Tuesday, July 8, 2008

‘Hello Adik, Want a Lollipop? Here’s Also Some Kacang Putih’

Our presently unfolding national dramas have once again reminded me why I get annoyed with so many of our country’s politicians. Mind you, there are actually a number of very good reasons that easily come to mind, and I’m sure many of the same reasons on your list will overlap with those on mine. But one particular pattern – at least to me it clearly appears as a pattern – has been for many of our politicians’ propensity to address the public as if we are a bunch of juveniles; or worst yet, as if they consider us to be, shall I say, ‘logically challenged.’

Permit me to make my point. You would think that in an age where we are privy to an unprecedented open marketplace of almost instantaneous information, one would reasonably infer that Malaysians today – more than ever before – are far better equipped with accessible tools to evaluate the realities around them. It is evident that we have also seen, just over the last two decades alone, a tremendous growth in public discourse and political sophistication. In this more ‘sophisticated’ Malaysia, it nevertheless is evident that many of our politicians appear to be stuck in a pre-historic age when it comes to engaging with the public. Much of the kind of commentary, statements, answers, and perspectives we get from them – whether it be in press conferences or other public forums - reflect how much they take us for granted and in fact exhibits how condescendingly they relate to the public. So often, and I know you must experience it too, it feels like I’m being talked down to. No less annoying is the fact that some of them expect us to simply chew-up everything they feed us.

A recent case in point comes from a June 30 report in Malaysiakini, where Najib, in commenting about the alleged government involvement to frame Anwar, states that: "We have not harmed any politician in Malaysia all this while, we don't intend to do so, this is not the practice of the Barisan Nasional government." Now how exactly am I suppose to interpret such a comment? Well, given the context, almost immediately, I wondered about the last time Anwar was arrested. As you well know, when Anwar took a beating while in police custody during his first encounter with sodomy charges, surely, it was not a DAP or PAS government in control, was it? Indeed, if memory serves me right, it was a Barisan National government that controlled the state apparatus. Frankly, I doubt very much if Najib helps his cause with such sweeping comments on his part.

I – despite being presumed to be a ‘logically challenged’ juvenile by some politicians – can’t help but think that it also doesn’t bode well for the image of the DPM that in his initial public remarks in the current Anwar-sodomy matter, there was no acknowledgement of any contact he had had with Saiful [Anwar’s accuser]; only to later reveal [see Malaysiakini] he had previously met with Saiful [before the report against Anwar was lodged]. In the latter news report, Najib is quoted as saying: “Actually there is no conspiracy, he [Saiful] came and saw me to complain that he had been sodomised by Anwar."

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ll have to admit, reading the above news reports sure got me wondering, among other things, if others who are under some serious personal crisis, and with no previous association with the DPM, could also drop in at his residence for a personal meeting. Furthermore, I wondered if it was also Najib’s conscientious nature that he has always been accessible, as in this situation with Saiful, and has met in his residence with other average Malaysian citizens, who have no particular political connections, and who happened to have a personal crisis.

I am sure Najib would understand, based on the information he has thus far volunteered, why most reasonable minded Malaysians may be wondering about such and related questions. To be sure, however, Najib has stated unequivocally that there is no government conspiracy against Anwar and he personally also has nothing to do with the sodomy report filed against Anwar. And even in the court of public opinion, he is entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

Now, let me take a completely different example. Recently, - as reported in Malaysiakini - S. Subramaniam, the secretary-general of the MIC tells us that the Barisan government, which he characterises as a “responsible government,” has unveiled various measures targeted at helping the Indian community. As such, according to him, it shows that the government “never intended to marginalise you [the Indian community].”

But wasn’t this “responsible government” all along in denial that there was a serious problem that a significant proportion of Indians were impoverished and neglected by the government? And is this “responsible government” now admitting that Indian marginalisation is real, and that it has been remiss in dealing with this issue? At any rate, Subramaniam would now have us simply gullibly appreciate that the Barisan government is “responsible” because it admits that it never intended to marginalise the Indian community? Perhaps it did not dawn on the secretary-general that by this logic, the government – and MIC – has in fact been irresponsible for denying all along that it had neglected serious problems affecting the Indian community.

And does Subramaniam really expect us to believe that because the government has sprinkled some kacang putih to prop up the MIC and its image, that it is “committed to address the Indian community’s problem”? By the way, in case someone with some ability to reason at the MIC is reading this, there have been eight previous Malaysia plans that have come and gone - and we’ve seen what the current ninth one is all about. Let’s just say, it’ll take more than a few lollipops and kacang handed out from the “responsible government” before we put any stock in your words. For starters, it would help if you can see it ‘responsible’ to include in the next Malaysian Plan genuine commitments to reversing the impoverished state of vast numbers of Indians and record some tangible, real, and significant progress before self-respecting Malaysians will take seriously what you say about addressing the Indian situation. [Sorry for the slight digression….just couldn’t help it.]

Getting back to my central issue, and without belabouring the point much further, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we the public be treated with some respect. Perhaps, over the years, we have become so much more hardened by the theatrics of so many of our politicians. Be that as it may, our public servants must also know that March 8 was a telling reminder that to treat the public - and to talk to us - in a childlike and condescending manner is simply not going to cut it.

G. Krishnan