There has been a lot of talk in Pakistan from both the PML-N and PTI quarters of the Malaysian model and its merits, and how Pakistan should adopt this model. There is no doubt if one visits Kuala Lumpur that there is much to be impressed with; infrastructure, transportation and cleanliness alongside the glitz, glamour and bright lights.

Given this burst of enthusiasm around the Malaysian model, it needs to be put in the dock to be examined and a number of pertinent questions must be asked: Can a model be judged solely on its economic merits? Do other factors need to be taken into consideration? Does a model emerge in a vacuum, or in the context of a world view? These are critical questions that need to be looked into before one thinks of taking on board the Malaysian model.

Even though Malaysia’s GDP grew 6.4% from April to June 2014, there are a host of chronic economic problems facing the Malaysian economy that are pushed under the carpet by the Malaysian model enthusiasts. In July, the Malaysian Central Bank raised interest rates in response to growing inflation rates and public debt. Taxation levels have been increasing, with the likely introduction of a 6% sales tax to be introduced in April 2015, along with a host of other structural adjustment measures by the Malaysian government to balance its budget deficit. The opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, in his criticism of the Malaysian 2014 budget, said that Malaysia could see itself heading towards an income cliff similar to that of the United States, as the wealth of Malaysia’s top 10% exceeds those of the bottom 70% and about 12% of Malaysian households have no wealth at all. In fact, the wealth of the top 1% is much higher than the whole of the bottom 40% combined. This is consistent with the 2013 IMF report that concluded that inequality has increased in Asia, dampening the impact of growth on poverty reduction. This means that growth experienced by countries in Asia such as Malaysia has been less inclusive and less pro-poor.

The economic fault lines are visible to any observer, which are the inevitable outcome of capitalistic driven economic policies that create budget deficits, increase debt and increase levels of wealth gaps in society. So, should Pakistan follow the Malaysia model? Before arriving at an answer, I believe social trends should be taken into consideration, as a society is mutually organic and not mechanical- with different parts operating independently from each other and economic trends naturally impacting social trends.

The social trends in Malaysia have been worrisome, with increased rates of depression, suicide, crime, sexual harassment and family breakdowns. The problem of drug intake and addiction is a huge problem. A report from the official National Drug Agency (NDA) has revealed that a total of 26,739 addicts—13,321 first-time addicts and another 13,418 ‘relapsed’ addicts — were registered with official agencies nationwide during the first six months of 2014. In a country of just over 20 million, the figure is appalling, and means there are almost 4,500 addicts every month. A new social problem is that of baby dumping, with 517 cases registered between 2005 and 2011, and roughly 100 cases annually. According to data, a large number of those dumping babies are Malay Muslims that have conceived outside of wedlock and have dumped the baby out of family pressure. Surprisingly, in a 2011 report titled, “Malaysia Economic Monitor: Brain Drain,” the World Bank stated that the number of skilled Malaysians living abroad has tripled in the last two decades. Between 2000 and 2010, Malaysia saw about one million citizens migrate which is a huge figure when the population is just over 20 million. About one-third of those who left were professionals. That means each day in those 10 years, 278 people migrated, and out of this figure, 84 of them were professionals. The ones leaving have mainly been Chinese, frustrated at the lack of opportunities available to them, with the Malaysian government preferring its vote bank i.e. Malays rather than the Chinese or Indians. This has created a host of tensions between the different ethnic groups.

Now, when looking at the Malaysian model as a whole, it seem not as attractive as its enthusiasts here in Pakistan would like many to believe, with the darker side of the model not mentioned at all. The French political scientist Bertrand Badie mentions the word ‘importer’ in his classic work, ‘The imported state: The Westernization of the Political Order,’ and this word is quite apt here with a model being imported without consideration of the whole package, its suitability to Pakistan’s context or even of the philosophical worldview from which the Malaysian model emanates: that of market driven capitalism. Given that Pakistan already implements a capitalistic economic model, with directives from the IMF, taking on board the Malaysian model would not herald a drastic change in her economic and social fortunes. This is similar to those that present the Dubai model or the Turkish model, without much examination in to their details and worldview. The former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed wanted Malaysia to be an exemplary Islamic model for the Muslim world, which it has failed to become. Perhaps this is something Pakistan’s political parties should genuinely explore.

The PML-N and PTI are not really giving solutions to Pakistan’s growing economic and social problems. Instead, they are presenting quick gimmicks and popular rhetoric that are fast to impress most people as skyscrapers and bright lights usually do.

    The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.