MP for Kluang • Political Education Director, Democratic Action Party

The Black Swan

Nassim Taleb’s bestseller “The Black Swan” talks about a world shaped by highly improbable events. He argues that most of what that we take for granted after the event was considered impossible before the event.

We know swans are white and that acquired common sense often stops us from realising that there are black swans too. We are not given to being counter-intuitive.

As we reflect upon world politics towards the end of 2011, we see that the landscape now has changed beyond recognition when compared to how it was in the beginning of the year. And those changes are permanent, irreversible and will continue to redefine the world in the years to come.

No one expected an Arab Spring to happen. Likewise, the electoral swing to the opposition in Singapore, the riots on the streets of London, the Anna Hazare anti-corruption campaign in India, the Camila Vallejo school fees protest that shocked the Chilean establishment and now the Occupy Wall Street movement were not anticipated at the beginning of the year.

In the years to come, the world will remember 2011 as it does 1968 and 1989. The year 1968 saw the climax of the anti-Vietnam War protest which sparked worldwide anti-establishment movements. In 1989, the collapse of the communist bloc was perhaps the most unexpected spectacle of the century.

As in 1968 and 1989, the existing world political and economic orders are crumbling in 2011, but as yet, no new balance has been found.

While we can’t tell whether a black swan will soon visit Malaysia or not, the country is exhibiting huge and glaring economic, political and demographic contradictions.

Economically, 60 per cent of the population earns a household income of less than RM3,000 per month. The bottom 40 per cent live on a household income of less than RM1,500 per month, with the supposedly favoured Bumiputeras constituting as much as two-thirds of this category.

It is no doubt true that low-income groups can survive in silence if and when the economic pie is steadily growing. But when inflation suddenly kicks in just when growth slows, then the uneasy equilibrium cannot be maintained.

In a rural setting, as long as the weather permits, many live on a semi-subsistent existence by growing food and rearing livestock. But urban dwellers from low -and middle-income families have nowhere to go when times are bad.

This is a serious challenge in a country where growth is slowing and state capacity is weak. The urban proportion of the population in Malaysia was estimated by the World Bank at 70.36 per cent in 2008, up from 35 per cent in 1980.

This eats into the credibility of the ruling parties. For urban dwellers, who now have access to Facebook and other social media, sources of information are multiple and not easily controlled by the government. And daily encounters with establishment cronies flaunting their wealth further erode Umno’s claim to being Malay champions.

Umno continues to survive electorally thanks to blatant gerrymandering and massive mal-apportionment of constituencies. Sixty-five per cent of the seats are in rural areas. For instance, the seat of Kapar now reports a voting population of 122,011 (Q1, 2011; 104,185 in the 2008 general election) while Umno seats have an average of 49,429 voters (in the 2008 general election).

Through manipulating the electoral system, Umno has amplified the significance of its “fixed deposit” voter groups, including Umno members, civil servants, police, military personnel, Felda settlers and Bumiputeras from Sabah and Sarawak.

In essence, Umno is a narrowly-based vested interest party. In the 2008 general election, 10.6 million were registered to vote, of whom close to 2.45 million did not bother to turn up to vote. Barisan Nasional received 51.4 per cent of the popular votes while the opposition as a whole garnered 48.6 per cent of the votes.

According to the Election Commission, as of August 2011 Malaysia has 15.98 million citizens above the age of 21 but, as of June 2011, those who have registered are only 12.27 million. Twenty-three per cent or some 3.7 million have as yet not claimed their right to vote.

The black swan may come in the form of the two million first-time voters in the next general election — 130,000 (estimated), 276,621(Election Commission figure) and 851,260 (Election Commission figure) were registered in 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively. Another 900,000 new voters are estimated to be registered in 2011.

Admittedly, the number of problematic registrations among the new voters, such as the ongoing foreign-worker-turned-citizen-turned-voter scam, may be substantial and if they are concentrated in Pakatan marginal seats, the balance may tip in Barisan Nasional’s favour. The PAS’s experience in Terengganu in 2004 is a case in point.

Nevertheless, genuine voters will probably still far outweigh phantom voters.

Typically new voters are urban-based and young, with slightly more being Malays than non-Malays. Fifty per cent of Malaysia’s population are below 25 years of age while nearly 70 per cent are below 40. This is characteristically an Arab Spring-type demography.

It is clear that Budget 2012 did not address the economic gap and provides no plan for those below 40 years of age. Politically, the proposed tweaking of security laws lags far behind an ever-rising expectation for a more democratic society.

These economic, political and demographic contradictions hold the potential of springing a black swan on Malaysia.

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)

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    Liew Chin Tong
    July 27, 2015 at 9:42 am

    Perang diantara Najib dan Muhyiddin dah bermula?

    Watch "1MDB: Kalau The Edge tidak betul, beritahu saya apa yang betul – Muhyiddin Yassin" on YouTube -

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    Facebook IconJuly 27, 2015 at 8:28 am

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    Sdr Guan Eng menghadiri Forum Kedai Kopi anjuran DAP Johor di Yong Peng semalam.

    Seramai 500 hadir untuk dengan pandangan beliau. Selain daripada Yong Peng (kawasan parlimen Ayer Hitam), Sdr Guan Eng juga mengunjungi kawasan parlimen Labis (Dun Bekok) dan Ledang (Tangkak).

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    Facebook IconJuly 25, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    Johor DAP state policy director, Wong Shu Qi(Senai assemblyman) said the suspension of The Edge publication did not come as a surprise as UMNO government has a bad record in press freedom.

    The Senai assemblyman said, “If the report made against Prime Minister Najib Razak by The Edge is not true, he should bring the publication to court to clear his name. Yet, both the PM and the authority chose a dubious method and an easy way out by flexing government's muscle to shut down the publication.”

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    The Edge suspension not a surprise: Johor DAP | theSundaily

    JOHOR BARU: Johor DAP state policy director, Wong Shu Qi(Senai assemblyman) said the suspension of The Edge publication did not come as a surprise as UMNO government has a bad record in press freedom.

    Liew Chin Tong
    Facebook IconJuly 23, 2015 at 2:28 pm

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    Menziarahi AJK DAP Johor, Sdr Mazir Ibrahim di rumah bapanya, Ibrahim Yahya. Mazir menyertai DAP pada tahun 2011 dan beliau memegang jawatan sebagai Koordinator pertama Roketkini.

    Rancangan untuk menubuhkan sebuah laman web BM untuk DAP lahir akibat perbualan antara saya dan Bekas Editor The Rocket, Wan Hamidi Hamid pada 1 Januari 2011. Ketika itu, kami sedang bersembang di sebuah warung, lalu kami membincangkan dilema yang dihadapi DAP di mana ia tidak mendapat perhatian daripada media massa BM.

    Kami mendapati bahawa suratkhabar BM jarang memberi liputan kepada DAP, jika ada sekalipun, sudah pastinya difitnah dan dicaci. Parti memerlukan media alternatif untuk melawan maklumat palsu dan mendekati masyarakat yang berbahasa Malaysia. Itulah asas penubuhan yang mana Mazir mempunyai peranan penting sebagai salah seorang daripada pasukan perintis.

    Pada tahun 2013, Mazir telah bertanding sebagai calon Parlimen Tanjung Piai. Walaupun kalah, beliau tidak putus asa dan terus bertungkus lumus berkhidmat dalam politik di negeri Johor.

    Inilah pertama kali saya berpeluang untuk bercakap panjang lebar dengan bapa Mazir, yang lebih mesra dikenali orang tempatan sebagai Cikgu Ibrahim. Beliau seorang seniman dan juga pernah aktif dalam politik. Dalam pilihanraya kecil Johor Bahru 1988 yang dicetus atas keengganan Shahrir Samad untuk menyertai UMNO Baru, Cikgu Ibrahim menjadi proksi kepada Shahrir.

    Cikgu Ibrahim sebagai orang lama di Johor, memang ada pendirian tersendiri dan pengetahuan yang luas tentang politik.

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    July 22, 2015 at 6:24 pm

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    I asked at the press conference whether this is the precursor of a crackdown as it looks like one.

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    The Rocket

    UPDATED: After being barred from leaving the country this afternoon, DAP lawmaker Tony Pua has said he is "shocked" at the blatant abuse of power by the authorities, and will consider filing a suit against the government for preventing him from travelling.

    "I am shocked because I was not informed nor called in for any investigations that would prevent me from leaving the country," he told a packed press conference at the DAP HQ here.

    He also said the ban is a gross violation on his right to travel.

    Pua, who is Petaling Jaya Utara MP, was to board the 3.15pm flight to Yogyakarta, where he is scheduled to visit the arts scene there for the Penang Arts District Project. He was then booked to fly to Singapore on the 25th to attend a school reunion.

    Read the full story here: