Beyond Mahathir’s repentance and Anwar’s forgiveness

[Aliran published an edited version]

Mahathir is now a changed man – we have been hearing that resounding chorus our netizens’ squad shared and liked tirelessly, the same our top-ranking intellectuals, the so-called cream of our society campaigned fearlessly. People seem ever ready to testify in favour of Mahathir’s innermost soul even without knowing the man in person. And then we have Tengku Razaleigh, among others, telling us that this is the same man in a different shirt. Do we need Tengku Razaleigh to tell us?

Give Mahathir the space to be his old self, but don’t bind him to that old self. Be open to surprises if he appears transformed in some ways. That’s how we should always treat each other anyway.

How repentant do we need the man to be? After all, we need a sufficiently confident leader to sort out the Malaysians, who prove more difficult to fix than our national debt. We can’t afford to have a man beating his breast in repentance.

Next, everybody turns to Anwar, “Have you really forgiven Mahathir?” Let us move on, he says! Interviewers and news consumers probe again, “ Have you really, really, really forgiven him?” No satisfaction seems forthcoming. What do interviewers and news consumers want, and need, to hear?

Is there so much about Mahathir’s repentance and Anwar’s forgiveness? What do we want and what do we expect? After all, if I were to ruin not just someone’s career but also his entire life and his entire family, you wouldn’t be able to fathom my degree of repentance (or otherwise!) Even soul-searching myself could have been well beyond me.

By the same token, if I had been ruined not only in my career but my entire life and my entire family, I wouldn’t be able to express my forgiveness (or otherwise) in any way the mass is demanding for.

So, let us move on! The point is in neither Mahathir’s repentance nor Anwar’s forgiveness. We should worry more about the Ubah call – the sing-along which started way back before GE13 – a sing-along which climaxed at the birth of the New Malaysia.

It has been this Ubah sing-along which led us to a new frequently asked question, “Mahathir, when will you step down?” As the nation hangs in the balance, investors too. No one knows how long mutual and polite etiquette lasts – and what’s in store when the fuse blows. The present fix is quick, dirty and baggage-laden.

The nation is indebted to the Ubah crowd for toppling Najib. The Ubah crowd owes the nation a true change.

It has been a change that wasn’t. Yes, the ruling party changed for the first time in history. However, more crucial aspects and systemic problems haven’t changed, which led us to the present aberrations.

First, since his reign Mahathir has been able to plant any prime minister he likes. He planted Badawi, uprooted Badawi. He planted Najib, uprooted Najib. He even replanted himself and he managed to do so even from an angle 360 degrees away.

Second, by going to the polls Malaysians elect not one but two prime ministers — not only their next prime minister but also the next-next prime minister. Perhaps the next-next-next prime minister too. Future prime ministers and indeed all representatives ought to be elected from candidates putting themselves forward at that future moment in time, elected by voters going to the polls at that future moment in time. There ought to be no grooming. No voting on behalf of future voters.

Third, it is all race-based, despite the claim of the contrary. A friend rightly reminded me: try translating PPBM to English, cuba terjemahkan UMNO ke Bahasa Malaysia, we come back to the same thing. Having segelintir non-Chinese members doesn’t make DAP non-race-based. Essentially, if Pakatan Harapan weren’t race-based, there would have been no chance for Mahathir’s come-back and no chance for Pakatan’s reluctance tolerance of him in this uneasy courtship which turns Pakatan’s founding and ideology upside down.

Fourth, diversity is sacrificed in the name of honouring and thanking families of benefactors. I’m no haematologist so I’m not interested in blood tests. I’m no biologist either so I won’t test MPs’ DNA. My concern is in the missing diversity. We need diversity to make up a strong and competent whole. We cannot afford to have MPs who operate in tandem, if not in full synchrony, with spouses, parents or siblings who are fellow MPs. The fact that they are not able to think independently and/or express independent thinking disqualifies them.

Lim Guan Eng was groomed by Lim Kit Siang. They are known as the Brylcream father and son. The son is a carbon copy, same combative style, every step and every move fully choreographed. Anwar, Wan Azizah and Nurul – yes, we can’t deny the family’s struggle. We fully recognise the family’s struggle but our recognition doesn’t need to be expressed in its present format. Functioning in lockstep with each other reduces the strength we could have gained from diversified contributions. Whatever Mahathir owes the family, the nation doesn’t.

By the same token, we honour Karpal Singh’s contribution but that doesn’t mean Jagdeep should be excused from qualifying for his position by merit and by character. Many know Jagdeep only as the son of Karpal Singh, and would be shocked to learn of his litany of disqualifying statements, which would have marked the end of one’s career in civilised societies. Would he be in that position if he weren’t Karpal Singh’s son? This is not the way to pay tribute to Karpal. This like-father-like-son belief is no less tragic than Mahathir’s justification for planting Najib as PM, “We thought Najib would be the same as his father.” The inference was silly and the assumption is proven all too expensive for the country.

Who says the present configuration isn’t race-based? Just like Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Harapan not only divides and rules. Before dividing and ruling, they divided and conquered. Names of places became the battleground for power and private ambitions – places where ordinary folks toil to make ends meet and ordinary folks struggle with health problems unattended to. Pakatan Harapan segmented these people into Chinese, rural Malays etc, especially in Invokes’ data-mining. All of a sudden ‘rural Malays’ became such an overused term – frequently with a negative connotation where respect and solidarity are missing.

Pakatan Harapan along with the Ubah crowd targeted these segments instigating different angst, telling different segments different stories. Only one story is consistently being told to all — that’s about the 2.6 billion. Frankly, million and billion hardly make any difference for people genuinely struggling with ‘high living costs’. Million and billion are equally astronomical beyond imagination for many, except the loudest crowd seeking better bargains.

Pakatan’s manifesto was a catch-all manisfesto in a bid to get any vote, even if isolated and low-counting. Buku Harapan contains paragraphs which do not match the title, banking on the fact that nobody would read through. Campaigners simply quote different parts to different people.

Take Janji 35 from Buku Harapan, for instance. The title reads, ‘Menaikkan martabat golongan
pekerja dan mewujudkan lebih banyak pekerjaan berkualiti’. This is cemented further in Janji 59. Many would be shocked to know that the paragraphs in fact pledge rights for refugees in Malaysia, promising aid and permission to work. This is what I mean by a catch-all manifesto – Pakatan Harapan didn’t want to lose even the support of minority NGO groups championing human rights. Such promises were slit in without the awareness of xenophobic Malaysians who make up the bulk of the Ubah crowd.

To develop as a nation we cannot afford to have an Ubah crowd who is forever correct. It is not good enough for the Ubah crowd to say they now monitor and check-and-balance Pakatan Harapan, and that they will overthrow Pakatan Harapan if it doesn’t perform. It’s always easier to criticise the government up there than to reflect on the self down here – and that’s what we need to do. The Ubah crowd must be prepared to be accountable, years and generations down the line, for introducing a New Malaysia where the loudest win, and for depriving the nation of any third option.

The New Malaysia where the loudest win is most dangerous as it is aggravated by Mahathir’s only apparent transformation of heart – he now bows to populism. When the loudest win, the voiceless sink – that’s the perfect recipe for destabilising a society. It’s always easier to see the short term, but we need to look a bit further and start considering the longer term.

The Ubah crowd wouldn’t even accommodate PSM (Parti Sosialis Malaysia), which offers some candidates of the finest and immaculate track record of service. PSM is in no position whatsoever to pose any threat to any party. Small by size and top by quality, PSM could have contributed some balance and substance to the government. But the Ubah crowd said no, and insisted on Pakatan Harapan and Pakatan Harapan only. In the name of ‘not splitting votes’, supporters were coaxed against voting for PSM. Winning not a single seat, PSM was wiped out. They continue serving the grassroots though.

It has been nearly a decade of brainwashing by the Ubah crowd. Chanting the 2.6 billion and Wan Emdeebee narrative (which is true if not underestimated), they drilled into people’s minds that by supporting Barisan Nasional one becomes complicit of all ills. Many are confused. In fact, supporting any party is an individual’s choice and right – it is impossible that one choice is more righteous or correct than another.

In fact, that whole packet of ‘immoralities’ was used just to populate Barisan Nasional’s litany of sins – most Ubah supporters are only interested to recover the corrupted money, not interested in putting right the remaining ‘moralities’. This is where the confusion over LGBT rights comes in, as some start questioning why discrimination persists even in New Malaysia. Well, the answer is that the campaigners are not interesting in defending LGBT rights at all – the name of the LGBT community was merely roped in as propaganda against UMNO, BN, PAS, `rural Malays’, whoever they are against.

The present fix is quick, dirty and baggage-laden. By telling us this is the only way to topple Najib. the Ubah crowd denied us of a sustainable and clean fix. We end up with personalities (tokoh) whose names retirees today memorised, at school, as names of cabinet ministers back then. Do we mean for decades no new blood is eligible even to run as a candidate for PM, are we joking here?

If populism is one aspect we see change in Mahathir, then a narrow, well-defined and limited comfort zone is the one aspect Mahathir hasn’t changed.

Come on, we have Mydin, Air Asia, Old Town White Coffee, just to name a few, of exemplary entrepreneurship, leadership and creativity. Don’t say Malaysia is so void of talents.

Wan Zaleha and the late Mahadzir Lokman, as much as the Sidek family, entered the public scene, inspired generations of their time, relayed the baton and bowed out gracefully. Why then are we still stuck with politicians from that era?

What is more, many problems in Malaysia are of minuscule scale compared to many other countries. Diplomatic challenges are peanuts compared to those demanded of China, the Koreas, North America and the European Union. Issues such as refugees, housing crisis, homelessness and drug addiction are nothing comparable to North America’s. We just need a government to nip things in the bud. Our present government seems to be making things worse e.g. inflating the housing bubble further.

We need someone who is aware of the larger whole ourselves are part of, someone with integrated international exposure — not one who has been educated overseas just for a glamourous dip. We need a leader who expresses religion by striving to serve others better, not by catching others for doing haram things. We need someone with profound understanding of democracy, not childlish ideas of democracy expecting consensus in every decision, where everybody must be free to say anything, anytime to anybody, and where everyone must know everything all the time (such ideas seem to fit Rafizi’s). We need someone who knows the boundary of ethical campaigning versus emotional and psychological manipulation (which Invoke has been doing).

If only Malaysians were open enough, Khairy Jamaluddin (or whoever contenders feeling on par) could have been our Justin Trudeau or Emmanuel Macron. That would have been a true change. If only the Ubah crowd could forgive him for that mistaken bet of changing from within. But don’t we all know close friends or relatives who joined, say, MCA over the past decade, acknowledging its imperfections, hoping to change from within?

Khairy proves himself gentleman who doesn’t dwell in himself, for who would concede by tweeting, ‘[Tahniah] juga kepada @tengkurazaleigh atas penyertaan beliau sebagai seorang negarawan.’ He is related to Badawi but nobody would deny that Khairy thinks independently and does not act in lockstep with anybody. He proves good spontaneity, balance and dynamism. What more can we ask for – a SEA Games athlete and equestrian.

Yes, we can say that even UMNO has forsaken him. We must thank him for putting himself forward. The truth is, this isn’t an UMNO or Malay issue. The pattern reflects Malaysians, we need to be more open.

Most Malaysian Facebookers and Whatsappers have been treated with clear-cut answers glorifying one, demonising the other. So easy, no need to think, just like and share, top it up with a spit, an insult or a curse. Let us get back to focus. Narrow minds and hearts led us to the present Ubah that we have – a baggage-laden fix, a change that wasn’t. People are still fussing around that never-ending entanglement of Mahathir’s repentance, Anwar’s forgiveness, Najib’s sins and Rosmah’s handbags. Folks, we really need to move on.

The present Ubah was hard to come by, it didn’t succeed in GE13, it took almost a decade of laboriously campaigning. Let us take that cue and work laboriously towards a correction – or we lose yet another decade.

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