Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Parrot, Barisan Nasional and Sibu by-election

The contest for Sibu has been decided in favour of the DAP prevailing over the BN.The response of the BN leaders as represented by the PM and the DPM was that of acceptance and self-introspection. Both the PM and the DPM in their capacity as Barisan's leaders had instructed the coalition to undertake a study of its defeat and probable causes, amid insinuation that the wrong choice of candidate could be an important factor, while criticisms are also levelled at the 'racial' and 'seditious' campaigning of the DAP.There is mounting unhappiness on the Malay ground against alleged communalism or even racism in the voting pattern at the by-election.

In its postmortem of the Sibu defeat, the BN would have to be very objective in identifying the problems for what they are. Self-denial and ideological blinkers should be set aside. A wrong diagnosis could set them astray in terms of strategising for future by-elections or even the next General Election.The distortive effects of self-denial and apology could obscure even the most glaring and obvious problems staring right in the eyes.The way politicians delude themselves sometimes remind me of a most instructive parable by Jalaluddin Rumi,the great Muslim mystic.

This is the story of the oil trader who had a parrot in his shop,where he stored many rare,exquisite and expensive oil. One day a stray cat wandered into the shop and broke many jars of very fine and valuable oil. On seeing the calamity, the oil trader was furious and besides himself.Thinking that the parrot was responsible, the oil trader gave the parrot such a pounding that it shed its feathers and became bald.One day a bald man came to the shop looking for some fine oil.On seeing the bald man, the parrot could not contain its curiousity. The parrot asked the man emphatically, 'pray tell me whose oil did you spill?'

Some statements by BN leaders in relation to the BN defeat in Sibu would impair the effectiveness of their proposed by-election postmortem.Take for instance how they had formulated the inquiry.The discussion seemed to have been framed whether the by-election was decided on 'local' or ' national' issues.It would appear to many objective observers and analists that we cannot dichotomise electoral issues in contemporary Malaysia in those terms.What seems to be more accurate is that both the national and local issues have had their impact on the poll.The nature of politic is more complex than a simple 'local' versus 'national'category. For instance the 'Allah' controversy raised by the DAP would be more correctly defined as a national issue albeit with local manifestation and dimension.The same thing goes for the hotly debated issue of national type Chinese schools.The many issues concerning development would similary reflect the concern of Malaysians at the national level.In addition to these, we have the whole gamut of issues like corruption,inaptitude in leadership, and of course that of pluralism, multiracialism and nation building.

And yet I have heard it said several times that the Sibu by-election was mainly decided by 'local' issues and not 'national', and therefore does not reflect on the PM's leadership or other national leaders.In my opinion such a stance is indeed a serious error, and a dangerous one for the BN. While it is erroneous in the sense of sidestepping and trivialising the issues in Sibu, it would appear to be contradictory too. While the BN's leadership seems eager to define the decisive issues in Sibu as 'local politics',it also faulted the DAP for bringing 'national' or 'national style' issues to Sibu.So in the BN perspective, what is the case in Sibu, , 'national' or ' local'? The view that the Sibu by-election was determined mainly by local politics is also contradicted by the DPM's statement that there is similarity or common pattern between the Sibu outcome with 'urban politics' or 'politik bandar' elsewhere in Malaysia.

Responding like Jalaluddin Rumi's parrot, confusing between cause and effect,seeing only form but not essence, would certainly cloud BN's understanding of its threats and challenges,and consequentially its political calculations and strategies.I hope the Barisan's study on the Sibu outcome would yield clear diagnosis, and hence more effective strategies for the future.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Of great man and liliputan

It has been weeks since I last update my blog.I remember my last posting was on the New Economic Model. I must confess I felt the announcement of the NEM was somewhat an anti climax. After much posturing and hype, the announcement came finally as a non-descript statement of economic philosophy and planning. Frankly speaking I don’t think it can be considered as a significant turning point in our economic or developmental approach. I base my evaluation mainly on substance and creativity of development principles and approach, as well as innovativeness in tackling the nation’s basic problems and needs. We may have other more opportune times to go into this in greater details.

Since the promulgation of the NEM sometime at the end of March, I had contented myself with just watching events, trends and styles in our national life. In doing so, I am reminded of the Malay saying ‘hujan emas di negeri orang, hujan batu di negeri sendiri, baik lagi negeri sendiri’. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the Malay language, roughly translated it would be something like ‘it may rain gold in foreign lands, it may rain stone in your own homeland, still your homeland is better’. I am sure this is the sentiment of all patriotic Malaysians. No matter how envious we are of the more progressive nations, east or west, we still love our homeland the greater. But at the same time, I am sure too many patriotic Malaysians would sigh, must it be ‘raining stone’ in our nation ? Must our patriotism be eternally put to the test? Are citizens of the more progressive nations less patriotic than we are, on account of their more developed status? Are we being less patriotic, loving our nation less, if we acknowledge the progress of other nations, while acknowledging our weaknesses and wrongs? Is out patriotism the greater if we deny the progress of other nations and exaggerate their defects, while exaggerating our accomplishments, simultaneously indulging in self-denial over our numerous problems?

Now back to our own backyard. There had been disturbing revelations in the last few weeks. While we laud the action taken to curb the wrongdoings, the facts of the cases are most disturbing. The police had cracked down a major car syndicate which had operated for more than a decade, with the complicity of corrupt officials in the transport departments of several states in the country. Basically the syndicate operated thus: steal luxury cars, have them ‘sanatized’( say wiping or changing the serial number of relevant parts of the car), re-register them ‘officially’ with the ‘help’ of corrupt officials, and put them back in the car market, raking millions. The massive network of corrupt government officials spreading over several states, and the fact that it had been going on for more than a decade,clearly suggests the depth, extent and resilience (perhaps ‘normalization’?) of corruption in our nation.

And then we have this exposure of illegal export of sand, which had been most damaging from the security point of view, as well as environmentally. This scam too had been going on for many years. I understand the export of sand had been done under the pretext of exporting silica and not sand. Doesn’t such scheme border on mockery, flying right in the face of the law? We learn to our dismay that such operation had raked in billions, while inflicting irreversible damage on our environment. Again, this evokes a grim picture of massive, resilient and blatant corruption. I am sure we still remember previous exposure on illegal logging going on for decades in the country. Couple this with the various court cases involving corrupt officials, with some being indicted while others acquitted. The overall picture conjured is not very reassuring of our national integrity, and therefore of leadership in general.

The saga of senseless loss of life continues among us. I note these two rather tragic or sad cases. One fifteen year old girl died when she failed to free her computer bag snagged to the bus door. She was dragged under and run over by the bus. I find the response of both the public and the authority rather regrettable. Although the tragedy was greeted with some public expression of sadness, there was also a sense of ‘normalcy’ though tinge with regret, about it. As if the response was ‘well that's part and parcel of KL and its transport system’. I admit there is a certain crudity or coarseness( kasar) in the services of the public transport system in our cities, but we don’t have to accept it as a ‘given’, normal or in the nature of things. I think her death was absolutely unnecessary and most regrettable, and similar cases should be avoided in the future. More stringent rules and procedures could and should be instituted by transport companies and the authorities. The tragedy certainly suggests we need more gracious and caring public services. At a more general level, we are certainly in need of leadership in developing a more gracious and caring Malaysian nation and society. It was rather ironic that news of her computer bag and her death was carried in the same radio broadcast on the distribution of 100 free computers to students in Selangor by the Barisan National.

In another case, a fifteen year boy was shot by the police. In a most contrasting picture, this case attracted much public attention and heated discussion. Leaders and police chiefs had been vocal in their comments or responses. A high profile board of inquiry had been commissioned to investigate and inquire into the case. Official media had been commenting actively too, understandably a certain bias in defense of the police can be detected. Much play had been made of the circumstances of the tragedy, linking the tragedy with the general issue of ‘delinquent youths’ of today, posing ‘what’s the victim doing out at 3 am, driving his sister's car and without a valid driving license at that?’, or ‘why did the sister allow the illegal use of her car?’ and so forth. Another line is ‘the police has the right to self-defense’ or ‘the police can't be too cautious these days with heavily armed criminals of today about’ and so forth. While all these views have their validity to an extent, the fact remains that it was a rather tragic ‘accident’ which ought to be avoided in the future. Better procedures, safeguards, or even training should be instituted towards this end. Again leadership is much needws here.

On a different note, there is the case of Limbang settlement with Brunei, costing Malaysia a rich oil field with a capacity of billion barrels. Apparently it was deemed a fair exchange during the premiership of Datuk Abdullah Badawi. Under the settlement, Malaysia handed over its ownership of the oil field. In return Brunei agreed to relinquish its claim to Limbang. Now, without going into the ‘fair value’ of the exchange or otherwise, it seems that the Malaysian decision and assent could have been an ill-informed one, without proper consultation and advice, neither with proper disclosure to Parliament or the public. I think the very idea that part of our Malaysian nation can be signed over to other nations without proper consultation, advice and public disclosure or accountability is most shocking and frightening.

Our nation is in dire need of leadership,that is leadership of great man. By ‘great man’ we mean statesman with vision and compassion , enough to identify his personal mission with the interests of our nation. By ‘great man’ of course we do not mean small man, a liliputan, occupying a big post. Too often we confuse between great man and high position. We are prone to think that the two are necessarily the same. In reality,a great man is great even without high position, while a small man remains such even with a big post. . A great leader has the interests of his nation and people at heart,is capable of looking above his narrow self-interests, while a liliputan of a leader can only think of how to use his high position for personal aggrandizement. As often emphasized in Chinese philosophy, a great man emphasized lofty ideals and mission as part of his self-esteem, while the small man cannot see beyond his self-interests and baser desires. Needless to say, this is one observation of all the major religions and great philosophies of mankind.