Opinion

The oxymoronic world of Umno’s politics

Edwin Yapp

An engineer by training, Edwin has since turned his back on the engineering world in favour of words in the literary world. A freelance journalist & an editorial consultant writing on his own terms now, Edwin hopes his observations will stir up deeper discussions and debates within Malaysia. You can find Edwin occasionally at twitter.com/yedwin01.

DEC 7 — Oxymoron.

That’s the word that has been on my mind of late. Why? Because that’s exactly what we, Joe Public, are being fed on a daily basis.

Etymologically speaking, the word is derived from the fifth century Latin “oxymoron”, which in itself is derived from the ancient Greek to mean “sharp, dull,” according to Wikipedia. The noun describes “a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.” 

And therein lies the connection — such is the frequency of contradictory ideas and terms used in today’s local political sphere that it’s almost as if our government has nothing else to worry about. 

Case in point: The highly controversial Peaceful Assembly Bill passed last week in Parliament, and our Prime Minister’s declaration that the Bill is “revolutionary,” and that the amendments follow international norms. That’s oxymoronic. 

Also, the war cries of one Umno leader last week that labelled those who support opposition parties as “bangsat” (bastards) and that a vote for DAP is a vote for the destruction of Islam. Hmm... that’s another one.

And finally the PM’s quote in his closing speech, “When I started 1 Malaysia, I did not say — let’s neglect the Malay agenda.”

I can go on, but I’m sure you get my drift. 

Granted. One might argue that some of these oxymoronic statements are part and parcel of the ongoing political rhetoric and that they might have been uttered recently in the context of a recently concluded party convention. 

But rhetoric or not, still, it all seems contradictory, doesn’t it?

What isn’t the diff?

Umno’s strategy, for one. Come election time, Umno’s war cries invariably include all the usual suspects — elements that touch on the two “Rs” in this country’s political landscape: race and religion. 

After all, doesn’t anyone remember what happened a few years ago when certain Umno leaders waved the keris at its general assembly, thumping their chest and shouting about “Ketuanan Melayu?” (Malay supremacy).

Given the proclivity of the dominant party ruling the current government to do such things, I’m not at all surprised that their fairly predictable playbook, has gone something like this: 

The non-Malay opposition is the tyranny and enemy of Islam and the Malay opposition doesn’t practise true Islam. The non-Malay opposition doesn’t care for Malays and is undermining the religion, the Malay way of life, and the national language, Bahasa Melayu. Therefore, a vote for the opposition is a vote against the Malay race, culture and Islam. Umno is the only protector of Malay rights. QED.

After 54 years of independence, is this the best the “big brother” in the ruling coalition can think of? Scare tactics and the endless vilification of the opposition, in hopes that the electorate will be taken in by all these claims?

As Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, the former mufti of Perlis noted in a news report last week, a nervous Umno has failed to bring new ideas to voters ahead of the expected general election. “Umno is talking among themselves. I see Umno is now anxious and has no idea what will happen in the coming elections.”

What other strategy isn’t different? The doling out of cash and incentives, that’s what. Right now, it’s still early days as campaigning for the ruling coalition has yet to start. Come that day, expect more “incentives” in the form of cash or kind to be given out. 

But is this what the rakyat (people) want?

Perhaps it’s poignant to note what Asri had to say, “The current generation is different from those in the past. They will not be attracted by just cash and handouts.” 

And what’s the diff?

The most obvious one is the fact that this is the first election after the one where Barisan Nasional got hammered and lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament, which has prompted the deputy prime minister to say that GE13 is the “mother of all elections.”

This sets the tone for GE13, and already, Umno leaders acknowledge that the opposition could be a formidable opponent this time around. But shouldn’t that be what an election is all about? The Constitutionally guaranteed right for the people to choose one party over another, and their choice of their representative to form a government? It should be, since the last I checked, we are still a democracy, of sorts, I think.

Secondly, the world has changed, and so have the people that occupy it. In the last 18 months alone, we’ve seen how other countries have demanded change in their own nations, holding their respective governments accountable for their actions, or the lack thereof, in what is today known as the Arab Spring.

Gone are the days where repressive regimes rule over the people as if they were puppets as citizens begin to decry and dismantle the tyranny of democracy

Thirdly, the social landscape and global connectivity have changed. In the days before Twitter, Facebook and many other social media channels, repressive regimes could control the flow of information and limit the damage any opposition can mount. Today, that is no longer true. Thankfully, we have alternative sources of media to which we can turn to judge for ourselves who is telling the truth. 

Interestingly, before 2008, I asked opposition politicians if they thought new media would play a part in the GE12. They responded saying that it can play a part but conceded back then that it had its limitations.

But in 2012, these limitations are fewer and further in between. More people will read news updates via alternative channels; smartphones, tablets and laptops will be the preferred choice to access these updates; higher broadband penetration will ensure that news will be delivered faster and more visually impactful via videos. 

And for those who aren’t connected, there is the spectre of the influence that urban folks will hopefully bring back to their respective senior communities, convincing them that the current ruling coalition isn’t up to the mark anymore.

So what could be the diff?

Of course, all this does not necessarily mean that the opposition will take Putrajaya in GE13. But perhaps what is important is that the rakyat is at the cusp of experiencing a new level of participation in their right to choose the government by the people, for the people.

This is especially true for the thousands of first-time voters who hopefully will flood the voting stations on polling day and choose wisely. Whatever the outcome, Malaysians, in my humble opinion, have awakened to a new level of political sensitivity, thanks to the aforementioned changes in the socio-political-economic landscape. 

I, for one, look forward to change, where hopefully the rakyat will choose a better class of representatives that will govern the country equitably, justly and according to the rule of law — regardless of race, creed, gender or religion.

That these representatives will deal with bread and butter issues of economic reform, reduction in corruption, stemming the brain drain and to instil excellence and meritocracy and everything they do thereby ensuring that the future of all Malaysians will be protected, instead of wading in rhetorical, race- and hate-based politics.

That, I hope, would not turn out to be an oxymoronic wish.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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