The nation is 55 years old today. To read some newspapers you’d think that it was Barisan Nasional, and not the people, which achieved independence from Britain.
To learn that the Merdeka Day celebrations at the Bukit Jalil Stadium is “by invitation only”, is appalling.
Who decreed that the rakyat had to be members of the “select” BN club to celebrate Merdeka? If Merdeka is exclusively BN, then the slogan “1Malaysia” is rendered meaningless.
As with many things in Umno, the taxpayers are made to pay for the prizes and the ceremony, but they are denied the opportunity to win any of the prizes or even attend the event.
If the Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his Information, Communications and Culture Minister, Rais Yatim, cannot even organise a Merdeka event that is inclusive of all Malaysians, then they are not fit to run the country after the 13th general election.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that it was not Merdeka we were celebrating but Hari BN. Rais’ foray into composing the Merdeka song makes you wonder: which is he worse at – songwriting or being a Cabinet minister?
The biggest disappointment is Najib. He is weighted by personal and political baggage. Even if he listened and learnt (from his and others’ mistakes), he cannot be rescued politically. He was not elected into office and is now vilified by the man who put him there, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Najib has made a lot of mistakes and has reneged on many promises. His Merdeka slogan, “Janji Di Tepati” is an affront to the rakyat. He is insecure and is desperate to win the affection of the rakyat. His reputation locally and abroad is tarnished.
Wasting taxpayers’ money
At the beginning of the week, it was reported that The Guardian had sacked its journalist, Joshua Trevino, for conflict of interest and for bringing the media industry into disrepute.
Trevino had belonged to FBC Media, a public relations company, which had been paid by Najib to bathe Malaysia in a good light, to whitewash the misdeeds of its government, and to criticise Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim. Using taxpayers’ money, Najib paid overseas PR companies such as Apco, FBC and CNBC millions of ringgit to promote him and his administration.
Why does Najib need to spruce up his image? Why waste taxpayers’ money when he only needs to act responsibly at home? If he is not sure of his duties, they are to lead, to listen and to learn.
Najib holds on to the illusion of power, but the real power is in the hands of a man, who is sitting in The Mines Resort, just outside Kuala Lumpur.
Najib thought he could win the hearts of the overseas Malaysians with the promise of enfranchisement, but his promises have remained an illusion.
The Home Ministry, the police and Pemandu CEO Idris Jala, all gave us the illusion that crime was falling, but the truth is people are being raped, mugged, killed, abducted and robbed, on a daily basis.
The illusion that Najib presents to overseas leaders is that he is a champion of the “moderates”, but Malaysians beg to differ. At home, race and religion are used to divide the nation. Thus, the illusion of racial and religious harmony is just that. An illusion.
Periodically, Malays are scared into thinking that Muslims are covertly being converted to Christianity, en masse. The controversial raid on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) sparked off the formation of Himpunan Sejuta Melayu to defend Islam.
Himpunan reported that it had the support of four million Muslims and 200 NGOs. Last October, a mere 5,000 people turned up for the rally, at the 100,000-capacity Shah Alam stadium. Another illusion was broken.
Last May, the government held a “Million Youths Rally 2012” in Putrajaya, an event which some alleged was the government’s attempt to try and rival the success of the Bersih 3.0 rally.
The illusion of mass support by the youth was crushed with allegations of money and free food for those who attended. To make matters worse, several people were injured when a drag race car tore into the crowds.
The illusion that the government looks after its youth was shattered when the Youth and Sports Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek asked that the event not be politicised. Both he and the organisers refused to be held responsible for the lack of safety at the event.
The 11th National Cooperative Day Expo 2012 held in mid-July at the National Stadium was another flop.
Many seats were unoccupied. Old-age pensioners who had been bused in to fill the seats started to disperse as Najib started to speak. Bored schoolchildren blew their vuvuzelas and were reprimanded by Najib for drowning him out.
The illusion that the prime minister draws crowds wherever he goes is false. It is also alleged that several government servants were transferred because of the dismal attendance.
The doctored photo
Perhaps, the most glaring example of using the media to create the illusion that Najib is a man of the people and a much loved leader, was when DAP Senator S Ramakrishnan alleged that The Star newspaper’s front-page photo of Najib’s Hari Raya open-house, on Aug 21, was a “blatant lie”.
The photo has come under intense scrutiny and the allegations that Bernama doctored the photo, raises serious doubts about the ethics of Bernama. If the allegations are true, why did they do it?
From a personal viewpoint, why would well-wishers wave Malaysian flags at a Raya open-house?
Is Najib so insecure that he needs to be reassured of his popularity (or lack of) by the presence of rent-a-crowd? Najib has failed to live up to his promises – transparency, control of public spending and an end to corruption. Everything he has done in his tenure as prime minister is just a fairy-tale.
For the rakyat, the fairy-tale story of a nation gaining its independence is not quite over. We may have gained our sovereignty, but the Malaysian identity is proving elusive. The plots and sub-plots are about to reach a zenith. Our Merdeka fairy-tale could have a happy ending, but only if we allow it. Or will there be a twist in the fairy-tale?
Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.