justice Party Malaysia (PKR) and Amanah (formed by a breakaway faction of PAS).
Being and ethnic Indian and presumably a Hindu by religion, Thayaparan has the advantage of being able to step back and observe the current and increasingly polarised and dysfunctional political mess in Malaysia from a detached, objective, unemotional perspective. He also sees the situation from the real-political perspective of how matters are, rather than from an idealist perspective of how they should be but are not - well at least not yet. He also chides especially those in the opposition camp and their mostly urban-based supporters who tend to condemn the rural voters of being "stupid" or "ignorant" for continuing to vote for the ruling party for reasons of their own economic survival, when they should be reaching out to such voters and win them over with better solutions to their immediate concerns than the ruling party has done so far.
Commander Thayaparan writes in a witty and highly readable style, which got me laughing at some parts over the naive, short sightedness of the opposition and their supporters, as well as their intolerance of any criticism, even from opposition supporters. This by the way is what has made me step back too, when I previously insisted on believing that the opposition are political angels who could do no wrong.
Whilst his book has received endorsements from key members of opposition parties, in my humble opinion. I believe that with the fallout between the DAP and PAS, the opposition has suffered a serious setback, especially in terms of its ability of the urban-oriented DAP and PKR to reach out to the rural constituents whom PAS has influence with and who currently deliver the majority of parliamentary seats to the ruling party, and which can potentially split the vote in the ruling party's favour in three-cornered fights, or so the opposition fears.
Speculation aside, we will only know the actual mood of voters at the next general election in 2018, though I would not be surprised if the opposition pact gets fewer seats.
My friend who studied political science in Australia and at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, tends to agree with me that we cannot view especially Asian politics from our elite, urban, English and Western educated perspective, but rather we should from the socio-economic-cultural perspective of the masses who form the bulk of voters in elections.
I strongly recommend, Commander Thayaparan's NO COUNTRY FOR RIGHTEOUS MEN AND OTHER ESSAYS IN A CULTURE OF OFFENDEDNESS.