Beyond Mahathir’s repentance and Anwar’s forgiveness

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The Ubah that we achieved is a baggage-laden fix that leaves us feeling a little short-changed. Mary Chin argues we need to work hard to correct the Ubah course.

“Mahathir is now a changed man.”

We have been hearing that resounding chorus our netizens’ squad shared and liked tirelessly, the same way our top intellectuals, the so-called cream of our society, campaigned fearlessly. People seemed ever ready to testify in favour of Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s innermost soul even without knowing him in person.

And then we had Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, among others, telling us that this is the same man in a different shirt. Do we need Razaleigh to tell us?

Repentance and forgiveness?

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 one another anyway.

How repentant do we need the man to be? After all, we need a sufficiently confident leader to sort out 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 Ibrahim. “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 to satisfy the demand of the masses.

So, let us move on! The point lies in neither Mahathir’s repentance nor Anwar’s forgiveness.

Ubah sing-along

We should worry more about the Ubah call – the sing-along which started way back before the 2013 general election – 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?” All the while, 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.

Systemic problems

But more crucial aspects and systemic problems haven’t changed.

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

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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. No grooming. No voting on behalf of future voters.

Third, it is all race-based, despite the claim to 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 wasn’t race-based, there would have been no chance for Mahathir’s comeback and no chance for Pakatan’s reluctant tolerance of him in this uneasy courtship, which turns Pakatan’s founding ideology upside down.

Fourth, diversity is sacrificed in the name of honouring and thanking families of benefactors. I am no haematologist so I am not interested in blood tests. I am no biologist either so I won’t test MPs’ DNA.

Missing diversity

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 with spouses, parents or siblings who are fellow MPs. The fact that some of them are not able to think independently and/or express independent thinking should disqualify them.

Lim Guan Eng was groomed by Lim Kit Siang. They are known as the Brylcreem father and son. A carbon copy of the same combative style, every step and every move fully choreographed.

Anwar, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Nurul Izzah Anwar – 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 lockstep with each other reduces the strength we could have gained from diversity.

By the same token, we honour Karpal Singh’s contribution but that doesn’t mean Jagdeep Singh should be excused from qualifying for his position by merit and by character. Many only know Jagdeep as the son of Karpal Singh. But they might be taken aback by some of his statements. Would he be in that position if he weren’t Karpal Singh’s son?

This like-father-like-son belief went on. Remember Mahathir’s justification for planting Najib Razak as Prime Minister? “We thought Najib would be the same as his father.” The inference was silly and the assumption has cost the country dearly.

Divide and rule

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 folk toil to make ends meet and ordinary folk struggle with some of their health problems unattended to.

Pakatan Harapan segmented these people into Chinese, rural Malays etc, especially in Invoke’s data-mining. All of a sudden ‘rural Malays’ became such an overused term – frequently, it seemed, with a negative connotation where respect and solidarity were missing.

Pakatan Harapan, along with the Ubah crowd, apparently targeted these segments instigating different angst, telling different segments different stories. Only one story was consistently told to all – that of the RM2.6bn.

Frankly, whether it is million or billion hardly makes any difference for people genuinely struggling with ‘high living costs’. Million and billion are equally astronomical, beyond the imagination of many.

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Catch-all manifesto

Pakatan’s manifesto was a catch-all manifesto in a bid to get any vote, even if isolate. Buku Harapan contains paragraphs which do not match the title, banking on the fact that few would read through it. Campaigners simply quoted different parts to different people.

Take Janji 35 from Buku Harapan. 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 slotted 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 are forever correct. It is not good enough for the Ubah crowd to say they now monitor Pakatan Harapan and serve as checks and balances and will overthrow Pakatan Harapan in the next general election if it doesn’t perform.

The loudest win, the voiceless sink

It is always easier to criticise the government up there than to reflect on the self down here – and that is 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 is the perfect recipe for destabilising a society. It is 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 the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), which offers some fine candidates with an 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 to 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 in recovering 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 the new Malaysia.

No new blood?

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 a sustainable and clean fix. We end up with personalities (tokoh) whose names retirees today memorised at school as the names of cabinet ministers back then. Do we mean for decades, no new blood is eligible even to run as candidate for prime minister – are we joking here?

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

Wan Zaleha Radzi 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’s more, many problems in Malaysia are minuscule compared to those that many other countries face. Our diplomatic challenges are peanuts compared to those demanded of China, the Koreas, North America and the European Union. Issues such as refugees, the 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 eg inflating the housing bubble further.

Wanted – enlightened leaders

We need someone who is aware of the larger whole that we ourselves are part of, someone with integrated international exposure – not someone who has been educated overseas just for a glamorous 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 a profound understanding of democracy, not childish 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.

We need someone who knows the boundary of ethical campaigning versus emotional and psychological manipulation.

If only the Ubah crowd could have forgiven Khairy Jamaluddin for that mistaken bet of changing from within. 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 a gentleman who doesn’t dwell on himself, for who else 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 has good spontaneity, balance and dynamism. What more can we ask for – a Sea Games athlete too.

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.

Çorrecting the Ubah course

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 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 the 2013 general election. It took a decade of laborious campaigning.

Let us take that cue and work laboriously towards a correction – or we lose yet another decade.

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San

Mahathir no need to be totally a changed man neither expect Anwar to totally forgive Mahathir. Prior to 14th general election all the people wanted is to kick out BN. That alone justifies the cooperation between the 2 leaders whatever weaknesses the agreement between them. Of course we have to built on from here but it is not going to be easy. One cannot expect to change the political culture in short span of time nevertheless consistent effort has to be made for the betterment of governance. People have great hopes and they have more space for criticism now than before. So hopefully the new government constantly feel the pulse of the people.

Lim Hong Hai
Lim Hong Hai

Would the 2018 government change have happened if not also so baggage-laden, with Mahathir helping the Pakatan Harapan to win the 20-plus percent of rural Malay votes that was sufficient to secure overall victory? A clean baggage-free break may require a much longer wait or may never come. I am thankful we have turned the corner and are forging a different course. Of course, the journey is fraught with difficulties and challenges, and requires continued effort and vigilance from all stakeholders.

Sea Tea Oon

Mahathir has not forgiven him at all. He spoke boldly to the interviewer when asked this specific question. In fact, he said others put wrong words in his mouth that he had forgiven Anwar. Anwar is in deep trouble.