Will the Mud-Slinging Ever Stop?

A poster depicting the “contest” launched by Tan Sri Annuar Musa to whomever can prove Lim Kit Siang is a bigot. Is this a step too far for petty politics and politicking in Malaysia?

 

Based on recent events, it seems as if one need not look far for entertainment in Malaysia. No, I’m not referring to the comics section of your local news daily. Entertainment today has made it to the front pages.

What I’m referring to is the monetary reward of up to RM 50,000 offered by Tan Sri Annuar Musa to whomever that can prove Lim Kit Siang – prominent DAP leader – is racist, anti-Islam and a dictator. The money can be won either by submitting an article, a blog post, a short video or an infographic that illustrates the hows and whys Kit Siang is all of the above . This was in response to the Gelang Patah MP calling his Ketereh counterpart a ‘Father of Racists’ and a ‘disgrace to Islam’.

As a youth of Malaysia, I can’t help but frown on such immaturity. The fact that both are great veteran leaders in their own right, makes it even harder to stomach. How can Malaysia progress as a country when the people chosen to lead us resolve their petty grievances in this manner? Not only that, they are willing to use cash money directed at the rakyat for this purpose.

What then, is the message left behind for aspiring leaders of Malaysia? That it is acceptable to refer to each other in insulting and derogatory terms? That it is ok to manipulate the media in this fashion? That it is cool to use cash money from an undisclosed source to smear your political opponent’s name?

Some may retort that leaders of other countries with seemingly more ‘mature’ democracies do the same. In the UK, the British MPs often take jabs at each other; a Labour MP was sent out of the House of Commons for calling the then-Prime Minister David Cameron, “Dodgy Dave” in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal. Additionally, throughout the course of the US elections process, I’m sure we have heard it all in the no-holds-barred debates between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.

However, I argue that such hatred and dislike of each other should be channelled into a debate instead of through the media where the rakyat’s hearts and minds are at play. If at all Lim Kit Siang is a racist bigot as Tan Sri Annuar Musa claims, he should put forth points in such a debate, not offer a reward for people to present him with evidence of. Better yet, if such debates could be about the rising cost of living, welfare of the destitute or actually anything at all that keeps the rakyat awake at night, it would indeed be a welcome change.

 

Political maturity found

In the wake of this petty squabble, a show of political maturity has emerged. Barisan Nasional (BN) has agreed not to table the controversial Private Member’s Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act or simply known as RUU 355.

This is in response to the decision of some BN component parties to reject the bill entirely. It is an illustration of how the spirit of consensus can prevail over individual party stances. A minor party in a coalition cannot be expected to toe the line simply because said party has a lesser number of seats.

Due to the racially segregated nature of Malaysian politics, each party represents the sentiments of a collective community. These sentiments should not be rendered silent from the party’s performance in the previous election but rather expressed out in the open to change the hearts and minds of those who voted against them in the coming one.

 

Raising important issues

Lord Acton, a 19th century British politician once said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. That is why I strongly believe that a strong government is the result of a strong opposition. Now more than ever, we need our opposition to continuously question and debate the actions of the ruling party: to keep them on their toes, if you like.

Hence, it does seem that the police are counterproductive to the democratic process by cancelling the permit to the highly anticipated Tun Dr Mahathir – Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri debate. Why can’t we allow two esteemed politicians to hold a debate on current, pressing issues?

Members of the police force claim the debate can cause public disorder. Are we, the Malaysian crowd, one that will be too worked up over two egos colliding? Even so, the debate should still be allowed to continue under strict police routine checks and monitoring.

It is sad to see what could potentially be a public intellectual discussion being shot down time and time again despite the willingness of the leaders to sacrifice their time and efforts. In the bigger picture, we as a society need to foster a debating culture: one that values conflicting opinions based on sound facts over emotional arguments.

 

Changing the odds

During my Perdana Fellowship experience, I was guided to look at things from a policy perspective every step of the way. Whenever policies do not yield results on the ground, it is back to the drawing board for many civil servants.

Because of that, I believe that debates and political lectures have to be more focused on policies rather than a clash of personalities like what we are seeing with TS Annuar vs Lim. Only then, can Malaysia move forward as a nation.

John Oliver of Last Week Tonight once said, “We used to listen to politicians and laugh at comedians. Now, we laugh at politicians and listen to comedians.” I sincerely hope that “we” will not come to include Malaysians.

That being said, maybe I should put my writing skills to good use and earn some money for once.

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