Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Umno's weapons of mass distraction

  • S Thayaparan
  • 9:06AM Oct 3, 2012
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." - Thomas Paine (Common Sense)

COMMENT The irony being these weapons of "condemning", "instigating" and "promising" that Prime Minister Najib Razak seems to think are only used by the opposition, was in fact perfected by Umno.

I would argue because of the precarious nature of the opposition when it comes to their ideological cohesiveness and the controlled nature of the public discourse in this country, the opposition has not effectively used these weapons as Umno has, and have had to exercise some restraint to the numerous attacks by Umno using these same weapons.

As far as condemning and instigating is concerned, this is par for the course in any political war everywhere in the world but Malaysia, like in any other country where communalistic concerns are front and centre, things get ugly very fast.

utusan malaysia kritsian agama rasmiWhile Umno through its propaganda organs and state apparatuses (these days the likes of Utusan Malaysia and Perkasa makes the difference between the two negligible) continues in their campaigns of fear mongering, the opposition is accused of the same simply because they respond to such tactics by demanding their ‘racial' rights.

I have argued in numerous pieces (and have been condemned for it) that the only reason why Umno and BN is in the state it is in is because Umno failed to fulfil its obligations as a somewhat ‘fair' arbiter of the communalist expectations of the various racial groups here in Malaysia.

The so-called ‘partners' in the alliance were nothing more than window dressing to give the appearance that the non-Malays were stakeholders in this country. However the reality was that these non-Malay political parties were there merely to rubber stamp the excesses of the Malay Umno.

What was created was an eco-system where they benefitted, and the private and public were divided along racial lines where Malay and Chinese communities become the principal actors each curdling in their respective resentments on the nature of the symbiotic relationship that had endured for 55 years.

Koh Tsu Koon may hope that Gerakan could make a comeback, but comeback from where?

The power of Najib's 'symbols'

For all Najib's "caution" that the alternative alliance is an unholy groups of compromisers, the reality is that the DAP and PAS have always had an ideological/religious backbone that may not have been supported by a sizable section of the Malaysian voting public, but which in reality was thematically similar to BN.

In other words, DAP and PAS are the possible inheritors of whatever communalistic expectations that those BN parties who now find themselves out in the cold failed to deliver. And so far Koh, who was the former Penang chief minister, or any other component allies have failed to convince those favouring Pakatan (for whatever reasons) who have learnt the lessons of the past 55 years.

NONENajib places a great emphasis on ‘symbols' because for long these symbols elicited the expected Pavlovian response from the majority of the electorate. Umno-BN symbols have alternated from the benign to the ‘keris' influenced.

Depending on Umno's agenda, symbols have always been used as a reminder to a cowed electorate of either Umno's role is maintaining the fragile middle ground when it comes to religion (here PAS is the bogeyman) or maintaining the precious social contract (DAP's turn to play the bad man) that ensured that all Malaysians enjoyed the Umno peace which only BN could deliver.

State institutions which were supposed to be impartial became symbols of oppression to remind Malaysians of their place whenever anyone stepped out of Umno formation.

Symbols were indeed powerful to Umno.

This is why I have no desire for Pakatan Rakyat to officially adopt any symbols. Let Pakatan symbols be the testimony of those who were held under the ISA. Let Pakatan symbols be the footage existing on the Internet of the various protest marches and the Umno's state response to them.

Let Pakatan symbols be the always contentious nature of compromise that holds the alliance together which reminds us that for far too long we were subservient to the ‘behind closed doors' compromises that were made on our behalf less we offend the precious "sensitivities" of Malaysians.

But the greatest symbol should be the nurturing of the habit of always questioning Pakatan. Remember supporting a political alliance and criticising it, is not mutually exclusive. Thinking otherwise is what led BN to the precarious position it is now in and the sorry state of our country.

BN has only one face

Najib has got it wrong. It is not that the opposition has many faces; it is just that BN has only one, and that is the face of Umno. The opposition has many faces because many faces make up Malaysia.

Umno fears this because it is easier to mount an offensive against a single idea than it is to contend with many different ideas.

And the opposition does have a common manifesto. That manifesto is to ensure that Umno is relinquished from its seat of power in Putrajaya. This is the most mundane of democratic practises.

NONESure, the Orange Book (Buku Jingga) may not be worth the paper it's printed on, but the same applies to nearly every election manifesto ever written. There are notable exceptions of course but Pakatan has yet to show the commitment or more importantly courage, needed to come up with anything in that league.

And the last weapon in the arsenal. Promises. What this really is about is competing visions of the future of Malaysia. BN promises to maintain the status quo, with cosmetic changes to ensure that we can pass of as a functional democracy.

Pakatan, on the other hand, promises that the status quo would be radically changed but the reality is that what they are offering is the present status quo except applied ‘fairly" which would ensure that we could pass of as a multiracial/religious society.

To some, this may seem an unfair assessment, while others would take the view that small steps are needed if things are ever to change.

Whatever your view is, the one thing those of us in opposition should find comfort (most likely cold) is the idea that we should at least practise the most rudimentary of democratic ideas, which is that governments should change.

We may be warned that this may bring great catastrophe to this country but then again look who is doing all the warning. Perhaps if we get used to the idea that governments should change, then we can begin the slow process of taking those small steps to realising our big multi-cultural aspirations.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

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