Sunday 5 August 2012

Malaysia's Patriot Games

 S Thayaparan

"A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people." - John F Kennedy

COMMENT The irony is that what Umno fears most is the day when it would no longer be necessary for some to speak truth to Umno power.

Umno by its unwillingness to concede that the political landscape has changed, that a certain section of the electorate views anything connected with BN as anathema, is willfully charting a course where its survival will be determined not by the legitimacy of the democratic process but by the mendacious nature of how the Umno machine exercises its powers.

NONEThe persecution of PKR's Rafizi Ramli (right in photo) and former bank officer Johari Mohamad (left in photo) for their roles in exposing the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal reeks of the usual shadow play that characterises Malaysian politics.

When Umno supreme council member Saifuddin Abdullah (who is also deputy education minister) frets that the arrest and charging of the duo, will cause the public to have a "negative perception" of the government's anti-corruption efforts, specifically the Whistleblowers Protection Act, he merely highlights the latest of a decades worth of Umno missteps that has resulted in the ruling party's reversal of election fortune.

I doubt anyone would agree with him that BN's "promise" to combat corruption as demonstrated in its National Key Result Area is gaining ground, but his belief that Rafizi (silence on the co-defendant) did not commit any crime, should be commended except that he goes on to illustrate the possible collusion between the executive and law enforcement, when he heroically proclaims that he would bring this matter up at the Umno supreme council meeting to highlight certain issues that would be difficult to rebut when the opposition brings it to the polls.

Protip: If you are going to make the argument that the government is serious in its efforts to combat corruption, it is unhelpful to reference the fact that the political party at the centre of the corruption scandal has influence in the administration of justice.

I wouldn't be surprised if the charges against Rafizi and Johari are suddenly dropped and Umno trying to play to unbiased executive. No doubt the dutiful coalition partners would embarrass themselves by trumpeting this fiasco as some sort of evidence of governmental impartiality. Their lies are old and they mock us by not telling it like new.

Comic relief from Nazri

Not to worry though. We can count on de facto law minister Nazri Abdul Aziz to provide the comic relief. Take this piece jewel of a quote.

"It will not affect our (the government's) credentials in fighting corruption because whistleblowers are informants who don't break the law"... and the punch line, "Rafizi has broken the law and the whole world knows about it. The law must be upheld and enforced. Otherwise we won't need to have laws in the country." Have you stopped laughing, yet?

Nazri, here's the narrative at the moment. After decades of BN malfeasances, covering the land in racial malevolence and corrupting every government institution, Pakatan Rakyat leaders are the brave, hardy souls, would-be liberators fighting against the injustices perpetrated by the Umno shadow in Putrajaya.

What this move has done is just confirm every negative perception a certain section - a section that BN desperately wants to recover - has of BN but more importantly of the vindictive nature of Umno.
NONEWhat Nazri (left) fails to understand is that the so-called government effort in combating corruption with the occasional sacrificial lambs of Umno cronies does not mean that the public buys into the reform agenda. What is needed is consistency which Umno and BN have never bothered attempting.

It would be pointless to cover past ground when it comes to the selective prosecution that makes up the government's credentials in fighting corruption. A cursory reading of the Whistleblowers Protection Act does indicate any such "disclosure" is not specifically prohibited by any written law. The Act also indicates that whistleblowers will be provided immunity from civil and criminal prosecution.

But all this is best left to the legal mouthpieces of both sides. What is important here is the perception of the general public or at least the perceptions of political partisans. Basically what Nazri is saying is that Rafizi and Johari should be charged with breaking the law (sic) even though their actions resulted in discovery of a greater criminal conspiracy.

I guess Malaysian don't really have to see the Dark Knight Rises because Nazri has made Rafizi a real life, Dark Knight. And who knows, this knight may one day be king.

And that's the fear, isn't it? Here we have two Malays going against the Umno system.

The public Malay face of Umno is characterised by the Malay supremacy of Umno outsourced thugs like Perkasa and Pekida. It's in the rhetoric of Rdihuan Tees and the numerous political hacks that spew racial and religious venom in the hopes of rallying the Malay community.

Rafizi, on the other hand, is the Malay Baru Redux. Thoughtful, measured and articulate (perhaps not as articulate as Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin) in his parties' crusade against BN corruption, he is the very public face of a possible more egalitarian reinvention of the power-sharing formula.

But there is more to this game than meets the eye. Rafizi is not some lone crusader fighting against a corrupt system. He is a political player engaged in a war - using the prime minister's own analogy - to claim the prize of Putrajaya.

This is partisan politics of the highest stakes and the fact that Umno has been for decades derelict in its duties should not detract from the fact that we are heading into very unusual terrain, when it comes to the Selangor's government's intention to use state funds (taxpayers' money) to defend Rafizi.

Separation between party and state

All these corruption scandals have been about Pakatan (who control certain state governments) exposing the corruption of the BN, the federal government. The realpolitik is that two political alliances are waging a proxy war using federal and state apparatus. We should be mindful of this.

pakatan ipoh rally 080209 crowd 03I realise that most Pakatan supporters don't really care of the separation between a political party and the institution (it occupies for a time), seeing as how BN for decades has made a mockery of this concept, but this distinction is important if we are to avoid repeating the mistakes of our past.

Although I am supportive of any initiatives to combat corruption and protect whistleblowers, I believe in this extremely partisan climate that the righteous thing for Pakatan to do would be to set up its own fund - making it very clear that it is a Pakatan fund in support of Rafizi and Johari, instead of channeling state funds into Rafizi's (Johari's?) defence.

This way we could be sure that Malaysians, or at least those supportive of the agenda of Pakatan, would really be contributing to a political party fight against BN corruption.

Just to be clear, I am all for initiatives on a state and federal level to combat corruption but as I said what we need more of are a separation between party and state, something that has been missing in Malaysia for a long time.

Yes, we could argue that the Selangor state's decision to use public funds to defend Rafizi is not something unusual and there are precedents for this type of actions, but what I would argue is that we are supposed to be changing the way how the game is played.

At the end of the day, I hope that what Malaysians take away from this Rafizi episode (and I don't mean to diminish the role Johari played) is that we should look beyond Rafizi's political affiliation and hope that more Malaysians - regardless of their religious or political preoccupations - use him (them) as examples of speaking truth to power, irrespective of which political alliance is in control.

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

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