Saturday, August 16, 2008

‘Sweetheart, Do Not Love Too Long’

Did you hear the one about the MCA Youth leader Liow Tiong Lai telling the voters of Permatang Pauh that: "If you elect Anwar, he will just treat this as a stepping stone (to overthrow the BN government) but the locals want to see real development in the constituency"?

Well, it had me laughing so hard I almost hurt myself!

I always enjoy a good political campaign because, for me, it’s a great window into the minds of many politicians and an opportunity for us to really see them and hear them speak to ordinary people like us. Based on such early remarks from the BN camp in Permatang Pauh, the by-election there is surely not going to provide any shortage of campaign antics that will be, among other things, comical and absurd.

But seriously, let’s consider Liow’s quote above for a moment. First, the not so subtle insinuation here is quite telling indeed and hard not to notice. The implication of his comment is that, apparently, to elect Anwar as a member of parliament in Permatang Pauh will only lead to the Barisan Nasional’s house of cards to collapse and we would see the ascension of Anwar as eventual prime minister!

Second, is it just me or do we detect a teeny-tiny tinge of concern expressed by Liow? If there is no likely chance – as the BN leadership has repeatedly tried to assure us - that several of its MPs will eventually cross-over to the PR coalition - why bother talking about Anwar as potential PM? Let’s just say, for the sake of argument that this is meant as a scare tactic to get the voters worried such that, if Anwar is elected, he will become too big to care about his constituents. Wait a minute! Are these BN people, like Liow, trying to convince us that Anwar will simply use the voters to become PM and not be concerned about local development in the constituency?

Let me put it this way: if you were a voter, would you buy this argument that Anwar, as PM, would neglect local development? I wonder what this means for the state of affairs in Badawi’s constituency? Must be a real mess there, don’t you think? You don’t suppose that Badawi’s constituents have seen any development money flow into the constituency since he became PM, do you? I also suppose that in a similar vein, for 22 years, Mahathir was way too big to bother with his constituents. And how foolish they were in Mahathir’s constituency to be re-electing him time and again!

In fact, to show the voters how much they stand to gain from electing the BN candidate, the regime has already offered up, what is according to the Election Commission, ‘not a bribe’ to help with Chinese schools in the constituency! In this case, these ‘non bribes’ – just like the ‘non-bribes’ which BN members take when they ‘help’ their foreign clients to get government contracts – are not meant to ‘buy’ votes. No sir! Call them whatever you want, but as the Election Commission says, they’re not bribes. [But I digress….]

Third, there may also be those voters who might ultimately be thinking, ‘well, better the devil we know than the one we don’t,’ To this, I will simply quote the poet W. B. Yeats:

‘Sweetheart, do not love too long,
I loved long and long,
And grew to be out of fashion
Like an old song.'

For half a century, we’ve had our fate tangled in this affair with Umno and BN. We’ve been used and abused. This now dysfunctional relationship ‘feels like an old song’ and has become unhealthy.

After half a century, perhaps it’s time we try a new song – and travel a new road. Think of the possibilities before us. Maybe Anwar, even after getting elected to parliament, does not become PM. And maybe he does. Either way, there’s a sound argument for leaving behind ‘the devil we know.’ Never have a people thrived and made history without rising to new challenges and, at times, taking, to quote Robert Frost, a ‘road less traveled.’ Yes, there are always risks and uncertainties. Our nation’s founders took risks and overcame colonialism; they took risks to embark on a democratic vision. Change is compatible with democracy.

To make history, we – the ordinary people - must believe; we must believe in things much bigger than a few hundred thousand ringgit in ‘non-bribes’ to placate and co-opt some voters. Maybe enough brave souls in Permatang Pauh will teach us how to make history by bringing about genuine change.

Sweetheart, let’s see if we can dance to a new tune.

G. Krishnan