Winning by hook or by crook

[Aliran published an edited version here, here and here]

One person one vote (only). Textbooks once told us that our vote was sacred.

How many friends, relatives and colleagues have tried instructing us whom to vote for?

Most of us know that is incorrect, but find justification from the crowd: everyone is doing it, so it’s ok to do the same.

Since the run-up to GE13, a wave of political awakening swept across Malaysians here and abroad.

In the name of patriotism, everyone seems ‘duty bound’ to control how others vote. With a mix of persuasion and intimidation – sometimes even to the point of suggesting authority – some campaign full time even as they are not members of any political party and in fact have limited knowledge of the party they campaign for.

Not only that now everyone can fly (thanks to Tony Fernandes), now everyone can decide how others vote too.

Did others actually asked for help and advice on whom to vote for, as if they don’t know what’s going on in the country? Are we so absolutely sure that our brethren are so dense that they need to be taught? Can we not trust and respect our brethren?

That’s a distinctly local Malaysian phenomenon which is not from any tradition. We never needed to ‘share’ with the whole world our choice of parties and we never required others to vote the same. Since when politics became a religion citizens need to go round preaching, brainwashing and converting?

It all comes in the name of political awakening, in the name of defending democracy and in the name of saving the country. We ought to be very ashamed of this back-track in civilisation. We got our political awakening all wrong.

We were never this confused.

Have elections become something we are so determined to fix the outcome, that we go all out to win by hook or by crook? Among others, hooks and crooks are laid bare as a matter of fact without hiding or decoration:

  • 29 Mar 2018. The Malay Mail reports, “EC chief admits racial redelineation, says ethnic groups can’t be split”
  • 10 Apr 2017. The Malay Mail reports, “How Malaysian politicians use big data to profile you”

We’ve got hooks and crooks on wholesale, folks! Now, looks like everyone can legitimately be open hooks and open crooks.

Hooks and crooks do not cancel each other. They add up. With these, going to the polls becomes a ritual of blind faith. Voters in fact no longer have the handle to democracy the way textbooks define. Causality no longer works that way.

The final outcome as to who will win in the elections is difficult to predict because too many factors are at play. In addition to vote count, we have:

  1. systemic issues such as delineation of electoral boundaries
  2. (non-deliberate) technical issues such as synchronisation of multiple databases and registers online and on paper, local and abroad
  3. deliberate manipulations such as individuals attempting to vote more than once, inncluding voters who will have already voted overseas flying home to try voting a second time, ready to take advantage of any technical loophole
  4. sales factor and ethical issues such as (ab)using survey data not only for poll statistics but for stratifying voters and tactical instigation of fear

If one lumps the second to the first, that is wrong. If one worries about the first but passes the third with a wink (on the belief that diasporas would vote in their favour), that is naughty. If one sees no issue in the fourth if done by the party he supports, that is mischief.

Sales factor and ethics

Let us look at an example. (I shall not repeat what I have already discussed in a separate article, ‘Cambridge Analytica: do we bother?‘)

Take the product label of a can of Campbell soup. We find a list under ‘ingredients’, another list under ‘nutrition information’. We also get serving suggestions, net weight, expiry date and bar-code. These are fact-based information. Whether we believe or not depends on our confidence in Campbell as well as enforcement and regulatory agencies.

Note that the same product is marketed to us all, whether we are scared of dark, scared of height or scared of spiders. Campbell doesn’t turn to us separately and frame different stories.

Campbell doesn’t package the product to those scared of dark by inserting a warning that this is the only soup that doesn’t cause your lights to suddenly go off every night, all other brands do.

Campbell doesn’t package the same product to those scared of height saying this is the only soup that doesn’t cause the ground to suddenly sink under you, all other brands do and you will drop 2 km down the canyon.

Campbell doesn’t package the same product to those scared of spiders saying that all other brands will have spiders popping out of their cans, only Campbell doesn’t.

That is what Cambridge Analytica and the Malaysian copycat attempts are all about. Success and failure depend on technical competence. Some might be over-confident. The technique requires specialised expertise. It is not a plug-and-play black box.

They collect amounts of data too large for case-by-case analysis – the data netizens send each other casually, completely unaware that a third party is tapping. This large amount of data is put through computer algorithms to identify patterns: what are the worst fears of different groups of people, which constituency they belong to, devise different tactics to scare different groups, push these into the network, bombard the targeted audience through third parties – without them being aware that data feeding was in fact organised and systematic. In case the algorithms identify you as someone too sturdy to scare, they will just skip over you. They won’t waste any time talking to you.

The classic Malaysian plague

X thinks he is more deserving because he is a Malaysian more original. B thinks he is more deserving because he is a Malaysian more hard-working. In the dispute, C and D are completely forgotten. That ‘I am more deserving’ is the classic Malaysian plague we haven’t been able to shake off.

It’s always the big ‘I’. In fact, not only that I feel I am most deserving – in fact I’m going to make sure that you don’t untung (benefit) from my accidental spill. I actually feel good depriving others.

So, when can we shake this off? Once we are ready, inform the politicians. Spare them of having to juggle between A,B, C and D – pledging differently to each. That would save so much of trouble and resources dis-allocating, allocating and re-allocating marbles for different jars — erasing, drawing and redrawing boundaries — ungrouping, grouping and regrouping politicians and voters.

Getting free speech all wrong

Look at the contents flying around alternative news channels which we have today – 15 years ago, who would have dared? Half of the population could have been in indefinite lock-up.

Later, along the way, we enjoyed some relaxation from that iron-fist rule. It is unfortunate that that brief freedom is recently being choked. Chokes and choking have well been covered elsewhere. Here, let us reflect on how that brief freedom was used (and abused).

Press freedom has largely been misunderstood. It is mistakenly seen as an opportunity to counter-balance one extreme with another. A number of new channels emerged and went bust, most with a battery of armies in constant standby to viral whatever release meant to make a sensational hit.

Most have taken the agonist-antagonist stance, with a mission to swing the bias to the opposite extreme. Many operate by selective reporting and deliberate omission, putting arguments out of context rather than in context, putting plain statements between unfair inverted commas just to jolt the speaker and the reader.

What we get is lying on wholesale. Now everyone can lie.

The consequence is a nation being swung like a wild pendulum, contributing to the fierce polarity that we have today. Part of the problem could also be because some Malaysians know no other way besides rocket’s hit-or-miss combative style.

Countering an extreme with the opposite extreme will not produce any neutralising effect. No, it doesn’t work this way.

Sadly, that’s what we’ve been getting and that’s what many Malaysians hail as the gold standard for journalism.

Try questioning Penang state government on environmental and equality issues, you shall find many publishers’ doors shutting on your face. Talk about political prejudice! We are back to square one in terms of media control.

I hear the defence, “But BN controls even more channels!” See? That’s the problem with Malaysians. People try to match. That’s a big mistake.

What we need is objective media – objective but not necessarily neutral. Bersih is the one who needs to be neutral. Press does not need to be neutral, but should be objective.

Do we need an example on objective but not neutral journalism? Take a look at The Economist, which has a tradition of making official stands by endorsing electoral candidates of its choice. The Economist does it not only when the UK and the USA had their elections. They did even for India and some other countries.

Here’s a good assignment for students and those in training and formation. Take one of those endorsement articles from The Economist, do a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis.

We shall find both sides of the story laid out in context, with pros and cons get weighted, gains and risks calculated and projected. A recommendation follows, that despite this and that the newspaper endorse this particular candidate. We shall find no paint works of angels on one side and daemons on the other.

Can we find any of these qualities in local popular local channels hailed as gold standards?

We need hope, not fear

Sow seeds of hope, not fear that our future will be doomed and we will be robbed if we vote for the other party. Stop cashing in on fear and stop banking on hatred.

Those sincere in governing and developing the country wouldn’t first put the nation into disrepair. That’s like shooting oneself in the foot.

Tell us instead how divisions can be reconciled and how wounds can be healed. We hear not a word on this from those who are loud and who accuse the rival as being divisive.

Emotions blind us. We become fixated to a tiny corner blown out of proportion, and we forget everything else. We lose our balance.

Are elections and manifestos all about money for the individual’s pocket: less corruption, less tax, more goodies? It does look a bit like that. In civilised countries, people worry about healthcare, education, immigration and more. Such matters can’t sell as headlines here.

Objectivity lost

Some individuals, groups, organisations and even religious bodies (which have turned into political animals over the years) have given some parties a straight pass too easy. Some politicians are so pampered that constructive comments are always interpreted as a threat.

The belief so far seems to be, “If you are not with us, you are against us.” Malaysians from both side of the divide have made a costly mistake of not having challenged their politicians enough. Joining the chorus and rubbing shoulders (e.g. between politicians and religious leaders) partly caused the problems we face today.

There has been too much of hero-worshiping. At the end of the day, if we don’t know them personally, why risk ourselves guaranteeing that they are angels and saints? Stick to government-people contractual relationship. See to the delivery of deliverables. There is no place for childlish affection, devotion and idolatry. Exercise rationale, not emotions.

Middle-class Malaysians have this habit of checking every single item on the restaurant bill before paying, as if the whole world is waiting to cheat them. Well, do the same itemised checking for all dealings with the governments, whether state or national. Ask for transparency and demand for accountability.

Healthcare

Elsewhere, governments and peoples worry about improving national health service, about supporting an aging population. Large amounts of funds, for example, are allocated for dementia. We hear nothing about this here, although we share the same problem of having more and more Malaysians living longer and developing dementia.

The difference is that the elderly in those countries are everybody’s and health expenses are supported by all. Individuals find their sense of security from being part of a larger, mutually supportive whole. Everyone chips in a share and contributes to a common pool, which will see to every member’s need in times of crisis.

The effect is people worry less and stress less. People are able to live a fuller and balanced life. A society is stronger and more robust than a single individual. Each family would then need to hoard less, save less, insure less, fear less, stress less, borrow less – and feel more secure.

That is social security. Many Malaysians find the term a mouthful. It is easily confused with personal safety, “Oh yes, I definitely agree we should catch all those snatch thieves and reduce crime rates.” No, this is nothing about police catching thieves.

And then we get, “Oh, you mean social welfare? But that’s for those poor things!”

Social security is for everyone, even the richest. Consider a rich man on long-term prescription drugs, where should he get his constant supply of medication?

A. Get consultation and treatment from 5-star hospitals, and get (cheaper) medication from GH

B. Get medication from private pharmacies instead, pay more and give himself a pat on the back for not taking advantage of government subsidy, let those poor things have all the subsidy they need

C. Pay a bit more tax, enjoy medical care of 5-star quality, without paying 5-star price – everything from GH, medication included

A is the opportunist’s option. B is the kind option, but narrow-minded. C is the solidarity option of social security.

With social security, everyone would just get quality healthcare in times of need. Politicians will be able to tell a consistent story to everyone, no need to frame different stories to different groups. There would be no need to outsource medical care to insurance companies, Google, supplements, direct selling and myths.

Many aspects in our healthcare can do with some re-alignment. There has been a race to create demands where there is none – and turn away needs which already exist. Patients in need who are already here are uncared for – while even so-called mission hospitals send marketing teams overseas to promote health tourism.

Mission hospitals too, create special customer desks, designated customer services and dedicated customer teams for VIP patients. The mission is to maximise profits.

Expensive equipments are acquired for the sake of advertising rather than any substantial medical benefit. Many are under-utilised. To break even and make profit, cases are tactically referred for procedures on expensive equipments. Multiple hospitals within short distances have similar expensive machines which sit idle much of the week if not much of the month. Do we take pride in this inefficient use of resources?

The 6.83 acres of prime land that went to Island Hospital without open tender is poised to house the largest private hospital in the country. What are the 1000 beds for? Perhaps some beds are to house patients playing the popular admission game – admissions with the sole intention of claiming medical insurance. Will the facility be prepared to handle any large-scale emergency response, outbreak, epidemic and pandemic? Are rescue helicopters being planned as a community service? That would answer to our needs rather than generating non-existing demands.

Taxes are not all that bad

Can we spare a moment of openness to acknowledge that indeed, taxes in Malaysia are already embarrassingly low. What we should aim for is not to pay less, but to pay a fairer share.

Popular demands are driving taxes even lower. The argument is that taxes end up in corrupt leaders’ pockets. Two things here, don’t mix up: tax and governance. Haven’t the the opposition and its supporters assured us of the cleanest and most competent governance ever existed? So why are they singing the same song of lower taxes?

Paying a fair share of tax doesn’t mean losing. By chipping in our bit, we gain a whole lot. We gain what we alone can never achieve.

Now, whether the fair share is higher or lower than present would depend on individual circumstances and on tax brackets. This is where good and competent governance comes in. Choosing a government is about this, not about toppling an enemy. After all, GE14 is our general elections, not a referendum on Wan Emdeebee.

So far by default the standard Malaysian derives security from finding, guarding and multiplying wealth for himself and his own family, for daily comfort and for rainy days. Think about it – is the model working? No matter how much people gain, they still feel not having gotten enough to be sufficiently secure, “What if this and what if that happens, how am I going to be able to cover the cost?” That is the problem when individuals opt to take care of ourselves rather than letting everybody take care of everybody (social security).

Many of our struggling young and not-so-young people need to be bailed out of that vicious circle of insecurity: not knowing when they would have earned and saved enough, taking on a full load of insurance premiums, loans and possibly debts — yet still feeling so inadequate, so insecure and so lost, wondering if their job is really meant for them and if they are meant for the job, not knowing where their passion lies.

Here’s a better deal: let social security see to our rainy days. Pay a fair share of tax – certainly far less than the sum currently paid out to the full suite of insurance premiums, loan repayments, debt repayments, contributions to schemes and investments which keep many awake at night. Just pay a fair share of tax – in return, everyone gets quality and affordable services including healthcare, transport, education, personal safety and more.

If voters demand for lower taxes, it would be more convenient for politicians to join the chorus when their goal is to gain power, not to propel the nation forward. Suggesting anything different would require the sort of leadership we haven’t seen from those who are loud, and involves risks they are unwilling to take. So we see only very obliging yes-men.

Yet, a new model is exactly what our battered nation needs. Macron did it for France. Trudeau did for Canada. Obama did it for USA. That’s the making of a tsunami. Patch work building on an old model is not the key to tsunami. The cheer of, “ini kalilah, ini kalilah” has been like an engine that couldn’t start. Obviously, we need new hopes going beyond Wan Emdeebee.

Don’t moan that we have just those two or three choices. In many cases we do have more. It just takes some openness and a bit of homework the same way we shop for, say, a kitchen blender or a toaster. Do some background checks – some might not be as loud as those noisy campaigners, but they can be very experienced and promising.

Housing

I once asked a housing agent, “Am I going to be the only one living here?” I love her candour, “Condos nowadays are like that lo!”

Do we need to build more affordable housing? First, do an inventory of empty homes. We need to stop building homes nobody will live in. In the name of progress and liberalism which Penang and Johor proudly champion, we have fallen prey to speculation.

Don’t blame it all on the Chinese from China (which is a separate problem and is a problem), we do have enough of locals playing the speculation game. Some even take out loans to buy additional homes which they have no plans to live in. Among those who take out loans, many do not need one. Taking no loans is interpreted as stupid – you don’t know how to take advantage of low interest rates and use the money to generate more money elsewhere?

Such strategies become yet another standard way of Malaysian living. Many do it rather unknowingly, not thinking of the wider implications. Whether by ignorance or by design, speculation drives up home prices and denies others from having a home at all.

Speculation homes are bought not for living in, but for price appreciation – effectively turning real estate into a stock market, if not a casino. We’ve got some very environmentally costly stock markets here.

This new band of owners are not even interested to rent out their homes, removing homes from the local housing stock, driving up house prices beyond the reach of people who actually live and work there. London and Vancouver face similar problems. While speculation tax is being introduced elsewhere, we are still in slumber.

Apart from regulation (by the authorities) and self-discipline (of ordinary people like you and me), we can have a pilot project for cooperative housing, where occupants neither rent nor own. Non-profit and community-based, cooperative housing is common elsewhere. Are we open to this idea, or do we prefer more money and more profit in private pockets — and then we complain about the rising cost of living, not being able to serve housing loans and not being able to find jobs, petrol prices too high and taxes to high.

Immigration

Malaysians are openly xenophobic. So why do we hear no serious protest against our unwelcome guests?

We do this by pressing migrants’ heads down – give them just enough to survive and just enough to do the dirty jobs – don’t give anything more, less the locals start protesting.

The Malaysian formula on migrants and refugees is to exclude them from the society, just harvest them for sweat and blood. No integration necessary.

The Rohingya has been around since the 80’s but we only come across the word recently. They are in their third generation already. Not sure as full persons, half persons, quarter persons or whatever fraction, you name it. Many have no ID, no access to state education and healthcare.

They live by, on constant hide-and-seek with officers out to cari makan. They need to be sure to have some reward cash ready on them, hopefully tak kena tangkap. Detention can be months, can be years. Detainees drink anything from water to urine. They probably need to pay a market price of at least RM150 through a chain of middlemen before a staff approaches them offering them a chance to make a phone call.

This is another conspiracy of silence between voters and politicians: you keep quiet, I keep quiet, no issues here — if it doesn’t trouble you, it doesn’t trouble me either.

We don’t need yes-men assuring us not to worry, that they will take care of migrants and refugees. Convince us of the sincerity to first understand the problem. With the current economic model, there is no overnight solution to the migrants’ and refugees’ problem. Their numbers defy the current economic model. It would take tremendous sensitivity, patience and creativity to roll up one’s sleeves to try soothe the problem, probably by exploring alternative economic models.

Reforms not to be underestimated

Do not underestimate the extent and degree of reform needed. The road ahead will even be tougher than overthrowing a regime.

“Everything will be put straight, we will stop all corruption, all resources will be fairly distributed.” Such an assurance only shows how naive the campaigner is, not knowing what he is talking about. Fundamentally, the sincerity is not convincing. Without prioritising, phasing and strategising, the task is simply not surmountable.

If we think Wan Emdeebee is the most corrupt ever, that shows how we have lost sight of the big picture. Zoom out a bit. Consider the complex entanglement with international syndicates, for example. We have some dark, dark underworlds to tackle:

  • 20 Dec 2017. New Straits Times reports, “The secrets of Wang Kelian exposed”
  • 20 Jul 2017. Al Jazeera reports, “Malaysia’s Migrant Money Trail”

Switching to a smaller scale, some cases make it to the news and we get a peek of the tip of the iceberg how under-privileged people become enforcement officers’ milking cows. Anyone curious and wants to see? There are some hotspots where daily milking takes place (surer than turtles hatching). A student asked wasn’t I going to do something about it. I answered if I lodge a report those cows milked the day before could go missing.

These and other corrupt individuals within their corrupt capacities might count themselves nothing but small fry, nothing comparable to Wan Emdeebee – relatively harmless so to speak. Among them, many openly attack Wan Emdeebee with an air of self-righteousness too – some even code themselves yellow and consider themselves bersih.

We’ve got corruption on wholesale, folks! Now everyone can corrupt.

The question is: why are the people so obsessed with Wan Emdeebee hardly ever worry about Wang Kelian? “Let those poor souls suffer, I only care to recover the billions and get my share.”

In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking wrote of a lady claiming our world to be a flat plate resting on the back of a turtle which is in turn supported by ‘turtles all the way down’. In Connectome, Sebastian Seung describes how our brain works as ‘neurons all the way down’. In our systems, we’ve got problems all the way down.

That gives us an idea of the extent and the degree of reforms needed, whoever takes the next government. A reform of this scale would require a strong leadership we can’t find from those who are the loudest.

Capitalising on the mess for propaganda, without a blueprint for reform, is a big mistake. One who cares for the nation wouldn’t rejoice in the mess that we are in.

Celebrating and capitalising on the mess for propaganda is, unfortunately, all we see.

A blueprint for reform is, unfortunately, what we haven’t seen.

Education

Like healthcare, education entities too are working hard to generate demands (not yet exist) before having sufficiently cared for local would-be students. The big industry is busy luring clients from abroad.

Drop-outs are left uncared for. Vocational training hasn’t enjoyed the mushrooming comparable to that of universities over the past decade.

Except in isolated cases of first-hand parents, a commitment for greater accessibility is absent. The contemporary challenge of a fast-growing ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) population is not on the agenda. What are we waiting for, do we act only after the ADHD population overwhelms the non-ADHD?

Genuine academic interests are limited. Subjects available are strongly biased towards money-making domains centering around management, business, accounting, dentistry and medicine. No arts; no science.

Even in well-established universities, academic rigour is limited. Apart from some great teachers and researchers, many are marred by glamour. There is the glamour of professorial appointments upon returning from overseas education sponsored by Malaysian universities (even if they took extended years to complete their doctorate).

Enticed by lucrative positions sharply differentiated from the remainder of the society, many are powered by a personal ambition rather any passion for their subject or any conviction to serve the country (noticeable in some students from sub-Saharan Africa). This explains why after decades of sending staff abroad for postgraduate studies, local universities are still in the shape they are.

And then there is the glamour of flying here, there, everywhere attending international conferences – sometimes without giving any oral presentation, sometimes using poster presentations to gain free trips.

Do not underestimate the extent of revamp necessary. Bear in mind that those locally-sponsored postgraduates return without doing a post-doc (which, elsewhere, is as standard as ‘housemanship’) and have not competed in any international job market. The local environment they return to is very protected.

The time has come to wean off third-world features, provide a healthy habitat and set a good tradition to be passed on to the younger generation:

  • Honouring copyright, subscribing to journals and paying for software licenses (rather than resorting to, “the students will know what to do!”)
  • Advancing research rather than spinning out projects after projects, supervising student after student producing shelves and shelves of ‘similar but not identical’ theses
  • Typesetting manuscripts (using LaTeX) rather than word-processing using Microsoft Word
  • Processing and presenting data in ways more credible than Microsoft Excel
  • Submitting to competitive journals and giving oral presentations at competitive conferences

Complacency is very dangerous here. This explains why without a massive overhaul, pumping in more funds will not help. In fact funding approval is easier and more generous here than many other places.

Weaknesses should not be exploited for finger-pointing and propaganda. Anyone who is genuine about wanting to rebuild the nation wouldn’t find any of this funny or laughable.

Bersih can be more collected

Bersih should be non-partisan (otherwise, change the definition). It must be distinguishable from the opposition. Leaders and members from any party are free to attend and support Bersih events, but opposition leaders should not be opening ceremonies and giving ceramah – unless there is a program organised to balance, with reps from each contender.

Try this simple experiment: record a session from a Bersih event, play it back to someone who wasn’t there. See if he could tell whether it was Bersih or an opposition party. That’s my point: many Bersih’s awareness sessions are not distinguishable from an opposition’s ceramah.

Bersih activists should be on guard and prepared for detention. No, they shouldn’t be detained. But we know the possibility is non-zero and at this point in time, it is not something within our means to prevent. In the unfortunate event of leaders getting detained, there should be spokespersons or next-in-lines, not raw and sobbing young persons, making public statements. I guess Mandela’s children didn’t make national statements of that sort, neither did Ghandi’s or Obama’s? Bersih is a national cause, not a family affair. Don’t weaken the cause.

If the top (wo)man gets detained, there should be a second wo(man) to issue statements. If both get detained, there should be a next-in-line. Particularly for an organisation of this nature, Bersih should never be caught so unprepared. Stand up and calm your supporters – assure them that you are prepared and the next steps have already been marked out.

If there was no indication that the detained leader might have been killed, refrain from making public statements such as, “The family fears for her life.” If there was no indication of any physical attack, don’t say she was being tortured. Bersih is a national cause. Be professional, politically and legally correct.

(I hear the reflex, “Is BN ever professional and correct?!” That brings us back to the marketplace. We’ve got all wrongs on wholesale, folks! Now everyone gains the birth right to be wrong and be unprofessional.)

Members and supporters should exercise restraint. A little restraint could have stopped that virulent and triumphant sharing on social media depicting Red Shirts as barbaric. Red Shirts are Red Shirts — have those videos taught us anything new, or make us any better persons? Those videos served only to divide and incite hatred. Those videos reflect on the sender before they reflect on the Red Shirts. By making a fool of others we first make a fool of ourselves.

Cleaning up after rallies? Yellow or red, we are Malaysians. Some Malaysians litter, others don’t. There’s no need to capitalise on others’ misbehaviour. Likewise, ruling or opposition, sabotage and vandalism do happen. It all depends which corner we point our camera to.

In terms of threats to voting rights, Bersih should take voter-to-voter threats as seriously as authorities-to-voter threats. In fact, many who tell others whom they must vote for (otherwise …) are Bersih people. Relaxing the rules and contamination of this sort only weaken the cause. Bersih loses credibility and the nation becomes a laughing stock.

Don’t take things into our own hands by rounding up voters who ‘look like foreigners BN gave ICs to do’, only to find out later that what was damn apparent is in fact one’s own damn illusion. This is where Bersih can show some leadership to members and supporters. Bersih shouldn’t just recruit supporters just to win by the numbers. In our midst so many claim to be Bersih. How bersih are they?

The danger of drawing new boundaries

Let us imagine a scenario where we are the cucu-cicit of atok Wan Emdeebee, who is ailing and might pass away within a month or so. The biggest question is waris (heirs) – who has the right to those billions?

So far atok’s name has been pronounced mostly loudly by the middle class. Who are the middle class? The elites. The middle class is less of a definition, more of a self-identification. It is just neither upper nor lower class. The middle class feel deserve what they have – unlike the scandalous and undeserving upper class. The middle class feel they have the right to have and get more — unlike the undeserving lower class, who should stay where they are in their rightful place.

Feeling horribly short-changed, the middle class demands to have the billions back. When asked, they assure us of fair distribution. The sincerity, however, hasn’t been convincing.

The challenge of wealth distribution has been grossly underestimated. If these people know what this is all about, they wouldn’t have dared give the assurance. They think they can leapfrog ahead of Scandinavia? Sadly, people can be that naive.

Look at the state of Penang: island and mainland feel like two different worlds. Note the gulf of difference. The same state; just separated by a bit of water. I’m citing examples from Penang purely because I live here and I get better samples. I’m sure we can find concrete examples from other states, ruled by whichever party. After all, the CM did apologise for leaving people out, without naming who and without suggesting corrective actions though.

Here, I take the liberty to name a few: the voiceless, the environment, migrant workers, refugees and pedestrians.

The massive floods in November 2017 set into motion round-island drain-widening efforts, racing against the clock, all out to prevent another paralysis. That feat reminds me of China, back in 2003, springing up SARS hospitals within a very short time – after wasting some time defending and denying. They did it, impressively, when they finally decided to. Despite repeated warnings by environmental groups, Penang has long been in defensive denials too, but like China, it sprung into corrective actions when it finally decided to. It’s a matter of will.

The Penang Bangkit flood relief actually singled out migrant workers (who built us our homes) and refugees as non-persons. These non-person flood victims were denied the RM700 their next-door neighbours and the rest of their kampung received. We are creating dangerous gaps that crack our communities.

Don’t underestimate the challenge of fair distribution. We see gaps, gaps and gaps everywhere. Not least the gap between car owners and pedestrians. The Penang Heritage zone is the tourism gold mine but look at the overhead-bridge in front of the jetty. Which decade was it last refurbished? Steps made of multiple, poorly leveled wooden planks, with discontinuous handrails — how safe is the bridge for pedestrians anywhere less than tip-top in fitness?

The middle class speaks the loudest. Pedestrians are somehow seen as a separate group quite safe to ignore. Walk around Tanjong Sri Pinang, the upscale neighbourhood. We find consecutive manholes of broken covers, one after another – effectively a series of booby traps lying in wait for the pedestrian. A new township, there is no excuse for not factoring in safety and not investing in durability.

Spice Arena is another new piece of grand presentation. A local pride and a front-face for the state, but who cares about pedestrians in a state dominated by the elites? Pedestrians have to criss-cross between moving cars to reach the exhibition halls from the bus stop. Pedestrian walkways would have been one of the most basic design features of a facility of this scale and age.

That is why it is important to be explicit about the mechanisms for Wan EmDeeBee’s waris. Strangle him to death if you will, know challenges ahead will be far more difficult than the strangling. We can’t afford to strangle first and worry about waris later.

Handling the waris issue requires sincere and long-ranging commitments. Things are simply not going to fall into place just like that. We need to know the safeguards against hoarding by any particular group speaking the loudest and claiming to be most deserving.

Let us ask campaigners for a better deal: unless the waris issue is sufficiently addressed, we actually don’t mind Wan Emdeebee living longer. There’s no point reaching for the eraser to rub off racial boundaries, then proceed to draw a new set of boundaries which would push us to the worst of capitalism.

Gross Domestic XXX

Your cheating empowers me to cheat. Your stealing inspires me to steal. So now everyone can cheat and steal?

GDP (Gross Domestic Product) measures goods and services produced within the borders of a country. Usually measured per year, it is closely related to national income. Consider parallels such as Gross Domestic Hatred, Gross Domestic Lies, Gross Domestic Meddling and Gross Domestic Suspicion. Capitalising on each other’s wrong, countering one extreme with another will not produce any neutralising effect. They only add up.

Let us refrain from matching hooks with crooks. Hooks and crooks do not cancel each other. The nett effect will just sink the nation – everybody sinks together. That’s what charging people with knee-jerk reflexes costs.

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