If your action must be drastic, do it in one fell swoop, not in agonizing stages
Thus Machiavelli advised would be rulers. If Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak had taken Machiavelli’s advice then he would not have just forcibly ejected the Speaker from the Perak State Assembly and arrested a few other people. He would have had to throw into prison, under the ISA, hundreds of people who had blogged, twittered, videocast and otherwise reported on the incident for the whole world to see.
If he can do this then there is a chance that he will continue to have a firm hold the reins of power in Malaysia for a long time to come. That was what Mahathir did in 1987 when he launched Operasi Lallang. Then, Mahathir not only went for the journalists who did not toe the line but also anyone else who could be a possible irritant and hindrance to his political dominance. He threw over a hundred people into prison and shut down a few newspapers.
The awe and fear experienced by the nation was amplified by a vacuum of information from whatever remained of the emasculated mass media.
But that was 1987. Way before blogs, Twitter, mobile handphones with cameras and other New Media came into the picture. Najib’s “fell swoop,” would have to comprise rounding up hundreds of people within and outside the country who have blogged, commented on a blog, copied contents from a blogged or Twittered about the Perak fiasco, as well as firewalling the whole country’s internet access, if he is to achieve the shock and awe that would strike fear and extract complacency in the populace.
This is clearly an impossible task in 2009.
So what does this mean for Najib? First, he must realize that the net, unless you have the political will, the single-mindedness of a totalitarian regime such as say, China’s – where you are willing to take whatever pain is necessary to stop the country succumbing to luan (chaos), you will sooner than later lose control of the situation in Malaysia because you would be confined to execute your will in “agonizing stages.” Machiavelli tells us that people can take a lot of shit if it is one fell swoop but when you drag it out they will not stand for it.
The Net democratizes and what it has democratized in Malaysia is the communication channels with which citizens can inform each other of what is happening, so that they do not have to shudder in an information vacuum. With that element of fear gone, they will be emboldened to get angrier and to act.
The Net also allows discontents to organize themselves against the government.
The only way out left in this situation is to compromise, share power. The ground has shifted under Umno in the many, many years they have been in power. Race is no longer the bogeyman that they can use to cow Malaysians. And in a situation where the whole world is really watching, resorting to force to solve a political problem is distasteful and works against the perpetrator, regardless of who is right.
Najib should just let the courts decide on who should govern Perak. And if the court decides to let the Opposition should govern then he should accept it.
But what he can do is to use the massive organizational and financial resources of Umno to steamroll his opponents by providing the best service a political party could provide. If Najib wants to govern Malaysia well, securely and for a long time then all he needs to do is serve the people well, and to communicate his achievements skillfully. If he can do these, he will be acknowledged as a great leader not only in Malaysia but all over because, in this day and age, the world is truly watching, and in real time too.
So enough already with the heavy hand. Get to work instead.