An evening with Zairil

Farouk A. Peru
The Malaysian Insider
8 July 2015

London has a thriving scene of Malaysian political activism. I began taking notice of it a few years ago when Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to win over the London crowd.
Since then, much has changed. The Pakatan Rakyat (PR) which was just a newborn back has now met a timely demise.

However, I have to express admiration for DAP which is still going strong. They retained Penang in the 13th general election and have now weathered the breakup of PR.

Last Sunday, I steeled myself for a ride on the London underground to attend a talk by Zairil Khir Johari.

For those of you who don’t know, riding on the tube during hot London summers is like almost like a taking shower!

Sweaty tourists tend to pack the tube, and while they hold on to overhead railings… you can imagine what happens.

Zairil is one of DAP’s young politicians who showed us why, if there is any political party worth its salt in Malaysia, it is DAP.

People my age and older would also recognise the pedigree in his name. His father, Tan Sri Khir Johari was a former minister of education and a close compatriot of the Tunku himself.

Before the evening was over, Zairil would show us that apple does not fall far from the tree.

Zairil opened his talk by lamenting the situation Malaysia was in at present.

From economic woes to mismanagement in governance, Malaysia was in the midst of major political issues.

He also mentioned the problem of rising conservatism among the main portion of the Malay-Muslim electorate.

This, in my opinion, is not just a problem but the problem which underpins all the problems.

As long as the Malay-Muslims experience rising conservatism, they will keep voting for the two biggest political parties which cater to Malays – Umno and PAS, both political disasters in their own distinct ways.

Since the last GE13, Umno has found that being more right-wing enabled it to garner more support among the Malays.

It has thus become even more of a mainstay to Barisan Nasional (BN) that ever before. In contrast, PAS actually lost support in the last GE.

This may be due to the fact that its notion of governance is centred around whether or not men and women can queue together without breaking out in a sexual frenzy.

In any case, it also found that the more conservative it became, the more acceptable to its masses. The end result spells destruction to the future of our nation.

However, did this mean that an Umno-PAS marriage was on the cards? Zairil did not seem to think so.

He believed that with the meagre number of seats PAS controlled, even if it did happen, it would not make much of a difference.

When these Malay-Muslim parties contested in the next GE, they would have to compromise with one another and this would lead to a zero-sum game.

Zairil reminded us of the last time PAS entered BN. That experience did not last very long and led to a very acrimonious split. However, will the power-crazy Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and Datuk Haron Din be deterred? Who knows?

Racist and religious politics is the lowest kind of politics we can engage in. Neither requires any kind of thinking.

One required racist chest-beating of political divine rights and the other requires blind adherence to the priesthood.

Zairil however, had something far more philosophical for us that evening. He unleashed some deep political thinking upon us.

If there was one word to sum up Zairil’s political philosophy, I would surmise that it is decentralisation. He believed it was centralisation in many shapes and forms that came to ossify Malaysian political institution and robbed it of its dynamism.

He believed that “permanent coalitions” (the worst being BN of course) were the main culprits of this.

We must remember that Malaysia is a federation made up of 13 states and 3 federal territories. As such, the needs and wants of each state would be different.

I found this to be a fair proposition but I would draw the line when it came to political alliances.

True, it was the mandate of the Kelantanese to choose PAS but can it ever be a good idea for any democratic party to team up with the Islamofascists?

Remember, their political philosophy is supremacist. They will not stop at kind of compromise as ultimately, the Islamic state is their all-consuming goal.

Zairil however, believed that having PAS at the table is still better than not. He believes the politics of exclusion will ultimately have a polarising effect and nurture extremism, citing the case of recent Egyptian politics.

I do concede that he is right but with PAS’s level, having them at the table is not enough. They want all the seats at the table and ultimately the table itself!

An interesting issue came up in the Q&A about education. Is it beneficial to Malaysia to have vernacular schools?

Here I believe Zairil demonstrated his political insight prominently. He said in the Sekolah Kebangsaan, although seemingly national actually now had a very low percentage of non-Malays.

On the other hand, Chinese vernacular schools had a rising number of non-Chinese students. It appears that Malays recognise quality education and racial/religious issues don’t erode that recognition.

All in all, it was an excellent evening for good political discussion. If pure political knowledge, insight and policy were the order of the day, I would put my money on DAP.

Sadly, the rakyat is not perfect and are prone to racist chest beating and religious fundamentalism and will not choose according to those who will do the job.

Whatever the case, I salute DAP for its tenacity and hope it wins out in the end for the sake of a better Malaysia. – July 8, 2015.

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