by S Thayaparan
23rd February 2016
“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts… Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”
― CS Lewis, ‘The Screwtape Letters’
COMMENT Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said some nice things about Lim Kit Siang during the birthday bash of the DAP’s supremo – Kit Siang will always be the supremo in my book no matter the brickbats calling for new blood from the DAP – which is a change of pace. Normally when it comes to Kit Siang, Umno and its affiliates go out of their way to paint the opposition leader as Malaysia’s public enemy number one.
In Ku Li who wants in from the cold, I wrote: “Razaleigh, of course, always nurtured the perception that he was the last honest man in Umno, a prince who reluctantly found himself consorting with thieves. Ku Li, as he is fondly known as, has the remarkable ability to engender goodwill from certain sections of the general public by disassociating himself from the excesses of Umno even though he contributed to the very culture he claims to despise.”
It does seem unpalatable to dismiss Ku Li’s rejoinder of goodwill especially when it was made in a bipartisan manner at a political rival’s birthday celebration but these days words are a plenty and depending on who says them, a sedition charge is waiting in the wings or a disinterested state security apparatus dismisses them as of no consequence.
Therefore, here are a few statements made by Ku Li that I find problematic.
1) “The slow progress in our political maturity has somewhat affected the relationship between the parties forming the government and the opposition.”
What has affected the relationship between political parties is not a “slow progress in our political maturity” but the deliberate agenda to impede progress with the use of unjust laws, state demonisation of political opposition, electoral gerrymandering, self-censorship and pecuniary corruption which fuels establishment politics.
2) “This has developed a them-and-us mindset among our politicians and parliamentarians thereby denying the country the progression of ‘the other side of the aisle’ into his majesty’s loyal opposition.”
The “us vs them” is embedded in our constitution. This is not a question of ideological politics but rather the desperation of racial politics. This is not confined to Umno establishment politics but also oppositional political parties, who have to balance the needs of their communities and the appearance of race blind political agenda.
Partisan politics is easy to overcome if there are certain foundational issues that partisan could latch onto. Racial politics on the other hand, is an all or nothing proposition. Some people would claim otherwise but their arguments are not sustainable.
3) “Political bickering and one-upmanship have to be put aside and politicians must be guided by their conscience in serving their various stakeholders.”
Political bickering gives the impression that politicians are earning their keep. However, in the Malaysian context, there’s the bickering against the Umno establishment that is warranted and the internal politics of Pakatan Rakyat or Harapan or whatever it’s called that is evidence of a lack of sincerity and cohesiveness that are the hallmarks of Malaysian oppositional politics. So-called “stakeholders” are left with the cold comfort of observing fireworks but are left with smoke.
Of the opposition dilemma, I wrote, “Here in Malaysia, politicians who have power, or seek it, are so afraid that new ideas would impede their efforts that they are content to let the rot continue so long as the old ways, the old ideas, maintain them in power. Meanwhile, the disenfranchised of society regardless of race but with very little options, plays the part of maintaining this charade we call a democracy.”
4) “Our ability to reach out across the aisle to work with each other will certainly contribute towards improving the quality of our politics and at the same time, help to speed up its maturity.”
How can we work with one another? What evidence is there that the establishment, and it is incumbent on Umno to lead the way since they are the regime in federal power, to reach out in a bipartisan manner to the opposition? How does BN work as the opposition in Pakatan-controlled states? What are the issue that are brought up and the bipartisan manner in which they are resolved?
BN friends of mine always send me the issues that they claim are neglected by the opposition (and I think they are), but because Umno is too busy with its internal schisms, no further action is considered nor is there any sustained will to tackle these issues because the bureaucracy involved has been poisoned by decades of state-sponsored propaganda.
5) “We must scrap confrontational politics and do away with the scoring of points at the expense of each other. Regardless of our ideological differences, we must get on as friends and not as mere political colleagues.”
This makes it sound as if the politics in Malaysia is like a tense tea party. This is not the case. When Umno does not get along with you or you do not get along with Umno, you could be charged with sedition. Asking the prime minister to step down is an offence. Giving a legal opinion is an offence. Using certain words is an offence. The police chief excessively monitors cyberspace for words that would offend this regime. The National Security Council Act is one big ‘Be silent or else’ sign.
I would settle for mere political colleagues because with friends like this regime, who needs enemies.
6) “Should we be able to bridge this divide and work in concert with each other in an ethical manner while being principled with high integrity, respect for our politics will definitely soar.”
Therein lies the problem. Are there any bridges left to build? What common ground can the establishment and the opposition find? There is no common ground because the system has been compromised. In any other functional democracy when a political party loses the trust of the voting public, the system ensures that the political party is benched. This is not the case here in Malaysia.
Here we are left with a system that was built to sustain the Umno-BN hegemony. We have a system predicated on ensuring the survival of a specific political party. It really does not matter if Pakatan Rakyat, is a credible alternative. In a democracy, the system ensures that political parties however underserving gets a shot at the throne. Of course, this involves money, manipulation and political compromise, but that’s democracy for you and when politicians understand this, they can get along and, yes, work together.
I am in a pessimistic mood but maybe the words of Thomas L Freidman may bring some comfort: “Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.”
I sincerely hope he is right.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.