The Rakyat expect political leaders to be statesmen

 

But we cannot wait for our leaders to become statesmen; it may be in vain. Our best bet would be to rely on our fellow peace-loving Malaysians, says Henry Loh.

Photograph: thesundaily.com

Photograph: thesundaily.com

Sometime towards the end of 2013, the social media was abuzz with an amateur video recording of a very large school of fish that inexplicably swam out of the sea on to the shore and the rocks, off the coast of Sabah, thereby, meeting an untimely end.

This led to concerned friends messaging one another to avoid the coasts as they predicted this could be a prelude to a disastrous tsunami. As it turned out, there was no tsunami and scientists were not able to provide a definite explanation for the behaviour of the fish.

A week or so later after this strange phenomenon was observed, an anonymous person wrote an interesting explanation that duly went viral.

This person suggested that the ‘fish’ had complained to the “Minister in charge of the sea” that it was becoming unbearable to live in the sea due to the “rising cost of living”. The ‘Minister’, in his infinite wisdom, responded to the complaint by informing the ‘fish’ that if you are not happy living in the sea, then you should jolly well go and live somewhere else.

The author also made another interesting observation: it was the ‘small fish’, the ‘common fish’ that were jumping onto land while the ‘big fish’ (read that as the rich and well-connected) remained strong and secure and presumably lived on happily in the sea.

The story was of course facetious, meant to entertain and make us laugh, but it was also social commentary, that we, the ordinary rakyat, could easily relate to.

Who was behind the Turun rally?

The Kuantan Wanita Umno chief, Zaiton Mat, was quoted as saying, “…. those that dislike the Barisan Nasional government should just leave the country” (theSun, 30 December 2013). It was a blatant display of arrogance for her to imply that there is no room for dissent in this country.

The news report indicated that the Umno leader was reacting to the rumour that a group of people were planning a New Year Eve’s rally with the intention of toppling the government. In fact, the protest rally was organised by a group that called themselves, Gerakan Turun Kos Sara Hidup (Turun), led by its chairman, Muhamad Azan Safar. He explained that the gathering was organised for the ordinary people to express their dissastisfaction with the rising cost of living.

Zaiton’s statement received brickbats from various quarters. MCA deputy president Dr Wee Ka Siong, said Zaiton’s statement was “unbecoming and uncalled for”. A University Putra Malaysia political scientist Dr Jayum Jawan said, “..people expressing different views from the government has nothing to do with them being unpatriotic or disloyal towards the country.”

PKR Vice-President N. Surendran, for his part, said, “It is those who criticise and question who are more patriotic then the ones who remain silent when there are wrongdoings. To question and criticise is an act of patriotism. To hold the government responsible is an act of patriotism” (theSun, 30 December 2013).

Eyewitness accounts of the thousands that attended the rally revealed that the gathering was made up of people from all walks of life and consisted of Malaysians of different ethnic groups. This is the reality that the government of the day should realise and find workable solutions to ease the financial burden of the rakyat.

Our political leaders should realise that we are not just talking about old and infirmed Malaysians who are living in abject poverty. Quite recently, for example, The Star (13 January 2014) highlighted the plight of a small group of abandoned elderly folk unable to provide and fend for themselves. Such reports tug at the heartstrings of generous Malaysians, who then unhesitatingly rally around to provide assistance. In fact as soon as their plight is highlighted, it is the duty and responsibility of the government’s social welfare department to attend to their needs.

No, we are referring to average families with three to five school-going children and where the combined income of the parents is only RM2000-3000. We are referring to those Malaysians who need to take on at least two jobs or work 18-hour shifts so that they can put food on the table. These are the ordinary Malaysians struggling to balance their budgets, and there are thousands if not millions in our country who fall into this category.

In the past, such Malaysians may have been able to make ends meet. But with the rise in prices of essential items such as petrol and electricty tariffs and the inflationary effects on other goods and services, many families have started to experience serious financial difficulties.

It is these ordinary Rakyat – your regular wage earner, petty trader, construction worker, farmer, plantation or factory worker – facing a financial predicament who made the effort to attend the anti-price hikes rally. Accompanying them would be friends and supporters who sympathise with their plight and yearn to see a more just and fair Malaysia. Standing shoulder to shoulder in unity,they proclaim this message to the leaders: “provide us with solutions don’t just tell us to tighten our belts”

Leadership, kangkung-style

By now, most Malaysian would be familiar with the gaffe made by the Prime Minister in a speech in which he stressed, “Prices have not gone up for everything, the price of kangkung (water spinach) has come down”; so why don’t the the people acknowledge that?

What followed was a flurry of parodies, spoofs and sarcastic jokes made at the expense of the Prime Minister for his remarks, and it will be very difficult for him to live it down. The remarks have provided excellent (vegetarian) fodder for both professional and aspiring stand-up comedians.

The question we should ask and perhaps more importantly, that the Prime Minister himself should reflect on is, why have the rakyat reacted so strongly to this statement?

If the remark had been made by past prime ministers like Tun Hussein Onn or PM Najib’s father, Tun Abdul Razak, there would have been little or merely muted reaction. Unfortunately, our PM does not have the trust and respect of significant segments of the Rakyat. He is far from being a Mandela, whom people from all over the world would readily recognise as a true statesman.

Where are the real statesmen?

A statesman for instance would not let the issue of the seizure of Bibles from the Bible Society of Malaysia or the controversial “Allah” issue simmer and cause disquiet, suspicion, anger and mistrust among the multireligious and multi-ethnic population of the country.

A statesman would ensure that he fully upholds and complies with the principles of good governance. He would not tolerate corruption and any mismanagement of the Rakyat’s money.

A statesman would certainly take firm action and respond effectively to the many cases of mismanagement of funds, leakages, abuse of power and other discrepancies highlighted in the Auditor’s General’s Report, year in and year out.

Each year, the funds that are mismanaged run into millions of ringgit; yet the Rakyat have not witnessed significant prosecutions let alone convictions of the culprits who should be held accountable.

Then we have the issue of the government’s spending on official travels. A report in the Malaysian Chronicle (22 November 2013) claimed that PM Najib and his wife Rosmah had not flown on Malaysian Airlines planes since he took office in 2008.

Then there was the controversial ‘official’ trip by Rosmah and her entourage to Qatar for which a government jet was used (The Malaysian Insider, 20 November 2013). The Prime Minister did not go on this trip. Was this an abuse of privileges?

Contrast this with the lifestyle that Pas spiritual advisor Nik Aziz Nik Mat, who as Chief Minister of Kelantan, has avoided the trappings of a lavish lifestyle. He has chosen to live in his own humble abode and eschewed the official residence provided for him. Although there are those who may disagree with Nik Aziz’s political beliefs, the majority no doubt admire and respect his simple lifestyle choices.

During such tough and difficult times, a true statesman would lead by example and take necessary measures to promote austerity and avoid ostentation. Unfortunately, that is not the case with our Prime Minister, judging from available reports.

Is it any wonder then that the Rakyat has reacted so strongly to the kangkung debacle?

Rely on peace-loving Malaysians instead

There have been many calls for the Prime Minister to show leadership and take a firm stand to stem out any form of unruly behaviour that may cuase tension among the people of Malaysia. A case in point is the 30 roadshows planned by Umno and some Muslim groups, essentially to send a message that non-Muslims should not be allowed to use the word Allah. A statesman would stand up and stop any protests that may lead to violence.

On this matter, the Opposition should also take heed that their protests and dissent, however legitimate, must never take the form of provocation that could lead to violence. For instance, did the flash mob organised by Machang Bubok Adun Lee Khai Loon cross the line (Malaysia Chronicle, 21 January 2014)?

All concerned should take heed of the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi, a great statesman who said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

Level headed, right-thinking, reasonable, mature and rational Malaysians would very much like to see our political leaders become true statesmen.

It is a huge challenge but if our leaders are guided by and hold fast to the principles of justice, fairness, good governance, accountabilty, peace, goodwill and truly have the interests of the Rakyat at heart, then they have a fighting chance of becoming real statesmen.

But we cannot wait for our leaders to become statesmen and provide us with much needed leadership. It may be in vain.

Our best bet would be to rely on our fellow peace-loving Malaysians who value and treasure the harmony, understanding and goodwill that have been built and enjoyed by the multi-religious and multi-ethnic citizenry for generations. Let us unite and build on those ties and resist being influenced by minority, extremist, narrow-minded and bigoted views.

Remember 1Malaysia is just a slogan for those who manipulate it for their own ends. But for those of us who have lived out that spirit all of our lives, let us reclaim it as truly ours….

Henry Loh

Henry Loh, a former bank manager-turned-activist, is the honorary assistant secretary of Aliran.

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1 Response

  1. Ed G says:

    There are already signs indicating that this country is going down the slippery road of anarchy and lawlessness. The endemic corruption, disregard of the constitution, laws, norms and morality at the highest levels of the government speaks very much for itself. Institutions such as the police, MACC, AG’s Chamber, and the judiciary which are meant to safeguard and protect the people and the integrity of the nation have been largely compromised in favour of political expediency. For example, the police and the AG are splitting hairs over frivolous reports against some opposition politicians while matters of obviously higher priorities are put on the back burner to be later forgotten. To make things worse, critical issues that demand decisive and expedient intervention of statesmen of the highest levels are not only allowed to fester among the people but aggravated by some of the so-called senior statesmen themselves. The rot starts from the head, as the saying goes.

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