Politics, the ongoing campaign
The two recent The Malaysian Insider closed forums, one which was held two days prior to Bersih 3.0 and then a week later on May 4, 2012, revealed a well-known fact: Malaysians are pretty observant of the politics that colour our country.
The earlier one, which was a lively and interactive banter among politicians and the rakyat focused on the political parties’ branding. Politics is all about perception and marketing communications. Branding experts and corporate consultants who attended found it rather disconcerting to hear that very few political parties invested in simple branding exercises, such as their unique selling points, and corporate culture and language. As a guest wrote on his Facebook status of his surprise that politics was also about marketing products and that sadly, in the case of Malaysian politics, there were hardly any products to sell.
If a political party cannot even convince an audience of 30 plus of its very basic values and pillars, how will it run a country?
And if within the party itself they cannot even agree to simple logo colours, what does this bode for the party and rakyat?
A week later, with Bersih still hot and on the minds of Malaysians, another closed door forum was organised. The forum attracted about 40 guests, and they were professionals from the creative industries, expatriates, students, teachers and former civil servants. The reaction? A mixed bag of emotions.
While the panellists were warmly embraced by the audience, as one of them pointed out after the forum, it was disquieting to note the audience's perceived lack of awareness on the extent of the police action that day. “(I am) disturbed that there are some who might argue and believe that a deliberate breach of the barricade justified the course of action pursued by the police which was brutal, merciless and seemingly without distinction (whether a person committed an act of aggression or not).” Still he was optimistic as the rally demonstrated how it is possible to unite all Malaysians through a common cause.
Another panellist felt that the forum was preaching to the converted. “As I said that night, I had never felt prouder of being a Malaysian than on that day. The spirit of the people taking part, their sharing of one common vision and one goal, the sharing and cooperation, their good cheer and humour – all these bode well for the future.”
“What disheartens me is that because of indications that the violence was first initiated by protestors – who had promised a peaceful assembly – we seemed to have lost the support of the international media. We’re reading and hearing that Bersih 3.0 will not have any negative impact on Najib; that he has come through with his “reform credentials” largely intact. All this means that the Barisan will continue with business as usual. The 13th general election will be as dirty and fraudulent as usual.”
Some of the comments made by the guests were that Bersih 3.0 did more harm than good to the movement since it seemed to have been hijacked by politicians. One of them said, “For fence sitters like me, we find that Bersih has lost its way and is opening itself to people with their own agenda. (Datuk) Ambiga has to make a stand, she cannot be seen as anti-government but more towards protecting the rights of the people to have a free election.”
Another member of the audience quipped the following: she has always voted for the Opposition since she turned 21. She believes in democracy and free elections, but “… I feel that (Datuk) Ambiga should have reprimanded the politicians who were perceived to have hijacked the cause.” She was quite chastened that her comment “on how the Malaysian diaspora’s vote swing is very important..” was dismissed. This was after the panellists and moderator had asked the audience what could be done. Did she think Bersih was irrelevant? No. It may have achieved something else, and bigger than election reforms.
A political observer notes that Malaysia thrives and lives on rumours and half-truths. In a country where access to information is limited, and there is lack of intellectual curiosity and critical thinking, discourse is akin to the Wild Wild West. Malaysians are also emotional, so when that is thrown into argument about politics, such as Bersih, all hell breaks loose. Long standing friendships are broken, and name calling among former friends ensue. There is little room for objectivity and moderation; shades of grey are not permitted.
Add also the Messiah complex. Malaysians want a hero desperately. “And why is that? Because we want to outsource leadership. Whether you agree with me or not, we don’t want to be responsible for our thinking and actions.” It does not matter if the leader himself is corrupt, tainted, Malaysia wants a prophet.
So the question of “Who is the successor of X? Who is capable of leading Malaysia” is bandied about at mamak stalls, smart cocktails and in the living rooms of friends.
Sang Wira A.
Sang Wira B.
What happens if either dies or is incapable of leading the country? Is the Second Khalifah the next best bet?
When this was posed to acquaintances and friends who supported either side, no one could answer.
Yes, give BN or Opposition a chance – we can always vote them out if they are crap.
Yes, Bersih is about clean and free elections. But post-Bersih, and on the macro level, Malaysians must also remember that the steering of this country is equally, if not more important. Where are we, as a nation, headed towards?
We cannot just depend on our heroes to save the day. Or are we so focused on personalities that we forget the running of a country is more than just about a man (or a woman)?
Truth is politics and the destiny of a country are more complicated than that.
Truth is: there are no heroes. Just politicians.
The sooner we realise this, the sooner this nation can chart its way out of the wilderness
A friend emails a link to a Youtube video of a 1955 advertisement for elections. It’s quaint and quite a fun video to watch. How uncomplicated it was for Malaysians then. A mock-up of a stage with curtains and a man in baju melayu who tells the audience that it would be the first time to vote in “… Tanah Persekutuan Melayu…” He tells the audience that they can vote for who they like.
This was way back before Independence, before social media, before Bersih. If this man and his friends were alive today (one can only assume that they have gone to meet their maker or if alive, have the secret to long life and ageing!) one can only wonder what they would think of what is happening now in Malaysia.
* Dina Zaman is a writer-at-large for The Malaysian Insider.