The election season is on – a time when we cast our votes to determine who will represent us in Parliament.
After the euphoria of the 2018 general election and the change that this ushered in, many were disappointed when political ‘frogs’ (defectors), through their ‘Sheraton Move’, overthrew the duly elected government.
So, as we go into this election, keep in mind two words – character and credibility. This is about individual commitment to moral standards which enhances character and builds credibility. It is not about being perfect and saintly but being aware of mistakes and taking corrective action.
Our trust in the individuals who represents us and our belief in the parties they represent is strengthened by these norms. This basis helps us make the best choice.
Individuals should be held accountable for their actions and consequences, and politicians should not feel they have the licence to tell blatant lies, amass wealth beyond measure and defraud the nation.
The choices are many, and the field will be filled with many parties and candidates. Among them will be scandalous individuals saddled with major corruption cases, warlords and political goons whose shelf-life has long expired. They have to be removed by voters making the right choices.
These tainted politicians believe that, if they get to form the government, they can then appoint an attorney general who will clear them of all the allegations facing them – as did a former attorney general who cleared Najib Razak, our home-grown kleptocrat!
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They who have no regard for institutions but use raw power to benefit themselves, even at the expense of the nation. Their names adorn the front pages of our daily newspapers.
Let us look at the main coalitions in the electoral fray.
We have Barisan Nasional (BN), the coalition that ruled Malaysia for six decades. It is in no better place today than it was in the last general election. In fact, it has become weaker, with several political frogs ‘hopping’ over to other parties like Bersatu, which leads the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition.
Multi-ethnic Malaysia falls victim to identity politics based on ethnicity or religion. Race, religion and royalty remain the cry of one party, only to have its actions defame each of these. Populist ideas that play on the insecurity and fear of ‘the other’ dominate political minds to secure votes.
The cause of reform and meeting the needs of the poor get blurred. Yes, there are manifestoes, but rarely are these a basis of action, because power takes over and greed dominates. Justice is then denied and those with money exploit the legal system.
We see scant discussion of critical issues like inflation, the weakening ringgit, the recession, unemployment, migrant workers, relations with China, and key foreign affairs issues like Myanmar, Asean and our united response to regional issues.
The state of the country today illustrates this reality. Corruption has reached massive levels, and this has become systemic in major institutions. For instance, the Companies Commission of Malaysia, Bank Negara, the Securities Commission and even the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) have had to deal with corruption-related issues.
Another breeding ground for corruption is at the local government level. As land is a state matter, many grey areas here are not exposed, as we do not have local government elections. The result: environmental degradation, river pollution and massive floods.
Within this broad context, how do we cast our votes?
Whilst I have no antipathy towards the BN parties, I will not cast a vote for it because they have not learnt any lessons nor have they looked within to identify the reasons for their poor performance in the last general election. Have they anything new to offer a generation that wants to look ahead?
Some politicians put up an exhibition of prayer and piousness, but we see little change in their individual character. For many of them, religion is a mere crutch, and both Umno and Pas politicians indulge in this, which corrodes the pristine qualities of Islam.
It is easy to say that corruption is a Malay issue. This perception prevails because the civil service is mostly filled with Malays, as are government-linked companies and regulatory and enforcement bodies.
But it is more a BN issue, because the ruling coalition includes the MCA, the MIC, Gerakan and other BN component parties.
No, corruption is not an ethnic issue. You meet the challenges of corruption in China, South Korea, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as in the West. It is human failure facilitated by long periods of being in power. The root cause is unbridled greed.
Power corrupts just as rust tarnishes the quality of iron. We need institutions and laws that act as checks and balance to ensure that people who enrich themselves through their positions are held to account.
This is why most countries have limited terms for holding on to power. In Malaysia, BN is still represented by many warlords who have been in power for over two decades, and today we even have candidates aged 85 and 96 still wanting to stand as candidates.
Consider these candidates and evaluate their character, behaviour and wealth. Many of these warlords, irrespective of their ethnic origin, are in politics for the benefits that power gives them in terms of wealth and awards.
Evaluate their education, character and sincerity to the cause they represent. Note how much wealth they have accumulated. If their cause is only self -interest, then strike them out.
Certain BN coalition parties hardly hold their annual general meetings or party elections on time. They keep postponing these, and so do not illustrate any commitment to democracy. It is all about manipulating the system to stay in power.
Where are the fresh faces? Is there diversity and inclusiveness? By not voting for the BN parties, we can send a signal that the time has come for them to refashion themselves to the realities of the 2020s.
The best appreciation many of us can give the BN parties is not to vote for them. In doing so, they will be forced to look at themselves and today’s political realities from a new perspective – a new vision and mission to make Malaysia great again.
Then you have Pas, which has played religion and race as its issues. The party holds sway in Malay-majority states like Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah. It needs to show clearly the difference Pas rule has made to these states, which remain among the poorest in the federation.
Many Pas politicians are all rhetoric with little substance. They align themselves to have a bite on power.
Certain politicians have fallen victim to allegations of corruption and mismanagement. They epitomise religious rhetoric but lack values and hence display their hypocrisy.
The question of religion and faith should be addressed to all believers. Note that what is often emphasised is mere belief and worship. Any change in the internal life of the individual that makes him or her a better person is totally absent. Power has the tendency to override this reality.
As for the parties from Sabah and Sarawak, the way they align themselves depends greatly on what they can extract from the centre or Putrajaya. They would probably align themselves with whichever party secures the mandate in the peninsula. This then leads us to the parties contesting in the peninsula.
For me, the credibility of and trust in the PN coalition is again zero, given its role in creating the Sheraton Move.
Then you have new players like Parti Bangsa Malaysia, a new party again represented by many political frogs.
So this leads us to the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition. We can only continue to hope as the choice seems limited, and like many, I have to cast my vote. While the opposition parties are not made up of a bunch of saints, they seems to be relatively somewhat better. Some of their reform agenda has been achieved.
The fact is they have an agenda and are more inclusive than all the other coalitions and parties. Their remaining representatives have not jumped ship and have contested internal party elections. They reflect the democratic spirit in a greater sense than other parties.
Another major factor is that the opposition parties have more fresh faces, apparently more representation from the younger generation, and greater gender equality – and they are yet to be corrupted by power.
What lies ahead of us is a daunting choice, which we all have to make in the best interest of our nation. Systems can be manipulated, offices can be corrupted, but in the end, it is the quality of the leaders and the mission for which they are in politics that make a difference.
As is said, “When you lose money, you lose nothing. When you lose health, you lose something. When you lose character, you lose everything.”
We have been witnesses to politicians betraying the people’s wishes, telling lies, going back on promises made and yet continuing in the public space.
We the people must send a message that there is no place in Malaysian politics for people and parties that smear the name and dignity of the nation and their faith. Let us throw out the warlords, the corrupt, the racist and the mediocre – for Malaysia can do so much better with the quality of people we select as our representatives.