When barking dogs turn rabid
|Datuk Jema Khan is a former Sabah Umno Youth leader. He is now a businessman pushing the Agenda Liberal Melayu in Facebook .|
OCT 24 — Politicians all over the world claim to be the protectors of their people. They often conjure up various threats to our wellbeing. When we buy into their stories we tend to support them and thus they are able to rule over us. In a democracy this is less of a problem as when we stop believing the politicians’ spiel we can always vote them out. But many parts of the world do not have fully functioning democracies and thus we find leaders who, once they have been empowered, do all they can to stay in power and thwart any move to democratise.
These autocrats and their sycophants will bark their ideologies to all and sundry. They expect their people to believe their worldview so that they remain in power. Those who oppose them in their own country are often treated harshly so that they would be able inject fear into the society to silence any further dissent. Unfortunately for them, the advent of the Internet has seriously limited their ability to keep their citizens ignorant and quiet for long. Competing views which tend to be more liberal in nature do crop up and challenge the existing order. The so called “Arab Spring”, though nascent, has exposed some world leaders to be nothing more than barking dogs.
The people in Tunisia and Egypt were a little more fortunate that they were able to remove their barking dogs with less loss of life than in neighbouring Libya. At least Ben Ali and Mubarak knew that the jig was up when their people clearly turned against them. Gaddafi, on the other hand, continued to bark and even turned rabid when his people wanted him gone. Who can forget his famous lines, “my people love me, my people love me all”, that was carried on the cable news networks. He was so out of touch with his people and reality that it would have been comical, if not for his attempted massacre of his own people.
The hope for those countries that have successfully removed their autocrats is that their people will be freer and be able to put in place a democratic process that cannot be easily undone by any aspiring dictator. The only advice I would give them is that they avoid choosing those politicians who bark the loudest who want to show them to the promise land but take away their freedom.
They need to remember that the moment a person enters politics, regardless of whether the person wears a military uniform, religious paraphernalia, a doctor’s white coat or even a suit and tie, that person is a politician. A politician wants people’s support so that he or she will be in power. You can give your trust but don’t ever give away your freedom, especially your freedom to remove the politician who you trusted in the first place.
In Malaysia’s case, it seems that the people are fairly circumspect of their politicians and that is certainly a sign of our political maturity. The message that the people are sending the politicians is that they prefer a two-party system but both coalitions, as is our case in Malaysia, need to appeal more to the centre.
A group called “Himpun” that wanted to gather a million people to support its claim of rising apostasy in Malaysia only managed to get a few thousand people on Saturday to support them. Malaysian Muslims know that there is no threat to Islam in this country.
Even when Malay rights group Perkasa wanted to have a counter gathering against election reform group Bersih a few months ago, there was little support. The majority of the Malays feel fairly secure that their interests will not be sidelined regardless of whoever wins the next election. The Malays know that they are the majority and in terms of parliamentary seats they have a disproportionately larger share of the seats because of the rural bias in the seat distribution.
Even the hudud issue will not gain much traction among the Malays or Muslims in Malaysia as many know that it would not be practical in our multiracial society. The biggest problem for both Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional is that they are influenced by a few fringe groups that are clamouring loudly. Both coalitions need to listen to the centre as they are the majority of the voters, though this group tends not to be less vocal.
But what is the centre in Malaysia? I will try to define the centre though I realise that I may be biased as I am looking at it through the eyes of a liberal.
The centrist in Malaysia tends to have great faith in his or her religion, culture and mother tongue. Nevertheless, the centrist is accepting of other religions, cultures and mother tongues. The centrist just wants to be left in peace with his or her own beliefs, customs and language. There is also generally a desire to fit into society as a whole and avoid conflict.
The Malaysian centrist treasures the family institution and places great emphasis on the education of his or her children. Value is also placed on infrastructure development, job opportunities and of course better incomes. The centrist respects official positions but wants public officials who are less corrupt. Most treasured by the Malaysian centrist is peace and security within the nation and as a result he or she is turned off by extreme groups who try to agitate the masses.
If my definition of a Malaysian centrist is not far off the mark, then I believe that both major coalitions in Malaysia need to do a lot more to appeal to the centre. Rather than trying to outdo each other on the fringe it would politically be more astute to work on the centre if the objective is to win the next election.
As with any country in the world, Malaysia too has its own problems but the majority of its people are pretty savvy. They would rather listen to a few well-chosen words from a wise man or woman than the incessant barking of an overzealous politician.
Malaysia’s political leaders too would be better served listening to the rumblings of the many who are apolitical rather than the clamour of a few leaders of some fringe groups who are in reality politicians themselves. Lest they forget, rabid dogs are put down. Libya teaches us that rabid politicians don’t fare any better.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.