Pluralism is Malaysia’s strength, not weakness, says economist

By Boo Su-Lyn
January 02, 2013

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 2 — Issues-oriented politics that transcend racial boundaries are replacing race-based politics in Malaysia and are a main driver for the government’s reform agenda, says renowned Malaysian economist Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Mohamed Ariff Abdul Kareem.

“Simply put, it is not going to be business as usual any more in Malaysia — which bodes well for the nation’s future,” he wrote in an essay published by the online publication East Asia Forum yesterday.

“To be sure, pluralism is Malaysia’s strength, not its weakness,” added the economics and governance professor at the International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF), which is a university set up by Bank Negara in 2005.

Mohamed Ariff suggested that Malaysia’s changing political landscape was the main driver of change.

“For the first time in history, the ruling coalition is facing a formidable opposition. All signs suggest that a two-party system is already in place, regardless of the outcome of the forthcoming elections, which remain too close to call.

“Malaysia has finally come of age politically after 55 years of independence,” added the former executive director of the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER).

He pointed out that Malaysia, while an advanced developing country with an impressive development track record, was now caught in the throes of the current global economic slide.

Malaysia’s “needs to escape the middle-income trap before it can join the league of developed nations as envisaged in its Vision 2020. Malaysia needs to reinvent itself to accomplish this goal,” Mohamed Ariff wrote in the essay.

His comments on pluralism echoed those of former Indonesian President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, who said last month that Malaysia’s cultural pluralism is a strength that must be defended.

He had said that pluralism will lead to a tolerant society.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, however, said at the Umno general assembly last November that the ruling party strongly opposed pluralism.

Last July, Najib also called pluralism an enemy of Islam.

Liberalism is the belief in total liberty and equality of an individual, while many conservative Muslims are opposed to religious pluralism because of fears it could lead to other religions being put on the same standing as Islam.

Barisan Nasional (BN) lost its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority in the landmark 2008 elections. The ruling BN is now in control of 137 seats out of 222 in the Dewan Rakyat.

But Najib, who heads the 13-member coalition, has expressed confidence that BN can take back its customary two-thirds control of Parliament as in previous years, so long as members unite instead of sabotaging the party.

The 13th general election must be called by April.