The long-term ruling conservatives in Germany, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), lost the federal election in September. What happened?
One incident in July could have made the difference. Floods had swamped the western German states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, taking 180 lives.
While President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was speaking during a visit to the hard-hit town of Erfstadt, Armin Laschet, the CDU’s candidate to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor, was spotted joking and laughing in the background.
The incident sparked a public uproar. The CDU’s approval rating in opinion polls plunged from close to 30% on 23 July to 20% on 2 September. At the polls on 26 September, the CDU received just 24.1% of the votes – its worst result in German electoral history.
How does this compare to Malaysia? Over the past week, posts and reports about the severe floods that struck many parts of Malaysia, after strong rainfall on 17-18 December, filled social media and news media.
We have experienced annual floods so many times before. Folks on the East Coast of the peninsula and in various parts of Sabah and Sarawak are all too familiar with them.
Have federal and state governments stood ready to provide immediate emergency response with personnel and vehicles specialised in search-and-rescue in flood conditions? Have they been prompt in providing aid and support needed such as food, clothing and other materials for the victims?
Looking at the past and present floods in Malaysia, we can conclude that the government’s ‘caring’ legacy and priority amounts to little more than political narratives to cushion their seat of power, rather than really working for the people.
Whether they are ‘in government’ or ‘in opposition’, elections are the means to an end for the contesting parties and for many candidates, to accrue power and privilege by grabbing power.
Once voted to power, many opportunists vie for ministerial posts to reinforce even more power out of self-interest, to gain more wealth, fame and privilege.
Thanks to gerrymandering and worsening polarisation (race, religion, geographic, gender and other forms), many power-greedy politicians manoeuvre shamelessly to reshape political coalitions and hang on to power.
What is terrifying is that the sufferings of many ordinary people continue. A growing sense of public hopelessness and political despair is inevitable.
Looking at the behaviour of the prime minister, his ministers and other authorities on their rounds in flooded areas, I am reminded of Germany’s ‘laughing Laschet’.
Laschet’s defeat in the federal legislative election carries a clear message: that it is possible to throw out ‘undeserving’ candidates.
Can we be optimistic that failed Malaysian ministers and politicians will receive a thrashing at the ballot box, the same way that Laschet did at the hands of German voters?
After all, in the wake of flood devastation or other catastrophes, has any disgraced Malaysian leader or elected representative ever taken responsibility by resigning?
Carol Yong is an Aliran reader who occasionally writes when inspired