Will PH be a one season wonder?

Today Leslie Lau, the managing editor of Malay Mail wrote a piece entitled “Pakatan is finding out that winning GE14 was really the easy part”. It was, to me, a depressing read.

His key points are that Malaysians are disillusioned with the new government, Najib on the other hand is basking in new-found popularity, and the perception is that this is a U-turn government that has failed to deliver its promises.

The economy is still in the doldrums while PH’s efforts seem to be about plastics and smoking (not to mention black shoes).

But despite the issues he listed, which he admits will take time to be redressed but unfortunately voters are now past the mindset that led to GE14 and have returned to bread and butter concerns, he points to the need for PH leaders to be more vocal and to keep PH honest, the context being that PH must not become BN.

I found myself agreeing with much of what he said, except that I sincerely do not think that winning GE14 was the easy part. But I take his point, that PH leaders (specifically, I would think, PKR and DAP who have struggled over decades) might not be prepared for the hard work and hard thinking necessary in taking the reins of government. That much is true.

What got me was his tone and the question he posed at the end, whether PH is going to be a one-season wonder and he contrasted that with “staying power”.

And “staying power” is the point I wish to pick up.

Unless they shoot themselves in the head, PH has 5 years in government. Roughly 10 months into their term is no time to be disillusioned or panicked. It is certainly not the time to wonder if PH will be a one-season wonder. PH has not gone for quick fixes and I think that is the right strategy. Lay the right foundations and hopefully in the last 2 years of their term they will reap the benefits.

Najib may score brownie points now with some good media strategies. But honestly once you have nothing to lose it is easy to take potshots at those who have everything to lose. The reality is that Najib, if convicted, will be in jail for a long, long time. The important thing is to make sure that he is convicted.

The narrative (or the perception) is a little harder to handle, mostly because civil society and the media have the silly notion that the new government must be subjected to the most stringent criticism from the get go. They are all convinced that PH leaders, especially those who are, in Lau’s words, honest, are going to be compromised along the way and then PH will be BN.

Let me be clear here: for me “honest” means not corrupt and works in the interest of the country. I will not hold it against politicians if they play political games, unless these games damage the country.

I think not undermining the integrity of a fellow leader even though one disagrees is good politics. I don’t care about Azmin-Rafizi, Mahathir-Anwar, Sabah/Sarawak v Semenanjung, though of course I care about the outcome. Much less the issues that are dominating the media today: paper qualifications of PH leaders.

All this leads to my point that staying power is not about winning the battle as much as winning the war. And winning the war ultimately will be doing a good job, whatever job you are tasked to do. Ultimately substance will overcome perception unless the media and others who have a megaphone in this country, amplify lies and diminish truths.

I return to the point I made in my earlier article about the Malaysian narrative and the pivotal role the media plays:

It is a truth that good news do not sell newspapers. But perhaps those in the Fourth Estate should take a long hard look at what their role in society and nation building should be… are we shaped by and do we reinforce the prejudices of our readers, or do we inform, educate, transform and reinforce the good and condemn the bad?

Lau himself admits that much of the challenges PH faces are long term. He admits much of what voters want from PH smacks of hypocrisy. He agrees that the actions taken on plastics and smoking are good for the country. He calls the narrative that PH is a “U-turn government that has failed to deliver its promises” a false narrative. Fake news.

But what has the Malay Mail done to challenge these issues and help the government to succeed in its quest to do good and to gain credit for what they have done in a short time? Even the very article where he wrote these things conclude that this government is in danger of being rejected at the next election.

He calls on PH to be honest, and to have staying power, so that they will not be a one season wonder. Obviously he wants PH to succeed. Why else would he write such an article. What does he see his own role, as managing editor of Malay Mail, in this?

Abdar Rahman Koya, the editor in chief of Free Malaysia Today, wrote this article about the “fake degree” controversy and explained why the website had not given it much coverage:

It is because the media too are bound by the saying that great minds discuss ideas and small minds discuss people.

The trials of Liam Neeson

Recently Liam Neeson shared in an interview that 40 years ago he was so outraged at the rape of a friend that he went out to look an opportunity to kill anyone who was of the same race as that rapist.

The Taken star went on to say that it took him a week or two to get over his impulse. He appeared to realize during the interview how shocking his admission was. He said that it “was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that and I’ve never admitted that, and I’m saying it to a journalist. God forbid.”

“It’s awful,” Neeson went on. “But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing,’ you know? … I come from a society—I grew up in Northern Ireland in the Troubles—and, you know, I knew a couple of guys that died on hunger strike, and I had acquaintances who were very caught up in the Troubles, and I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing, and Northern Ireland’s proof of that.”

This created a storm of criticism, primarily because the rapist was identified as black, which meant that Neeson went hunting to kill a black guy. Neeson was branded racist and pilloried to the extent that some were calling for the end of his career.

So 40 years ago, Neeson was overcome with the impulse for revenge that he went looking for an excuse to satisfy that impulse but never did anything wrong ultimately. In fact he came to his senses, sought help, and has now shared the story to illustrate the horror that lurks within man.

This is a cautionary tale. A tale of redemption. But somehow it got twisted into a “black lives don’t matter” vortex.

Charles Blow, an African-American columnist for the New York Times, asked on Twitter: “Could Will Smith confess to stalking the streets of Los Angeles for a whole week searching for random white men to kill and get a pass? Exactly.”

Roland Martin, in an opinion piece in The Daily Beast wrote, “Okay, it was 40 years ago. But to black people, that hardly matters. We’ve seen way too much of this to think those days are over.”

”The reason why I can’t just easily brush off Liam’s racial revenge story is that our history is filled with similar stories: white woman cries rape, and black men pay the ultimate price at the hands of the Liam Neesons of the world.”

Only Liam Neeson did not kill anyone. No one paid any price except Neeson and that woman who was raped.

”Now someone may suggest that Neeson should get a break because what he described happened 40 years ago, and he never acted on those racial fears, and admitted he was wrong. But we are still dealing with this evil.”

Which is in ALL of us.

”Liam Neeson is no hero because he sought to avenge his friend’s rape. He was willing to take the life of a black man—any black man—to serve as his way of exacting revenge. What was deep inside of him is not rare. He is just like many white men who came before him.”

Nor did Neeson try to make himself a hero. But the last line is the point I want to highlight: the notion that this evil is the domain of white men, while the writer is black, and therein lies the self-righteousness that reeks throughout the article.

On a much more reduced scale is the recent issue locally of some landlords who refused to give tenancy because the applicants were “not chinese enough” or perhaps not chinese at all. Inevitably there were calls to legislate and enforce non-discrimination.

Alwyn Lau waded into the debate with the point that we should differentiate between discrimination and preference. While Praba Ganesan responded saying that 1) we should try not to describe our preferences in terms of race and 2) people should go beyond their comfort zone for the greater good of society, and their own personal growth.

Me? I think we are all “cists”, race or otherwise. Discrimination, as the systematic victimising of a person or a group of persons based on their unique difference from us is something we should positively act against. But “preference” which takes as its defence personal choice, can hold us back as persons, and as a nation, as Praba pointed out. While we should not legislate preference, we should want to educate, encourage, and persuade people to open themselves up, rather than defend and uphold the dogma of personal choice.

My own take on these two stories is that all of us are sinners, or to describe it in Liam Neeson’s terms, there is evil in all of us. And as such we should be more kind and gracious towards one another. But we recognise how damaging that evil is, and that there is something better, and we should encourage one another towards being better.

Who has the guts to call for Rashid to be sacked?

“Maruah” is a Malay word which bursts with meaning. Perhaps in English its meaning is best captured by the words “honour” and “self-respect.”

“Do you have no honour or self-respect” is the stinging rebuke Syed Saddiq hurled at those who long to get contracts and other rewards for being leaders in PPBM (Pribumi). Siddiq is the youth leader in Pribumi. He is also Minister for Sports.

Siddiq was responding to many, but probably mostly to Tan Sri Abdul Rashid, the man whom Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad appointed to lead the Electoral Reform Committee which is supposed to ensure that GE15 is free and fair.

Rashid was Chairman of the notoriously biased Election Commission which made Malaysia top the world rankings for malapportionment and gerrymandering of electoral boundaries. Rashid is also the Chairman who, on the eve of the 2008 general election, failed to implement indelible ink.

When Mahathir announced the appointment of Rashid, a chorus of protest erupted from civil society. Pakatan Harapan groupies responded to the protest with “work with him; It takes a thief to catch a thief.” Those supporters have yet to respond to what Rashid said last week.

Last week, Rashid, a Vice President of Pribumi, spoke from the podium at Pribumi’s Annual General Meeting. In his speech, he said the government would be “stupid” if it does not enrich the leaders of its branches by giving them government contracts. Rashid, also said that the government must win in elections “by hook or by crook.”

Mahathir, the chairman of Pribumi, commented that Rashid had highlighted an important feature of the past. In the past, while the BN government was in office, the leaders of Pribumi were deprived of contracts. Therefore a “correction” may be warranted. The “correction” is to give contracts to those who are leaders in the current coalition. He said what Rashid said had to be weighed carefully.

Well, the Prime Minister added to the pile of poo emitted by Rashid.

Maruah is a powerful idea.

The lack of maruah in BN is what led Malaysians to vote out the Barisan Nasional government.

The lack of maruah in BN is what causes Malaysians to laugh at BN’s criticisms of the current regime.

The lack of maruah in BN members is what causes Malaysians to cringe at reports of PH parties welcoming defectors from Umno.

It is heartening that the youth of Malaysia, both in Pribumi and in DAP, have spoken against the avarice which gleams in the eyes of many Pribumi leaders. Indeed, the standing ovation Rashid received at the AGM indicates that a large majority of Pribumi leaders approved of Rashid’s shameless public display of lack of maruah. (The silence of Amanah, is striking and shameful.)

In the run-up to GE14, many PH leaders who are now Cabinet Ministers said “Mahathir listens to us and he acts on our feedback.”

Well, I’ll be watching to see whether the Cabinet members have steel in their spines. I’ll be watching to see whether they call for Rashid to be sacked as Chairman of the Electoral Reform Committee. I’ll be watching to see whether Rashid is sacked.

As for the PH groupies who said “work with Rashid; it takes a thief to catch a thief,” I say “you lack maruah; keep your poo to yourself.”

As for the members of the Electoral Reform Committee, I ask “how can you work under such a shameless crook?”

First published in Rest Stop Thoughts

Shaping the Malaysian narrative

Here is a narrative about PH politics I came across today, written by a young twentysomething (or thereabouts) — When political idealism meets reality.

He sees that there are the idealists, PKR, DAP and Amanah. But they could not win without PPBM (Mahathir). And he says “Right now, Pakatan is in the Captain America sequel. More specifically, it’s at the scene where Capt realises that his enemy HYDRA has not only survived the first movie – it has infiltrated his allies.”

PPBM and Mahathir is of course HYDRA. UMNO is the sworn enemy; evil and corrupt. So he postulates about the good guys:

Because where they were able to make big political decisions as the opposition, they are (now) tied down by these facts: 1) They are now the government, and whatever bonds they break has lasting and damaging consequences and 2) They are very well aware that Tun M and Bersatu played a big role in their GE14 win, and warring with them could destroy everything they have built.

But at the same time, if they stand by and do nothing, and allow the face to compromise the overall coalition agreement, they risk losing the Captain America image they built for themselves, which may end up disenfranchising their support base.

And he ended with this observation about Nurul’s resignation:

I can’t pretend to know what are Nurul Izzah’s true reasons for leaving her party politics, but based on her statement, and in particular – her disappointment of the “derailment of the reformasi spirit” – there is some indication that Pakatan is at the crossroads of political idealism and the constraints of reality.

The Puteri Reformasi’s move to quit, at the height of her political career, to me, represents the idealism of the original coalition hunkering down without compromise, and choosing to believe that – like in the movies, good will triumph over the proverbial evil.

As romantic as that notion sounds, and as much as I hope things work out for the characters in this story – I have to remind myself: This isn’t a a movie. And good guys don’t always win.

And so, here we are at the end of a year of significant change. It seems so much time has gone by, yet GE14 was only this May, roughly half a year ago.

To listen to the narrative that has been told by civil society, politicians, commentators, analysts, this fledgling coalition would certainly fail to defeat the evil empire, and is certain to fail because Mahathir cannot change, and is certain to fail because Anwar is still impatient, and surely will fail because Mahathir hates Anwar and is working to put Azmin to be the next PM, and in fact has already failed because it has not fulfilled its promises in the Manifesto (someone estimated it to be more than 500 promises, and if you fulfil 1 promise a month it will take more than 40 years), no, PH has failed because it is now taking in UMNO defectors.

Is this what New Malaysia is all about, shouts everyone who disagrees with something or has a grievance. I did not vote for this — a common refrain.

It is a truth that good news does not sell newspapers. But perhaps those in the Fourth Estate should take a long hard look at what their role in society and nation building should be. To report as news what every idiot says, even a WhatsApp message from unnamed sources just to capture eyeballs is the height of irresponsible journalism.

And I’m sure the reading public must take some responsibility. But then are we shaped by and do we reinforce the prejudices of our readers, or do we inform, educate, transform and reinforce the good and condemn the bad?

But what is the point of writing stuff that no one reads?

Yes, that is also what I am asking myself.

The thing is, I know that no one is perfect, least of all politicians. But at least PH has demonstrated that it wants to uphold the good of the nation, not just the constituency that votes for them. It has demonstrated a disgust of corruption. It seeks to have a place for everyone, regardless of race and religion. It wants a fair deal for the man on the street.

These are things I care about deeply. And I want to hold them to it: to encourage them when they are doing right and criticise them when they are compromising. I don’t care about the bloody manifesto. I want PH to succeed, not because they are PH but because of what they seek to do.

I don’t care about the political games, whether in PH or elsewhere, unless they damage the ability of PH to do their job. Azmin may move, and Nurul can have breakfast with whomever, what they decide to do will happen whether I know about it beforehand or not. Nothing is true until it actually happens.

How PKR run their affairs is their business. If the president has authority to appoint, his exercise of it is not national news. If they do wrong it is the ROS’ business. I don’t care if they take in UMNO MPs unless it is illegal. But I care if the narrative assumes UMNO-> corrupt-> PH->corrupt- >End of New Malaysia. This is not cowboys and indians. Politics is reaching across the aisle and working with the other side because you cannot ignore other sides.

There’s just too much speculation about character and motive and too little about substance (which should then properly inform about character and motive). And yet these are the things that dominate the conversations to the point that our young people are getting disillusioned. But that is because they are not guided to see the picture clearly.

It is true. PH has not saved Malaysia in the 6 months. It is true New Malaysia has not arrived in the 6 months. It is true politicians are not perfect and they play political games. But it is foolish to expect otherwise in reality and it is also true that PH has made significant changes and improvements in these 6 months.

As the young writer wisely observed: we have no idea how the story will end. Which is why we should not be unduly influenced by that. We should focus on the journey, and the outcomes of each step. There will likely come a time when PH will become the enemy. But that is not the story at this time.

The young turks

Collins tells me that a young turk is “a progressive, revolutionary, or rebellious member of an organization, political party, etc, especially one agitating for radical reform”.

Mahathir is 93. He became an MP in 1964 at age 39. He was a fierce critic of the government of Tengku Abdul Rahman and was expelled from UMNO after the 69 riots. He returned when Tun Razak took over and was made Education Minister at age 49. He became prime minister at age 56.

Anwar is 71. Anwar was already politically active in his 20s and in 1974 at age 27 he was imprisoned under ISA over the Baling issue. In 1982 he was made Youth Minister, at age 35, moving on to education, finance and then Deputy Prime Minister at age 46.

Kit Siang is 77. He followed a different path and became involved in DAP in his 20s and won his first election in 1969 (that fateful year) at age 28.

Kit Siang has never been in government but over decades as opposition he has been largely principled. Even though he and his family have on occasion suffered, even imprisoned, he has remained steadfast. For that he earned the admiration of the community and laid the foundations for a sense of justice beyond race and religion, for a sense of politics as serving the country rather than self, for a sense of integrity and accountability as the standard for administration. This I believe has attracted many who are young and idealistic.

All 3 are controversial figures, with strongly held views. And to my mind, all 3 have been agents of change in the politics of Malaysia. In their day, they were the young turks.

In my last 2 articles I have tried to evaluate where Malaysian politics stand in the light of GE14. And my conclusion is straightforward: we are right at the beginning; perhaps square two instead of square one.

Political parties revolve around race, religion and personalities which means that these are the aspects of society that politicians pay the greatest attention to. And race, religion and personalities are still the issues that move people.

We need to move on to define our vision of the society we want to evolve to in terms of our values, our idea of justice, our economic strategies, how we are going to raise standards, education, our environment; and how we can work together although we are racially, culturally and religiously different, how we can make this our strength.

As I shared in my last article, I believe change can only come through key leaders who will take on the challenge as agents of change; leaders who are able to lead, whom the community are willing to trust and follow.

That leader, or leaders, will not come from the “above 50” category. These have had their day already, I think. Our generation must let go and allow the next generation to determine the path our country should take.

Who will be the young turks who will define our future?

The following are most of the members of the current cabinet, with some notables from outside. If you want to know what position they occupy in the cabinet, here is the link. But I think if you need the link then it is unlikely they will become a mover and shaker. Hopefully there are other notables in other political parties and NGOs. I just thought this is a good place to look for our young turks.

It is to DAP’s credit that most of their key people are below 50 and they form the majority in the below 40 category. But this is Malaysia and they will need good partners who are bumiputra.

Who has the passion? Who has the heart? Who will lead us forward? Who will drain us with their selfish agenda? Who have substance? Who are just flash? Who have staying power? Who will falter?

It is not too early to pray for them because for the three I have mentioned above, they started to matter when they were in their twenties.

Above 20

Syed Saddiq is 25.

Above 30

Yeo Bee Yin is 35.
Hannah Yeoh is 39.
Gobind Singh Deo is 40.
Teo Nie Ching is 37.
Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis is 36.
Steven Sim Chee Keong is 36.
Nurul Izzah Anwar is 38.

Above 40

Maszlee is 44.
Rafizi is 41.
Darell Leiking is 47.
Anthony Loke is 41.
Rina Mohd Harun is 45.
Liew Chin Tong is 41.
Ong Kian Ming is 43.
Tony Pua is 46.
Sim Tze Tzin is 42.
Chong Chieng Jen is 47.
Shamsul Iskandar Md. Akin is 43.
Eddin Syazlee Shith is 44.
Marzuki Yahya is about 48.
Zulpuri Shah Raja Puji is 46.
Mohd. Azis Jamman is 44.

Above 50

Guan Eng is 58.
Muhyiddin is 71.
Mujahid is 54.
Waytha is 52.
Kula is 61.
Mohamad Sabu is 64.
Mohamaddin Ketapi is 61.
Saifuddin Abdullah is 57
Saifuddin Nasution is 55.
Xavier Jayakumar is about 65.
Khalid is 61.
Salahuddin Ayub is 57.
Dzulkefly Ahmad is 62.
Mohammadin Ketapi is 61.
Zuraida Kamaruddin is 60.
Mohd. Redzuan Md. Yusof is 61.
Baru Bian is 60.
Teresa Kok Suh Sim is 54.
Mohd Hatta Md Ramli is 62.
Sivarasa Rasiah is 62.
Mohd Anuar Mohd Tahir is about 66.
Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah Raja Ahmad is 63.
Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik is 53.
Lee Boon Chye is 59.
Kamarudin Jaffar is 67.
Amiruddin Hamzah is 56.
Fuziah Salleh is 59.
Liew Vui Keong is 58.
Mohamed Azmin Ali is 54.

Seafield and the fissures in our society

The Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple stands on commercial land. A consent judgement was obtained to compel the temple to relocate. The landowner donated 2 pieces of land for the relocation and also RM1.5 million for the construction of the new temple. Still a faction within the temple opposed the move.

According to Muhyiddin, the Home Minister, Malay thugs were hired to deal with the standoff and they attacked the temple in the wee hours on November 26. The situation escalated the next day as some 10,000 supporters gathered and began to riot. They attacked fire and rescue personnel who arrived to put out fires and one fireman, Mohammad Adib, was severely beaten up. He succumbed to his injuries a few weeks later.

I tried to imagine what kind of emotion I must have that would compel me to want to hurt a total stranger who has done me no harm, to the degree that he would suffer fatal internal injuries. I could only come up with blind rage; the kind that short circuits the rational mind.

This is what race and religion can induce in a man.

In the weeks before and after this incident, race and religion were very much up in the air. The proposal to sign Malaysia onto ICERD was used to stir up emotions around race and religion. Mahathir defused the situation somewhat with a statement that ICERD will not be signed by Malaysia but UMNO and PAS, and other groups who feed off these issues, wanted a show of Malay strength through a rally like the Bersih rallies.

Several people told me not to go out on December 8, the day of the rally.

In 1987 similar tensions were stoked. MCA was up in arms trying to defend the Chinese vernacular schools and made a show of strength with a gathering of Chinese leaders to issue an ultimatum to the Government.

UMNO Youth, led by Najib Razak, responded with its own rally where Najib was alleged to have threatened to soak a keris in Chinese blood, evoking fear of 13 May repeating within the Chinese community. Many Chinese businesses around the city were closed for a few days for fear of any potential attacks from the Malay ultra-nationalists.

I remember the fear and the silence in the city, which was rudely broken by a Malay soldier who fired off an M16 rifle in Chow Kit Road. Thankfully the situation was contained.

Mahathir subsequently launched Operation Lalang and put many leaders in jail, defusing the tensions.

I don’t think that as a society, Malaysia will ever overcome the racial divides. I think the volcano will always be capable of eruption. It can and should be managed and perhaps one day it can be declared dormant. But the riots that modern Europe experienced are a grim reminder of its destructive power that cannot be disarmed.

Those who say it’s a new Malaysia because the anti-ICERD rally was incident free, I think, are deluded. UMNO is considerably weakened and no longer have the cover of being the government. Those who bayed for blood after the death of the fireman perhaps don’t realise how their words can drive individuals to worse actions than they are calling for. Those who criticised Mahathir for giving in to the anti-ICERD crowd did not see beyond their own agenda. Those who said cancelling the Human Rights Day event on December 8 was just giving in to bullies (an obvious reference to the anti-ICERD rally) don’t understand what was at stake.

I see in my mind’s eye a group of people attacking a young fireman to the point that nearly 4 weeks of intensive care could not save him. And I think, let’s avoid such madness.

Race and religion are easy issues to exploit and unfortunately politicians and political parties do exploit them, with success. These are the people who remind everyone of the racial and religious perspective of every issue and incident. I cannot see people rejecting racial and religious politics. I think this is an area where leaders must show the way.

Here is one:

Umno vice-president Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin urged Malaysians to stay united following the death of firefighter Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim.

Khaled said the tragedy should lead towards a more harmonious and peaceful Malaysian society.

“Adib is a victim of a crime which aimed to damage the lives of the people and country. They caused interracial tension on issues which were not even a racial problem.

“Therefore, Adib’s loss must be an inspiration for us to unite as a nation and not distance one race from the other. If not, his death in the quest to find harmony will be vain,“ he said in a statement.

The Permas assemblyman added that Adib’s death should be a driving force to fight all forms of prejudice against any religion, race and beliefs.

“This country belongs to all and we should have a sense of belonging to one another. This must remind us that all Malaysians should live in harmony and peace, so that such tragic incidents will not occur again,“ he said.

Khaled also remind politicians in the country to take Adib’s sacrifice as an example and stop politicking.

Party-hopping

This of course is about a significant number of UMNO MPs seeking to join the coalition of the day, Pakatan Harapan. DAP and PKR have been firm about not accepting them, saying that this at the very least can be viewed as compromising the reform agenda.

PPBM, Mahathir’s party, and Amanah, the PAS break-off, (the 2 parties in Pakatan Harapan with the least number of MPs) have basically said that they will examine each application on a case by case basis and past political affiliation is not a disqualifying factor.

And so we have the odd situation where Rahim Thamby Chik, the guy Lim Guan Eng went to jail for exposing his misdeeds, seeking to join PPBM. On the other hand, we do have Dr Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim working together now so that should not really be so odd. (Though seriously do they want such unsavory characters?)

The issue in most people’s mind is that changes the results of GE14. And what this means, despite their objections to Anwar’s by-election in Port Dickson, is that most people understand that we vote for the party, not the individual, because of course most party-hoppers will say that they can serve their constituency better by coming under the umbrella of the political coalition in power. Which is likely true, in the Malaysian political scene.

The real issue (I think) in most people’s mind is that the hopper and the receiving party does so for selfish reasons. The one hoping for some degree of power, and the other, enlarging their vote bank. But selfish motives is true for most decisions, I would think.

To my mind, the real issue is larger: Almost all political parties (probably with the exception of PAS) are defined by personalities or race or both. (Even their “manifesto” is not truly defining and in any case manifestos are put out by coalitions and only during elections.) At the same time, PPBM and Amanah have not been around long enough to be well-defined in terms of values and principles.

(Perhaps DAP can be a model for future political parties. Despite insistent labelling as “chinese” by UMNO, DAP seeks the participation of all races. And in ideology they are largely socialist, I think, but they still have ways to go to define themselves, mostly because they have not been in power for long. On the other hand, I think it is true of DAP also that they have been able to attract young idealists and they have been at the forefront in defining the party. That might change now that they are in power.)

All this means is that it makes very little difference which party an MP belongs to, where the constituency is concerned. It also makes little difference to the MP which party he belongs to. There are no clear principles that he compromises in crossing the aisle. (Just like a Man U player now playing for Liverpool.)

This is to say that in terms of political parties, Malaysia is at its infancy. After all in her entire existence this is the first time a different political alliance is in power. Perhaps over time (decades) the choices as to what kind of administration we will expect under each different coalition will become clear. But not now.

So, I think party-hopping for now has very little meaning, unless it changes the government, state or federal. From a practical point of view having the votes on your side is better than having the votes on the other side. And if you don’t care about differentiating your party (except of course in terms of corruption) as is the case for PPBM, there is little compelling reason otherwise.

On the larger picture, there is little reason to be seen as “rejecting” UMNO if UMNO in many people’s mind stands for Malay. You do want to project the picture that Malay representation continues to be strong in the Government of the day.

Will the influx of UMNO MPs into Pakatan Harapan change the agenda of the coalition? For now, it is unlikely that PPBM will have the numbers to go it alone, or even with Amanah. PKR-DAP is still the strongest group. But, this is Malaysian politics and one cannot overestimate the propensity of leaders to ruin the good they can do for the country in service of their own ego.

What Future for Democracy?

We are often told that in poor countries, democracy is a luxury, and we should focus on feeding the hungry. However, this is a misleading “either-or”. Famines don’t happen in democracies; and democracies that trade with each other don’t go to war.

Where in the world do we find a political party that lost a general election being installed as the “government” of that country by a President who belongs to that minority party himself?

Nowhere but Sri Lanka: a country which in the 1950s was regarded as a beacon for good governance in the postcolonial world, but is now in grave danger of joining the growing list of failed democracies. The new regime installed a month ago has been decisively rejected in a no-confidence vote by the country’s parliament (in the midst of violent attempts in the chamber itself to scuttle the vote). But the regime still clings to power while lacking political legitimacy. It is backed by a large Buddhist-nationalist faction in the country who regard the newly installed Prime Minister (who was ousted as President in 2015) as a “war hero” as well as one of their own. No foreign government, except China, has hitherto recognized the regime. But the country is economically and politically paralyzed. And, despite public protests and demonstrations, mainly in the capital Colombo, large sections of the population appear simply apathetic.

Such apathy, coupled with the gangsterism that has replaced a civil political culture in Sri Lanka, is rooted in massive institutional failures that go beyond parliament and an easily-muzzled judiciary. For many years now, the island’s schools and universities have ceased to be places where students learn critical thinking or how to engage with those from other ethnic, economic and religious backgrounds. Education and the media have become ideologically polarized.

As for religious communities, they tend to live in self-enclosed ghettos, and have ceased to be forums where men and women are equipped with the moral habits indispensable for public life. Indeed, notions such as “the common good”, “the rule of law”, or “conflicts of interest” are little understood, not least among those entrusted with the education of the young, whether in schools or religious institutions.

In my last post, I mentioned the shifting political stances of the Roman Catholic church around the world. In Sri Lanka, the RC church comprises a significant 7 per cent of the population, compared to less than 1 per cent of Protestants. While there are several Roman Catholic priests and nuns who are politically active at the grassroots in promoting justice and reconciliation, the middle-class laity (among whom are found leading politicians, bureaucrats and judges) are largely theologically ignorant and often complicit in wrongdoing. And it is difficult for the RC Bishops to challenge authoritarianism in politics when they themselves are under the thumb of an autocratic Cardinal who is morally compromised and more Buddhist than Christian in his public pronouncements: for instance, claiming recently that a “Buddhist country” like Sri Lanka does not need the “Western religion of human rights” – thus denying his own church’s social doctrine!

In countries like Sri Lanka, the long-term task of building free and accountable institutions is where Christians should devote their energies. It is not simply a constitutional crisis we face, but a deeper moral crisis. Conversion— personal and cultural—goes hand-in-hand with legal and economic change. We are often told that in poor countries, democracy is a luxury, and we should focus on feeding the hungry. However, this is a misleading “either-or”. Famines don’t happen in democracies; and democracies that trade with each other don’t go to war.

“If someone takes away your bread, he suppresses your freedom at the same time. But if someone takes away your freedom, you may be sure that your bread is threatened, for it depends no longer on you and your struggle but on the whim of a master.”- Albert Camus (1913-1960)

Contrary to what is stated in typical undergraduate-level texts on political theory, the first modern political revolution occurred not in France or the US, but in 17th-century England. The English Civil War saw, for a few brief years, the replacement of monarchy by a sovereign parliament. The English dissenters (“Puritans”, “Diggers” and “Levellers”), opposed absolutism on theological grounds and championed freedom of conscience and religious worship. Oliver Cromwell’s ragtag army of common people held formal open debates all over England to determine what kind of government should replace the defeated monarchy. What an utterly remarkable moment in history.

Although Cromwell’s Commonwealth did not last long, his experiment was far-reaching. While monarchy was restored, there was no going back on the sovereignty of Parliament in the government of the English people. And the refugees and immigrants who fled across the Atlantic to New England continued the political experiment begun under Cromwell. Little wonder that in New England immediately after the American Declaration of Independence, slavery was banned (while it continued in the South), women’s rights advanced, and a level of political maturity reached that was unsurpassed anywhere in the nineteenth-century world.

Many otherwise well-educated Americans are ignorant of how much they owe to the English Civil War and its aftermath. Words like Puritan and Calvinist are usually used as “sneer words”: they have become caricatures of gloomy, uptight religious fanatics. Little do we realise how indebted to such men we are in our modern political discourse about equality, rights, the rule of law, and representational democracy.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat who traveled around the newly-independent United States observing its culture and institutions, had no such illusions. In his classic work, Democracy in America, written in two volumes in 1835 and 1840, he observed: “Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions, for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it… I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere belief in their religion—for who can search the human heart?—but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.”

Recovering the rich heritage of Christian political theology is the first step towards the Church learning to speak truth to power and contributing to the building of free and accountable institutions.

First published on Vinoth’s blog.

The bogeyman isn’t our enemy

by Philip Golingai

Malaysians should be wary of those who use divisive tactics to grab power at the expense of unity and harmony.  

CAN you feel the heat?

I do. The religious and racial tension in our country has gone up a notch or two the last one week.

Last Saturday, I had an inkling that this would happen when I watched on Facebook Live an Umno and PAS gathering in Pasir Salak, Perak. The two frenemies gathered to oppose any move by Malaysia to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

The rhetoric at the gathering included words and phrases such as “amok”, “J.W.W. Birch” and “May 13”.

(Birch was a British resident of Perak who was speared to death by followers of Dato Maharajalela while bathing in Pasir Salak on Nov 2, 1875.)

As if the religious and racial tension in Malaysia was not heated enough, a video clip of a shopper berating a beer promoter surfaced on Monday.

I cringed when I saw that it involved a Chinese and a Malay.

When there is an incident involving people of different races, it can turn racial and potentially divide Malaysians.

Mohamad Edi Mohamad Riyars, known as Edi Rejang, scolded a Chinese woman who was offering beer samples to shoppers in the non-halal section of a supermarket in Kuala Lumpur. He used the words Bumi Melayu, Boleh cakap Melayu? (Can you speak Malay?) and “F*** You” and showed his middle finger to her.

Many Malaysians, regardless of race and religion, condemned the man’s actions. But there were those who defended it.

Edi Rejang has apologised for his actions, saying that he was not racist as he sent his child to a Chinese school and he had friends who were Chinese.

End of story. And Malaysians can move on?

Probably not. As there are Malay rights groups that want to turn Edi Rejang into their poster boy.

Edi Rejang’s “momentary” lapse of judgment is an example of the ugly Malaysian.

But it gives a skewed picture of Malaysia. It is not the Malaysia I know.

The Malaysia I know is where Malaysians celebrate their diversity. It is a country where we don’t allow our race or religion to divide us.

Here’s my Malaysia as I live it.

On the day Umno and PAS were gathering to oppose ICERD, I was organising a four-hour lunch playdate for my 10-year-old daughter, a Catholic Kadazandusun, and her BFF (best friend forever), who is coincidentally a Malay.

They study at the same school in Subang Jaya, Selangor. They are BFFs probably because both have empathy and they love the same YouTube channels.

For lunch, I made sure I ordered McDonald’s as it is certified halal.

This is very different when I was growing up in Kota Kinabalu in the 1970s and 1980s, when Malaysians were not too concerned about halal and non-halal food or space.

When I sent my daughter’s BFF home, her dad thanked me for hosting his kid. He also said kind words to me as he knew I was returning to Sabah because someone in my family was critically ill.

There were no “halal” or “ICERD” issues dividing us. What we most probably wanted was for our kids to live harmoniously in a bumi Malaysia that did not differentiate whether you are Kadazandusun, Iban, Bajau, Melanau, Indian, Chinese or Malay.

That evening, I left bumi Melayu – to use Edi Rejang’s words – and was back in my home state, which some say together with Sarawak is the real Bumi Malaysia as we are muhibbah.

(Translated to English, muhibbah means willing and sincere acceptance of others, of genuine respect for others, of the fellowship of citizens and the kinship of humanity.)

In Kota Kinabalu, my wife and I had breakfast with her BFF, who is coincidentally a Bajau Muslim.

When you have someone critically ill in your family, you need all the help you can get. And my wife’s BFF was there to help orang susah (people in difficulty).

There was no ICERD to divide us. Especially in Sabah (and Sarawak), where most people want the ICERD ratified.

We were talking politics and I brought up the ICERD issue.

“Itu KL punya pasal. Kita di sini mana peduli (That is a KL issue. We, in Sabah, do not care),” she said.

But judging from the postings in my Sabah WhatsApp groups, Saba­hans are concerned about what is happening in Peninsular Malaysia with regard to ICERD. Video of ICERD protests and fake photographs of protesters armed with knives are shared.

They are worried that the ICERD issue might turn bloody.

I did not want to write about Edi Rejang and ICERD as I thought the situation was getting to be too racist. I wanted to write about how a death could not be foretold.

But I couldn’t avoid the noise.

There are forces out there who are playing the racial card. They want to use it to gain power at all cost.

What is worrying is how they will ratchet up the religious and racial tension. Will they use the old trick like throwing a pig head in a mosque or cow head in a temple?

But it seems such tricks do not work anymore. They don’t stir racial or religious tension as Malaysians have wised up.

Let’s hope the latest bogeyman – ICERD – will not have this effect either.

First published in thestar.com.my.