While I was reading news about Malaysiaâ€™s recently-concluded election, I could not help but shake my head; it was as if I was reading about the Philippines. Some of the things that were being said about the Malaysian government and its society could likewise be said about the Philippine government and its society too. It actually came as a surprise that widespread corruption, cronyism, racial tension, abject poverty, not to mention vote rigging or electoral fraud is still rampant in Malaysia.I always thought that Malaysian society is above those things considering their country is more prosperous than the Philippines due to their open economy. Heck, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur has been featured quite often in Hollywood blockbuster films for its sophisticated postmodern style and has also served as a 21st century icon for the country. And, considering their former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had the gall to criticize our society in recent past, I would have expected electoral fraud in his country to be all in the past. It looks like the former PM needs to remind his successors about what he said to Filipinos while he was here as a guest in 2012:
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â€œDemocracy works only when the people understand the limitations of democracy. When people think only of the freedoms of democracy and know nothing of the implied responsibilities, democracy will not bring the goodness that it promises. Instead it will result only in instability and instability will not permit development to take place and the people to enjoy the benefits of freedom and the rights that democracy promises. No sooner is a Government elected when the losers would hold demonstrations and general strikes accusing the Government of malpractices.â€
Apparently, things are not so peachy in Malaysian politics after all. While the incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak has been quickly sworn into another five years of office, Razakâ€™s political rival, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is still crying foul over allegations of electoral fraud. Ibrahim complained to local and foreign media or anyone who would care to listen that during the election, there were â€œdocumented cases of electoral fraud and calling for an independent Election Commission to investigateâ€.
Well, if this isnâ€™t dÃ©jÃ vu, I don’t know what is. We really do have a lot in common with our Malay neighbors. Obviously hocus-focus and political drama is not exclusive to Philippine politics at all. The possibility of having similar scenes — disputed election results, say — after the Philippine mid-term elections this month is quite strong. Just like how Malaysian opposition leader Ibrahim predicted the alleged cheating plans of the Malaysian government before the election, there are a lot of concerned Filipinos already predicting that there could be a failure of elections with the use of what they say is an unreliable automated system called Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) system. The complaints about technical glitches in the 2010 election were quickly dismissed by government agencies just to be able to declare that first automated election a success.
A documentary show in Manila even claimed that the transmissions by the PCOS could easily be hijacked and replaced. I guess if someone really wanted to cheat in the election, they will find a way to do it. Seeing how desperate most of the candidates are to win the election, there could be mayhem on Election Day itself. Unfortunately, Philippine President Benigno Simeon â€œBSâ€ Aquino seemingly couldnâ€™t care less about talks of failure of elections. He is very confident about his team winning with just a flash of the Laban sign. His minions, the so-called “little ladies” and thugs-for-hire will handle all the little details just like how they handled it in the 2010 elections. The little details could include but not be limited to vote buying, intimidation of voters and supplying of flying voters.
The thing that made me shake my head even more was when I was reminded of some Filipinos who keep insisting that a parliamentary system as opposed to a presidential system could solve the Philippinesâ€™ mediocre political leadership. Just to reiterate, I am not against the parliamentary system of government. But looking at Malaysiaâ€™s situation with Prime Minister Najib Razakâ€™s party ruling for the last 55 years, I could not help but realize that a parliamentary system will not solve leadership mediocrity in Philippine government just like it has not solved political leadership problems in Malaysia. It could actually help keep an incompetent and vindictive leader like BS Aquino in power for the rest of his life with his relatives taking over after he dies. The scenario is not too far-fetched. This early, BS Aquinoâ€™s celebrity sister Kris Aquino already announced she is going to join politics in 2016. They are already planning ahead to ensure that their family continues to rule the country uninterrupted.
The thing that most people donâ€™t realize in both Malaysia and the Philippines is that, at the end of the day, whoever controls the media, rules. The system of government will matter very little to the flow of information, particularly propaganda â€“ both negative and positive â€“ when media is under the control of one entity.
In Malaysia, the government controls the mainstream media. During the height of the election campaign, it was alleged that the government attempted to shut down independent media organizations that were set up to report a little bit of balanced news. The Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim actually wanted to free Malaysiaâ€™s government-controlled media organization and would likely have done so had he won the leadership. He claims that smear campaigns against him worked to poison peopleâ€™s minds and put the government in a good light. In 1998, Anwar was jailed, beaten and assaulted while detained and was later convicted of crimes he said he did not commit. He is adamant that he is just a victim of a falling out with his mentor, former PM Mahathir.
In the Philippines, something similar is happening too. Stakeholders of giant media organizations are said to be beholden to the incumbent President BS Aquino owing to their allegiance to his late mother, former President Cory Aquino. Mrs Aquino was said to have been instrumental in giving back control over said media companies to the previous owners after the ouster of former President Ferdinand Marcos. With the media beholden to the President, it seems they highlight only the things that would make him look like he is working hard. Some say media organizations mount smear campaigns against BS Aquinoâ€™s political enemies and splash the “right” headlines in their front-pages while hardly ever highlighting instances where the cases against them have been dismissed or dropped. Former President Gloria Arroyo is one of the mediaâ€™s favorite punching bags. Recently, the Inquirer even came under attack for their gaffe when in their haste to glorify the President; they made a mistake of putting a fake TIME magazine photo of BS Aquino on their front page.
If Malaysia is truly Asia, with corruption and cheating an acceptable part of their society, then the Philippines is not far from being truly one with our neighbor. The current Philippine government could even be trying to copy Malaysiaâ€™s style with BS Aquino reportedly making deals with the Malaysian government to drop the claim over Sabah, not to mention allowing the Malaysian government to broker the Bangasamoro Framework agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mindanao. Indeed, one can be forgiven for thinking that the Malaysian governmentâ€™s realm has been extended to the Philippines under BS Aquino’s watch.
In life, things are not always what they seem.