Sunday, April 25, 2010

Malaysia, the next Thailand?

Observers witnessing the recent events as manifested in Hulu Selangor and the turmoil in Bangkok would have noticed certain parallels between the two events. It would not be far fetched to suggest that the political polarisation prevailing within the Thai political structure has its own analogues in Malaysia, that given time will metastase into a full-blown crisis if the underlying causes are ignored.

Let me render the parallel equations between the two scenarios in simple terms by first looking at the Yellow Shirt Quarter:

the pro-govt Thai royal house = the "pro-govt" Malay sultanate system

the pro-govt Thai business elite = the pro-govt malaysian corporate network

the state and state-linked security apparatus = the local security apparatus and their
supporting casts like RELA

the Thai middle class = the local civil service

the pro-govt press = the local mainstream media

Extrapolate the antithesis elements of the above equation to the Malaysian context and you have:

the covert anti-royalists in Thailand = the Malaysian 'Republicans'

the anti-govt Thai proletarian and peasantry = the disaffected Malaysian working class and
rural peasantry

the anti-govt Thai press = the local alternative cyberrags

the anti-Thai security 'militias" = the local partisan security corps etc which are basically militias
in disguise*

While the scenarios are startlingly similar, it should be noted that there are other elements at play which are unique to the respective political ecologies. Firstly, the ethnic demographics are not similar giving rise to the postulation that the Thai crisis is essentially a class driven struggle while the Malaysian context is a combustible mix of socio-economic angst allied to ethnic disillusionment. Secondly, while a wide segment of the Thai private middle class and intelligentsia have kept a relatively low profile in their crisis, the Malaysian private middle class and intelligentsia have taken a covert yet involved stance via politically affiliated NGOs to foment the disaffection amongst the proletarian and peasant class and astutely using these groups as their stormtroopers (last year's Perak Affair and ISA raliies being prime examples). Thirdly, the theatre of conflict in Malaysia has largely been confined to election campaigns while in Thailand, street militancy is the norm. Fourthly, Thailand has been mired in economic malaise for some time and this has exacerbatedinterclass and intraclass economic disparities. While, Malaysia's economic growth has held steady with low inflation, inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic income and wealth differentials remain potentially explosive forces that can fuel discontent.

The analogy as postulated in the above framework may hold true but whether the Malaysian context metastases along the lines of the Thai scenario is moot. But then again, street revolutions are perniciously viral. Could it be that, Thailand is lurching along the Nepal path minus the Maoists but with essentially the same features and Malaysia is journeying along the same path albeit at a slower pace blindfolded by partisanship, ethnic dreams of supremacy, personal ambitions and vindictiveness.

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