Politics in an Age of Unreason

By Farish A. Noor

So now the bomohs (witch doctors) rule the roost it would seem. The news that a magic charm or spell was found hidden surreptitiously under the desk of none other than the Prime Minister of Malaysia does not bode well for the future of this country of ours. It may make the headlines under the ‘Strange but True’ column of foreign papers, but this historian has grown somewhat jaded by now by such ridiculousness dressed in the garment of wonderment and fantasy. No, this was no laughing matter (and if we did laugh, it was a pitiable laugh at best).

One recalls the blanket order issued by some political parties last year just before the general elections of March 2008, to the effect that politicians should refrain from calling upon the services of such practitioners of the ‘black arts’. That political parties have to issue such warnings in the first place speaks volumes about the state of Malaysian politics today, a primordial politics that is being enacted in an age of unreason.

As a scholar in Britain in the 1990s I remember reading a report about a Latin American country that had fallen into an economic tailspin of unprecedented proportions. As inflation rose to the level of more than a thousand percent, the hapless citizens of that unfortunate country wondered aloud about how their country’s economy could have fallen apart in so short a space of time.

It later transpired that the Cabinet Minister in charge of Economic Development and Finance had consulted a Latin American equivalent of a bomoh too. In the middle of the night he had snuck out of the capital in his air-conditioned luxury car to meet up with the half-naked savant in the steamy jungle. In the witch doctor’s primeval hut a chicken was readied for the task. The fowl’s belly was split open and the entrails were laid out for inspection. The witch doctor took a look at the shape and form of the animal’s liver, kidneys and intestines, and then gave his expert opinion as to how the country’s economy should be managed over the rest of the fiscal year. The Cabinet Minister dutifully took down notes and made the necessary changes to the budget. In a week’s time the economy had crashed and in this case at least we cannot blame the chicken for the economic collapse. The rest is history, and a sad one at that…

I shudder at the thought that Malaysia today may be heading in the same direction. We pride ourselves with the thought that we have the most beautiful international airport in the region; and that our capital boasts of having one of the tallest buildings in the world. But the word on the street is that one should not linger too long on the forty-first floor of the KLCC tower for fear that one may bump into the resident ghost who tarries along the corridor in the dead of night. And of course magic spells have the tendency to end up under your table if you happen to be the Prime Minister as well.

My despondent character is hardly improved by these revelations. Indeed it brings me closer to suicide every time I read of such nonsense that passes as politics in our benighted country.

Malaysian politics is in dire need of a heavy dose of reason and rationality. For too long we have become accustomed to a primordial politics based on sentiment and couched in narrow essentialisms of race, ethnicity, language and religious differences. Yet to build a modern nation-state and to engage in the effort of nation-building, it is our rational critical faculties that we need to draw upon. The abstract idea of a plural and democratic Malaysia is not the result of the bomoh’s arcane craft, but rather the result of careful planning and micro-management of a host of social and cultural variables.

Looking at where we are today, with a country that continues to be split along ethnic, racial, linguistic and religious lines, one is compelled to ask: Can Malaysia survive the next 50 years and will we remain on the map? The recent calls for the protection and promotion of exclusive racial interests that were uttered prior to the UMNO general assembly all point to the return of primordial politics with a vengeance. Worst of all, almost all of the politicians in this country have retained the ethnic-communitarian card till today.

This, my friends, is the real danger we face in Malaysia at the moment. Faced with an economic crisis of gargantuan proportions, we are a nation in denial and unable to address the realities of the world face-to-face. Running to the bomoh and hiding behind the rhetoric of racial exclusivism are the same thing: A pathetic attempt to escape from the real issues that may make or break this nation, while we perpetuate our collective conceit that we are a developing state-in-waiting. For our sake, and for the sake of the future generations of Malaysians, reason and rationality will have to make a comeback in no uncertain terms.

  1. #1 by anna brella on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 4:04 am

    Well-reasoned, well-analysed and well-written article this.

    Farish Noor is absolutely spot on in what he says here.

    Ketuanan Melayu + voodoo UMNO/BN politics = Gargantuan national crisis for ALL.

    “Imagine Power To The People” John Lennon

  2. #2 by monsterball on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 4:14 am

    yip…UMNO should do everything good to redeem some of the many many sins…before being voted out.
    Stop denying. Stop lying. Stop acting. Stop stealing from Malaysians,
    Start having some dignity….for their poor souls.
    Will they ever do that?

  3. #3 by vsp on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 6:20 am

    We have seen it all before. When Mahathir ruled it was “Bersih, Cekap dan Amanah” and the country went to the dogs.

    Next, it was Abdullah Badawi’s “Cemerlang, Gemilang, Terbilang” and the country went into the lokang.

    Well it déjà vu all over again. What will Najib’s slogan be? Whatever it is make no mistake about it: the country will be C4ed.

  4. #4 by clear conscience mirror on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 6:32 am

    Yes Farish,

    You are absolutely right about the situation when you took stock on the overall scenario of what Malaysia would have been, would be and would still be if our politicians refuse, continue to deny and live in the archived world of race politics.

    We have come a long way, trying to blend our own Malaysian Malaysian. We had done this by sharing power amongst the various races in meeting their respective needs; thus the birth of the social contract. Through fairness and level playing ground by our great leaders of the past, it had ensured trust, cooperation, advancement towards improvement of social economic well-being and nation building as well as the eradication of hatred amongst along the racial line.

    What has happened of today is clearly the direct result of politicians taking the course of the racial line. However, in the disguised name to champion their own race needs, these politicians are indeed hiding behind this cloak to champion their own personal needs which resulted in the deterioration of closing the racial gap.

    Akin to shifting the goal post consistently, how are you going to score and ensure victory against your opponents? Are you to blame the coach, players or the opposing team under tactics for the failure of “Malaysian politics” to eradicate race politics?

    Unless and until the politicians have the desire, appetite and sincerity in moving forward to achieve this, it is doomed, will be doomed and remain just an utopian dream. Many politicians advocate “politics of the moment” in adopting flip-flop measures to meet their needs, not the Malaysian Malaysia needs of the day. This is to ensure their survival in the political arena.

    I shudder to see this continued into the foreseeable future. I had seen in my 50 years of my life, a situation that had moved from good, bad and to worst. I have many great friends of various races up to today. We have no problems amongst us. I do not see this at the political level which is the main culprit in the divide of the Malaysian society. The vision school (Wawasan Vision) seemed politicized. On the surface it seems okay but the continued implementation into secondary level vouched its failure. Our different races would move along the racial line when these “vision students” move on to secondary school. Why has this happened? It is all because of being demonized by the politicians which trickled down through the society, with emphasis for survival of the races. There are no real and workable filters with the determined desire to avoid these; thus we Malaysians are a divided lot of today.

    JUST TOO BAD! Man proposes but God disposes. That’s not the way it is happening in Malaysia. It seemed to be the other way round here. A reasoned political scenario must prevail in Malaysia, for Malaysia and by Malaysia.

  5. #5 by chengho on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 7:52 am

    …Worst of all, almost all of the politicians in this country have retained the ethnic-communitarian card till today…that inc you uncle Kit and your DAP
    Malaysian chinese and Tamil still….Couched in narrow essentialism of race, ethnicity, language and religious differences…. open your eye to the Babas and Nyonyas how they assimilate with the majority just like in the USA various peoples assimilate…..

  6. #6 by AhPek on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 9:22 am

    Eunuch Ar.e.o.e,
    Don’t froth so much at your mouth.Baba,Nyonya and Chitty (chinese and indian peranakan) have not even been extended honorary status honorary status like ‘Serani’. The UMNOPUTRAS ranked them with other ‘non belongers’ living in but not fully belonging to Tanah Melayu.
    Racism (institutionalised racism) is the sole realm of the UMNOPUTRAS and they have strenghtened by instituting “Ketuanan Melayu”,NEP,affirmation policy and using it for the express purpose of enriching themselves.The greed has grown to such proportion that they will go to any extent to retain power.Already all the institutions of the country are arms of UMNO ever willing to do UMNO’s bidding and this is the basis that ushered in The Age Of Unreason started from the time of Mamak.

  7. #7 by AhPek on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 9:26 am

    correction. “Babas,Nyonyas and Chitty (…) ………not even be extended honorary Bumiputra staus ………………ranked with other ‘non belongers’ living but not fully belonging to Tanah Melayu.”.

  8. #8 by sotong on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 9:44 am

    Thanks to our so called ” leaders “, our people are too divided to face the global challenges to protect their common interests….there is no quick fix.

    Some resort to ” baca-baca ” to achieve their political objectives…..this is shocking and unbelievable!!

  9. #9 by cemerlang on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 9:45 am

    Of course, we are living in the world, but we do not wage war in a world-like way. The weapons we use in our fight are not made by humans but powerful to God for bringing down of strongholds. God is always great.

  10. #10 by DAP man on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 10:20 am

    This voodoo thing has been a part and parcel of UMNO politics since its early days, especially before divisional and national party elections.
    Practically every UMNO leader goes to a bomoh, some even to the Sakais for talisman, incense, salt, dolls and other satanic inscriptions and paraphernalia.

    If anyone cares to make a thorough check of PWTC, you will most probably find these in the vicinity – in the hall, under the ballot boxes and on the floor.

    Please don’t laugh. This is not a joke.
    An umno candidate who does not go to a bomoh has lost the election even before the first vote is cast. Well, some even lose after the votes are counted.

  11. #11 by jasonc38 on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 10:26 am

    The article says it all. Not only they are in a stage of unreason but also going towards a stage of backward-ism. I loathe the very speeches made by the so called “Leaders” who disregard the very sanctity of the human kind. Narrowing their scope of thought and their very blatant disregard to all Malaysians…including the Bumiputras who have other political beliefs is just spelling trouble…trouble and more trouble for them.

    Give it time and of course the hopeful wisdom of more Malaysians, UMNO will eventually self destruct with their own beliefs from their in-fighting. I just hope that I can live old enough to see this happening. Check this out :http://mt.m2day.org/2008/content/view/19827/84/

  12. #12 by monsterball on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 10:35 am

    Before UMNO is voted out…hope some of those great sinners will do something sensationally good…like exposing the real Najib.
    Book a place in paradise…or …all will burn in hell.
    Life is uncertain….death is certain.
    Cheaters usually get cheated too..or pay with lousy son like Samy Vellu.

  13. #13 by monsterball on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 10:41 am

    For all that Lim Kit Siang has sacrificed for Malaysia and Malaysians….he is rewarded ten folds more.. by God.
    Son ….CM of Penang!!
    Need anymore proofs?…..good begets good?
    Those Mat Rempit….what race are they? Whose sons are they?..100% UMNO buggers…giving endless headaches to corrupted fathers…few mothers too…who are on the take…stealing from Malaysians.

  14. #14 by illuminati on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 10:51 am

    I applaud this article by Farish Noor. It describes exactly what Umno is all about. Judging from the sound and fury coming out of the Umno assembly, the prospects of the nation going forward in terms of economic well-being and racial harmony are as bleak as ever, even if the new PM promised to work for reforms in the party. What reforms when grassroots Umnoputras still voiced their supremacy rhetorics. They started to put the blame on others for their woes, they want Umno to control everything even in the civil services. So how can a chavinistic leopard change its spots?

  15. #15 by taiking on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 10:53 am

    A joker here claimed that chinese and indians in malaysia do not want to assimilate with the majority just like the usa.

    I call him a joker because that statement can only come from a clown. Why is it a joke.

    First, chinese in malaysia could well be the majority homogeneous race in country. The malays as a race (if it can properly be called a race) is not homogeneous. It is made up of a composition of races. Following that joker’s statement to a logical conclusion: Everyone in the country ought to assimilate with the chinese!

    Second, chinese and indians etc are still being labeled as pendatang / penumpang after several hundred years of living on the land. DAP’s and now Pakatan’s call for bangsa malaysia has consistently been snubbed by umno openly. MCA and Gerakan called for a multiracial party. An indication that they are ready for integration. But umno stepped back and freaked out. They are not definately ready to share the cake.

    Third, we still see officially implemented bumiputras-only (realisitcally, umnoputras-only) policies. The official stand of the umno government is clearly anti-assimilation.

    Now back to the main topic. Yeah how frightening. We could be turning into a bomoh country. I would rather be colonised then to be under some magical (hopefully not evil) spell. Perhaps that joker is under some spell. I dont know. Resort to the supernatural is a clear sign of weakness and desperation. Umno is both weak and desperate. They ran out of ideas. They are not willing to face realities and make changes. They still want the glory and wealth that comes with the party. They are seeking to entrench that by all means.

    Well good luck to them.

  16. #16 by Godfather on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 10:57 am

    We have a new UMNO Youth leader who is not even accepted by the majority to his own party, and you expect UMNO to be all inclusive ? The Supreme Council has clowns like Bung “Kotex” Mokhtar, Azeeeeez “Mat Rempit” Rahman and Jamaluddin “Saya Dapat Apa” Jarjis to influence policy ?

    We have a MIC president who got voted in by virtue of the disqualification of his only challenger, and he claims to have the support of the Indians.

    We have a MCA president who is so engrossed in undermining his deputy that he doesn’t really know what his own ministry does.

    Bye bye Bee End…..

  17. #17 by taiking on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 11:24 am

    I saw the clip showing umno youths / mob protesting the hairy monkey’s victory. Itu dia. That is the way to go. Carry on umno.

  18. #18 by erico47 on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 11:42 am

    The Ultimate We20 Meeting List of Malaysia

    After The UMNO Supreme Council List…. Now come the Ultimate We20 (Alternative G20) Meeting List of Malaysia.

    Starting 2nd April 2009 in London, the G20 world leaders and their expert teams are making plans to try and fix the global economy. For common people like you and me, We20 (www.we20.org ) might be the alternative approach.

    With the threat of the economic crisis hanging over people all around the world, now is the time to take action to find our own solutions.

    The We20 was inspired as a public initiative to run alongside the G20.

    In response to my blog article
    “Let Us Have Our Very Own G20 Meetings”( http://tinyurl.com/crsd8m),
    reader WarrenCheng had suggested the following attendants-list for the Ultimate We20 Meeting in Kuala Lumpur:

    the G20 meeting local version should include the following lists:1st:Dr.mahathir,2nd:Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,3rd:Datuk Seri Najib,4th:Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin,5th:Ahmad Zahid Hamidi,6th:Khairy Jamaluddin,7th:Datuk Shahrir Samad,8th:Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein,9th:Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng,10th:LIM Kit Siang,11th:Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz,12th:Mukhriz Mahathir,13th:former health Minister Chua Soi Lek,14th:Dato’ Seri Rafidah Aziz,15th:Tourism Minister Datuk Azalina Othman Said,16th:Youth & Sports Minister Datuk Ismail Sabri Yaakob,17th:PAS spiritual leader:Nik Aziz,18th:Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail,19th:Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang,and finally the man of the moment:Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
    By warrencheng, 28-Mar-2009

    What is your take?

  19. #19 by chris chong on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 11:49 am

    sorry it’s irrelavent to the above article.

    YB lim, how is the kugan case now??? the polis may as well legalise polis brutality.

  20. #20 by sotong on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 12:10 pm

    Relying on supernatural is real and a way of life…….some people will summon whatever forces possible to fight their battles eg. ghost, toyol ( not the ex-MB) , orang halus, spirits and etc..

  21. #21 by monsterball on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 12:12 pm

    Yes godfather…304 votes out of 720….leader of what??
    But in UMNO…everything is OK….correct correct correct and normal by those abnormal weird buggers.
    What happen to those Corridors???
    Ah yes..bad times….shelf them.
    Actually they talk all that to try win votes.
    Lets wait see what UMNO will be talking at the 3 by-elections.
    In Malay majority….sure to hero worship one race.
    In equally mixed Malaysians…get Samy..Koh..K.T. Ong..talk o0ck and bull.
    I cannot help remembering Lunas…Samy said.if..UMNO lost..he stay forever in Lunas..
    Ali Rustam also said “UMNO will rule forever”.
    Both “forever” got kicked out!!
    But Najib saved his own kind.
    Lets see Samy back in cabinet..as he is President of MIC.
    Why is Chua Soi Lek not a minister?
    I am waiting for new and old clowns performances.
    That greatest hypocrite….son lost…did not attend the UMNO Assembly..giving cock and bull excuses.
    Best of all…reason….staying away from corrupted UMNO ministers…….hahahahahahahaha
    No wonder he can easily forget 14 times in half an hour…….hahahahahahaha

  22. #22 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 12:15 pm

    Witch doctors
    Wicked Doctor
    No wonder Malaysia ? ? ? ? (cannot be saved by any medicine)

  23. #23 by michael13 on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 12:32 pm

    There is a saying: “when God wants to destroy a man/party, he will first make him/them crazy.”

  24. #24 by taiking on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 1:22 pm

    vsp said:

    “We have seen it all before. When Mahathir ruled it was “Bersih, Cekap dan Amanah” and the country went to the dogs.

    Next, it was Abdullah Badawi’s “Cemerlang, Gemilang, Terbilang” and the country went into the lokang.

    Well it déjà vu all over again. What will Najib’s slogan be? Whatever it is make no mistake about it: the country will be C4ed.”


    Najib should just come outright and pronouce:

    “Money. Money. Money.”

    The ABBA way of course.

  25. #25 by TTDI_KL on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 1:24 pm

    Eunuch Chengho, what do you know about communalism and assimilation? You should concentrate what you do best, by being a eunuch!

    Who promotes communalism in this country? Whose culture, language and religion are supreme? Do you know?

    And about assimilation, may I ask how does this work? Who should get assimilated? Let the most vibrant culture and language reign; let the most enduring religion propagate, got it? We have enough of social engineering, indoctrination and bigotry. They do not work, so you can shaft it!

  26. #26 by wanderer on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 1:46 pm

    Eunuch Admiral is too blur…he can’t see his own color.
    He only can think with his tongue….and, do what he does best!

  27. #27 by winc on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 1:48 pm

    chengho Says:

    Today at 07: 52.51 (5 hours ago)
    …Worst of all, almost all of the politicians in this country have retained the ethnic-communitarian card till today…that inc you uncle Kit and your DAP
    Malaysian chinese and Tamil still….Couched in narrow essentialism of race, ethnicity, language and religious differences…. open your eye to the Babas and Nyonyas how they assimilate with the majority just like in the USA various peoples assimilate…..


    going on what you have commented, Tun M should have championed for Malaysian Indians replacing Sammi.

  28. #28 by Yee Siew Wah on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 2:14 pm

    LKS and Farish, I really enjoy reading both your comments.
    Looking at the current political scenario, it is indeed scary with the new bunch of UMNO politicians running the country in future. We got a top guy with tons of corrupted and evil baggages on his shoulder and he seem to behave that he is the only guy in the world alive. And the worst thing was that the whole world nows knows who he is. How the country can forward with leaders behaving like this??
    The only credible guy in BN and of course UMNO, now is our Tengku Razaliegh. Unfortunately, he has been sidelined by corrupted and greedy powerful warlords within UMNO. Only someone like Tengku comes out and lead the country and for that matter UMNO forward. Otherwise, our country will forever on a third world status.
    We hope someone like Tengku R and our PKR leaders can sincerely work out something good for the whole country and the rakyat going forward.

  29. #29 by TTDI_KL on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 2:17 pm

    We have a MCA president who is so engrossed in undermining his deputy that he doesn’t really know what his own ministry does. godfather

    godfather, can i help or not? I know the minister of transport does not take charge of taxi, bus and lorry permits. The minister also have much say in city transportation. He has no role in building rails, roads, airports and ports. So what is left? Hmmmm, ya, road safety and car pooling campaigns.

  30. #30 by TTDI_KL on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 2:18 pm

    sorry repost:

    godfather, can i help or not? I know the minister of transport does not take charge of taxi, bus and lorry permits. The minister also have NOT much say in city transportation. He has no role in building rails, roads, airports and ports. So what is left? Hmmmm, ya, road safety and car pooling campaigns

  31. #31 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 2:53 pm

    /// # chengho Says:
    Today at 07: 52.51 (6 hours ago)
    Malaysian chinese and Tamil still….Couched in narrow essentialism of race, ethnicity, language and religious differences…. open your eye to the Babas and Nyonyas how they assimilate with the majority just like in the USA various peoples assimilate….. ///

    Dear Eunuch,

    Do you know why the Chinese and Indians do not want to be assimilated? Throughout history, where there is spontaneous assimilation, it is the weaker or inferior tribe that are assimilated into the stronger and superior tribe, adopting their customs, practices and culture. This way, the new members can learn the superior cultures and literature and there is the leveling up effect.

    OTOH, assimilation of the superior tribe into the inferior tribe only happen by force or decree, and has the effect of leveling down. Do you think the Thai or Indonesian Chinese happily adopt their Thai or Indon names?

    Luckily for the rest of the world, Eunuch Cheng Ho, you are not able to reproduce and pollute this earth further, as your crown jewels sudah potong and are now hanging on the rafters in the Forbidden City.

  32. #32 by vsp on Saturday, 28 March 2009 - 8:55 pm

    This stupid bird, Cheng Ho, is a well-trained parrot. A parrot when trained how to talk will always repeat the same thing whatever environment he is in. Parrot seems to be clever when they are able to talk but in reality its brain has been fried because it is not able to be taught how to talk any other thing. If you teach it to talk “Good morning” it will repeat the same phrase whether the day is noon, evening or night. It cannot be taught how to say “Good night” or “Good afternoon”.

    Cheng Ho has been taught by an UMNOputra to swear expletives especially on LKS. Worse still it is a castrated parrot. A castrated parrot is set in its ways. What LKS should do is to train a cat to prowl this parrot and eat it up.

  33. #33 by sotong on Sunday, 29 March 2009 - 6:29 am

    Refering to the Babas & Nyonyas……I think chengho means intergration, not assimilation.

  34. #34 by owl541 on Sunday, 29 March 2009 - 11:58 am

    The fact that our “leaders” need to resort to these measures show that the country is run by a bunch of superstitious dimwits without the brains to think for themselves and therefore need to consult mystics high on who knows what to make decisions.

    They’re just doing that voodoo that they do do. Don’t be surprised if you see an allocation in the budget for tea. It would be for the tea cup reading sessions.

  35. #35 by rubini on Tuesday, 31 March 2009 - 6:23 pm

    Dear Farish,
    The people of this wonderful nation will not only survive but also prosper. What we are witnessing is a pragmatic shift in political idealogy by one half of society.
    The new generation of Malaysians after Merdeka are longing to further the political and economic system which we have now. Whether political parties will survive is quite another matter. the mind is stronger than the body.
    I used to admire Mahatir & some BN leaders, but today with the internet revolution, i dare say i am now committed to the ideals of Teresa Kok, Elizabeth Wong, Nik Azmi, Hannah Yeoh, Sdr LKS, LGE, TS Khalid Ibrahim and all those who are fighting for the common.
    This is what is the Rakyat wants which the RULING party is fears most. The truth sir, has been revealed.
    Other political parties can and has the ability to manage the country. The opposition parties has crushed the myth that only the ruling party can bring peace and prosperity to the country. Today we are witnessing just how corrupt, wasteful and inefficient the ruling party has been in governing the states. Millions if not billions of tax payers hard earned ringgit is flushed & sipohned by ruling elite, yet they are still arrogant.
    The ruling party mentality that WANTS TO RULE the people. The opposition parties wants to SERVE the people. I will not say the opposition is perfect, they are not, but they have better set of principles.
    Remember , it was David who brought down Goliath. Those who stand on high pedestal will come down crashing. Arrogance will be their down fall.

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