Every five years voters are exposed to the rough political terrain, Phlip Rodrigues writes.
“Instead of politicians, let the monkeys govern the countries; at least they will steal only the bananas!” – Mehmet Murat idlan, Turkish playwright, novelist, thinker
When it comes to choosing a government that will best serve the interests of the country, people have no choice but to pick a political party or coalition that best fits the bill.
There is no other way of circumventing this age-old political process, which has been in practice ever since the idea of government took firm root in the minds of society.
Look at Malaysia. There are parties galore to pick. If you throw a stone, it will hit either Umno or Pas (or now Bersatu) and rebound and land on the MIC, the MCA or Gerakan.
If you fling another stone, it will strike PKR or the DAP or Amanah. And if you take yet another pebble and skim it across the waters, it will touch all the other smaller parties in Sabah and Sarawak.
All these parties talk and act under various coalitions. They sink their differences when negotiating for seats or selecting their candidates and come up with grandiose manifestos that give people tantalising glimpses of Utopia and El Dorado.
Politicians are a vulpine lot when seeking power. They use all kinds of artful devices they can find to influence, cajole, plead, entrap. Once every five years, they morph overnight into heroes, warriors, people’s champions, humble servants, even saintly characters.
Voters can only greet this galaxy of ‘stars’ with large doses of cynicism. Based on bitter experience, no one can blame them for having serious misgivings about the sincerity of these political chameleons.
But love them or hate them, politicians are here to stay. How can society be organised without the guidance of these ‘illustrious’ leaders? Can the people rule themselves? Can political parties be abolished along with politicians?
For now, the voters have no choice but to go through this whole rigmarole whenever Parliament is dissolved. They must make up their minds on who will be their ideal representatives in the lawmaking bodies.
So, the voters, disillusioned or not, must walk down the road much-travelled to listen to both sides of the argument. What do they hear? They hear the same pattern of speeches – by turns saccharine, poisonous, bloodcurdling – as each side tries to drown the other.
Look at how these politicos humble themselves before the ordinary people. They mingle with dirt-poor villagers – patting scruffy babies, sitting on creaky stairs of dilapidated houses to engage in light conversation with listless households, joining them in simple fare, or acting young in some games.
In the ‘new normal’, the freewheeling style of campaigning – pumping hands, heartfelt embraces, rhetorical speeches to huge crowds – will have to make way to something more crafty to get the message across. Leave this to the machination sof the politicians – they have all the tricks and cards up their sleeves.
How much different can the next general election be from past polls? Not much – except that it might be a snap election because the current ruling alliance must urgently seek a bigger majority than it has now.
Before the ‘biggest show’ comes rolling into town in a sea of flags and symbols that can be mesmerising or irritating, let’s take a look at all those individual logos, especially the major ones.
The keris? The eyes droop, heads shake, a look of disgust registers on the faces. The party that bears this emblem has tarnished its sanctity while in power and can no longer claim to protect all citizens equally. For decades, the keris was an emblem of authority, much feared and much disliked. But today the double-edged dagger has been blunted by People Power. The party wielding the keris is licking its wounds in the corner, moaning and groaning over its abrupt fall from grace.
Look at the other three logos that once joined forces with the keris to keep the country in their hands.
The 14-point bright yellow star was the only emblem that Chinese Malaysians knew for so many decades. It signifies their loyalty to the country, but the star has lost its shine and the party sits nibbling its toes in the relegation zone.
Now, what has happened to the green-and-white logo that was once a badge of pride in the Indian Malaysian community? In its heyday, it stood strong and steady, together with the keris and the spiky logos, but has since lost its place. The party that it represents has sunk to near oblivion.
Then, there is the attractive symbol of five golden stalks of 12 grains of paddy against a green background framed in a white triangle. The whole design was meant to convey a sense of justice and courage. True, the multiracial party that bears this symbol had fought bravely as an opposition force once, even capturing the Pearl of the Orient. But heads shake at the misfortune the party suffered when it linked up with the keris and eventully lost power. It is sulking under the table, regretting the loss of its identity.
How about the logo of a white moon against a greenish background? Eyes roll upwards, faces cringe, shoulders shudder. The moon may cast its bright light on the darkness below, but the green heart appears to have sown division among the races and other faiths. The party represented by this logo is growing frighteningly stronger with its divisive religious stance.
Now, what about the new party with the red emblem, featuring an outline of a flower with five petals? Murmurs of discontent break out from the lips. This logo had once symbolised change and hope, but it has faded under the “Sheraton” heat. It has become a byword for betrayal, and the party is too sick to stand on its own.
Keep walking down the divide, but now shift the gaze to the other side. Just concentrate on only two symbols, which inspired the people in 2018. See the “blue eye” logo? Nice eye, but groans of despair fill the air. It was once a symbol of promise and strength, but now it signifies discord, disunity, factionalism.
Standing nearby is this long, sturdy rocket which, not too long ago, took off with a roar of power and confidence. The rocket is still defending a state, but its very sight evokes fear and distrust among a certain segment of the population. The party will remain the bogeyman in national politics for some time to come.
All the symbols representing so many parties can no longer guarantee whatever they signify because many politicians, when they come to power, get the irresistible urge to abuse the sanctity of the mandate.
Even fighting under a single symbol will not be a sure ticket to victory because people will still identify symbols like the dacing (balancing scales) with everything that has gone wrong with the coalition. Or the Star Trek logo with the blue eye whose leader is still anathema to the Malay heartland.
So, what can the voters do? Nothing. They cannot escape but must tolerate all the unceasing noise and bluster that will assail their senses during an election season. They have to follow the traditional way and cast their ballots and watch from the sidelines as politicians celebrate their victory – some of them with greed in their hearts and roguish plans in their heads.
Phlip Rodrigues, a former journalist, is a keen observer of local events