Arrogant Barisan Has to Earn Voters’ Respect If It Wants Respect
Unlike a lot of people who have been making noise about Elizabeth Wong in the past week, I have a couple of links to Eli: I personally know her, and she is my representative in the Selangor state assembly. I have a real stake in what happens to her, and in how the present political crisis in Malaysia is resolved. And I am mad as hell with what is going on right now. As far as I'm concerned, nearly all of the political machinations since the beginning of this year have done little but undermine the will and the fundamental democratic rights of the Malaysian people, and I've had quite enough of it.
My former Menteri Besar Khir Toyo thinks Eli ought to quit for having a boyfriend who—horror of horrors—has access to her apartment at night. That's not a crime. As far as moral offenses go, it might as well be a virtue. I'd much rather be represented by a politician whose only fault is trusting her boyfriend too much, instead of a politician who went on Malaysian television a few days ago to pour a heap of scorn on my rights as a Malaysian citizen.
There is a pattern to all that's been going on lately, and that pattern is pretty clear: most of our politicians, especially prominent leaders of Barisan Nasional, aren't very interested in protecting the rights and liberties of the citizens they supposedly serve. Look at the body language of the four katak Perak state reps at the press conference Barisan excitedly threw to welcome them—how many of them were actually excited about joining Barisan? Barisan's own politicians are not very keen on being a part of Barisan, and that is because unlike Barisan's top leadership, they understand that there will be a judgement day, and when that day comes, the Malaysian people will judge Barisan very harshly for what it has done.
After all, Barisan decided to kick off the year by subverting the popular will of one of the most prosperous and advanced states in the country. As has become so transparently clear ever since his fall from power, the former Menteri Besar Nizar Jamaluddin is so wildly popular that he has become a hero to Malaysians across the country—an unlikely fate for a former political unknown from PAS, whose initial appointment as Menteri Besar was so controversial amongst people of all political persuasions. Just under a year ago, a majority of the voters in Perak decisively threw their support behind Pakatan Rakyat; the subversion of their will has been a complete and utter betrayal of the democracy we supposedly believe in.
Meanwhile, the campaign against the Pakatan Rakyat government of my state, Selangor, seems to be already well under way. Before anyone could even react to the shocking news about Eli, Khir Toyo was already out there calling for her to resign—shockingly arrogant behaviour for a Menteri Besar whose administration was marked by incredible tolerance for corruption and mismanagement, far worse crimes against the Malaysian people. My family, my constituency, my state voted for a Pakatan Rakyat government, and we'll be damned if Barisan politicians like Khir Toyo think they can just waltz in and undemocratically topple the government we elected.
Of course, Khir Toyo does think that, because like many of his Barisan colleagues, he really does not believe in democracy or in the constitutional rights of the rakyat. At his recent televised debate with two other contenders for the UMNO Youth chief post, he persistently argued that it is unconstitutional to regard non-Malay Malaysians as equal to their Malay fellows. I wonder if Khir is this forthrightly bermuka tebal about non-Malay inferiority in casual conversation with his non-Malay friends.
As comfortable as UMNO politicians like Khir are with playing this nonsensical game of denouncing the rights and prerogatives of half the country they serve, they would be as uncomfortable as ever saying this tripe to their non-Malay colleagues. This doesn't just insult the citizenship and freedoms of non-Malays—this is a challenge to every Malaysian. My Malay friends treat me as their equal, and I treat them exactly the same way; Khir's preposterous argument that it is an insult to the Malays for the non-Malays to be their equal is essentially saying that the Malays are so small-minded, so bigoted, so insecure that they can never engage their fellow Malaysians as equals.
The truth is, Khir is just projecting his own problems and insecurities onto the Malays he so vocally claims to serve; as with most politicians from his party, he is the one who is small-minded, bigoted and insecure. It's no wonder; Barisan can now no longer count on the support of Malaysians, and neither can its leaders. Respect is something you have to earn, and can easily be lost; while Pakatan has been slowly building up respect, Barisan has only seen its reputation shredded over the years.
If Barisan wants to lead, that leadership role is not going to be a free lunch. The politicians of Barisan need to win back the support of the voters. Toppling democratically-elected governments and inventing scandals out of whole cloth is not going to do that. Respecting the voters, engaging them in thoughtful discussion, and attempting to meet their needs is what wins hearts and minds.
That is why Pakatan is on the upswing, while Barisan goes from defeat to defeat. As I write this, Barisan is now angrily lashing out at the Speaker of the Perak state assembly for suspending its supposed Menteri Besar and his exco. Instead of calling for fresh elections, as they undoubtedly would have done themselves if Pakatan had successfully lured 30-plus MPs to its side last September, Barisan leaders whine about Pakatan disrespecting the will of the rulers.
There's a lot of good things to be said for the rulers, and there's a lot of good things to be said for Barisan. You can't deny what they have done for Malaysia in the past. But you can't deny that they are what now seem to be holding us back from the democratic ideals we aspire to. Like it or not, this is a constitutional and democratic monarchy, with rules we have to follow. You can't topple the constitutionally-elected and –appointed government without expecting severe consequences. You can't subvert the will of the rakyat without expecting to run into major difficulties.
At least when Pakatan courted crossovers from MPs, it was open with the public about its actions and the need for feedback and dialogue; Barisan's smug, arrogant "we know better" attitude throughout the recent political storms has only cemented public opinion against it. Barisan does not even care enough about the voters to engage them through the press or to seek their approval, as Pakatan did in its own ethically debatable crossover campaign. Barisan simply does not care about its constituents; it claims to be their legitimate representative, in spite of going behind the public's back to topple their elected leaders. If you want your leadership to be respected, you have to earn that respect—and that respect can only be earned by first respecting those you seek to lead.
The arrogant Barisan persists in asserting that it knows better than the voters, that it has the right to overturn the constitution, the laws, the democracy we have in place. God knows that for the last few decades that's almost all they have been doing. But last March, Malaysians decisively told Barisan to shape up or ship out: that we can have a Malaysia without a Barisan government. If Barisan truly wants our respect and truly wants to lead, it has to start by respecting this verdict. As long as it persists in inventing scandals and excuses to topple our democratically-elected leaders, we the rakyat will be glad to continue rejecting the false and undemocratic leadership of Barisan Nasional.
First published in The Malaysian Insider.