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Books and politicians

WHAT’S the difference between a book and a politician?

This was a question posed to me recently by a close friend after having one too many beers. Somehow, the mind gets more creative when it’s intoxicated.

Well, I said the first major difference was that I find books interesting to read. From Bill Maher’s New Rules to Lewis Black’s Nothing’s Sacred, political satire is definitely alive in Western comedy. Heck, these books are even selling well.

(© Davidundderriese/Dreamstime)
On the other hand, I view the Malaysian politician as someone with minimum knowledge and memory, but who can outspew a rabid spitting camel.

Take the former Member of Parliament (MP) for Jerai, Datuk Paduka Badruddin Amiruldin. Recall the 2007 Umno general assembly, during which delegate Zaleha Hussin implied that the uniforms for Air Asia’s women flight attendants were a tad skimpy.

I’m not sure if it was plain idiocy or whether he was merely gatal, but our dear Badruddin agreed: “Yes, we can see a tunnel under her skirt.” Perhaps if he was at a bar after a few shots of vodka, I’d understand. But to be sober at the Umno general assembly and say this in front of the media?

But then, this was not the first time Badruddin, who is Umno deputy permanent chair, had done something stupid. If in doubt, watch the video below and wait for the moment — slightly after the first minute — when he utters his now immortal lines: “Malaysia ini negara Islam.You tidak suka, you keluar dari Malaysia!”

So I guess the first major difference between books and politicians is that books also can be loud, abrasive and vulgar. But at least all of it is hidden behind a cover.

The second difference

Now when a book has factual errors, there are usually people out there, like myself, who will simply write to the publisher. We point out the error, and usually the publisher apologises and promises it will be fixed in the next printed edition.

Politicians, however, won’t even allow people to correct them, and simply try to run away from the situation at hand. A case in point would be Kinabatangan MP Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin and his rude hand gesture:

Even though enough numbers of Malaysians tune in to the parliamentary debates, now aired live every morning, they were all apparently wrong, according to Bung. He was quoted in theSun as saying: “No, I don’t know what is their interpretation, but it was nothing for me, I [just gestured] like that (hand gesture).”

So that’s probably the second major difference between a book and a politician. A book can be corrected, but obviously a Malaysian politician would rather die than admit he has done something wrong.

The third difference

Books have printed words. Once something appears in print, it’s harder to twist it. But our politicians will readily twist their words to try and save themselves, or use them against others.

Let’s take Ipoh Timur MP Lim Kit Siang. There are many tales about the DAP supremo, but most endearing would be his continuous calls for salary cuts. In December 2007, he asked for former (thank God) Minister of Information Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin’s salary to be cut by RM10 for not upholding media freedom. (I wonder why some people still say “press freedom” instead of “media freedom”. There’s a big difference. Writer Alliance for Media Independence, take note.)

Anyways, Kit Siang went through his motion, and somewhere along the way, the words “go blog” and “goblok” got mixed up. And then of course, pandemonium erupted. 

I won’t judge what the heck was said until I’ve read the Hansard records, which are basically verbatim transcripts of parliamentary proceedings. Unfortunately, I’ve been reading the Hansard documents for 3, 4 and 6 Dec 2007, and have yet to find a record of this whole argument. Also surprising is that there is no Hansard record for 5 Dec. Not quite sure why.

(© Miguel Saavedra/
This is definitely another great difference between books and politicians. At least in books, you can see how a word is spelt and thus have more assurance about its specific usage. Well, except law books. Those could spin the head of any layperson.

So after mentioning all of this to my friend, he maintained that there was still one major difference between a book and a politician. By this point I was getting irritated because I thought I had raised some grand points. Plus, we had missed last call and I was getting sober real fast.

The clincher

So finally he looks at me and says: “A book has something that any normal human being has, but never a politician. Do you know what it is?”


“A spine.”

We have politicians who constantly make empty promises. From the promise of anti-corruption and the continuous promotion of Islam Hadhari, to the failure to improve our public transport system and even the continuous raising of prices and tariffs — this administration has broken all its promises made before the 2004 elections, and also pre-March 2008. It is no wonder that the ruling coalition lost its two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

We have had some very insulting remarks being hurled at third-generation (or more) Chinese Malaysians. We have an education minister who thought that raising an unsheathed keris, a declaration of war in the ancient Malay sultanates, is a sign to protect Malays (he later mentioned it could protect non-Malays, too). And we have, on a constant basis, ministers and deputy ministers blaming the bad press they get from their actions on bloggers.

(© Sebastian Kaulitzki/Dreamsti

The worst part is that none of them have the backbone to admit that they are wrong.


No one from Umno stood up to tell Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that perhaps they shouldn’t have supported mat rempits over those whose car windows had been smashed by them.

No component party from the Barisan Nasional — except Gerakan — protested when a Sin Chew Daily reporter was detained under the ISA “for her own protection”.

Not a single one of them complained about our lockups allegedly serving Alpo until Teresa Kok brought it up during her detention.

None of them supported Datuk Zaid Ibrahim when he said that the judiciary needed to be cleansed to restore its integrity.

None of them stood with Datuk Sharir Abdul Samad when he supported the motion to refer former Jasin MP Datuk Mohd Said Yusof to the disciplinary board for his “close one eye” comment.

We don’t even see Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim apologising to the people now that he hasn’t formed government by his self-imposed deadline. Nor do we see anyone from the Public Relations — sorry, Pakatan Rakyat — coming up any more to say that they are taking over the government. Why is that?

With the obvious absence of a backbone, one has to wonder who exactly these people would stand up for. Obviously, it’s not for us, the voters who got them there in the first place.

Politicians – throw the book at ’em…

Ahmad Hafidz Baharom is a paradox. He’s an anti-smoking chain smoker, an environmentalist who leaves his office lights on, a centrist who’s a lalang, and a twentysomething yuppie who dreams of being a slacker. Basically, he’s a lovable moron.

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2 Responses to “Books and politicians”

  1. mercadia says:

    Good one, Ahmad! The other differences between a book and a politician are:
    1. Books are published to educate, add meaning to our lives, teach us something, as a guide as well as to entertain. Politicians are well … you will see the difference big time if you treat them as guides, as teachers, entertainers and educators.See my drift? Look at Tina Fey parading as Sarah Palin at every turn. One has to look hard and listen carefully to spot the differences between Fey and the real Palin. They look identical, sound similar, wear similar clothing, have similar hairdos – the only giveaway is how popular Fey is with the audience and how quickly she can turn the room into a circus. Pity the real Palin could not turn her audience into a bunch of lemmings the way Fey can.

    2. Books go through a rigorous process of writing, editing, reviews and more assessment before they can be published. I should know. I am an academic. We go through hell to get data, then get peer reviewed, then get university assessed for proper funding before it goes out the university press house for limited numbers of publication copies.

    3. Books are notations written to denote the times and challenges we face as a community in this period of time. You can read economist Adam Smith right through to Keynes and Sach to see the economic policies that were implemented to circumvent the crisis and drive US economy. Keynes wrote many articles and books for us to follow through and debate the benefits of his ideologies. I tended to agree with some of them in my university days. However, times have changed with the current global financial crisis and with new terminology of “greed”, “ the new poor” and the role of regulators in the financial industries. Politicians, well, they can drive the economy by talking it up to instil consumer confidence rather than begging people not to spend money. Consumer confidence is an important indicator of our market index and so leaders have to be cautious on comments on public spending and fiscal policy.

    4. Books can be recycled or pulped or reprinted due to popular demand. Dr Seuss’s books are being reprinted due to recent interest, so old books do have some intrinsic value in them to teach us basic values and decency. Politicians, can they be recycled, re-done and copied into something that is relevant to current needs? President Jimmy Carter is one of few older politicians who can rejuvenate his status relevant to current US situations – rallying for funds and international awareness over a range of humanitarian causes. The same goes to President Clinton. They still can maximise their currency and credibility as motivators, leading the way for community efforts to rebuild towns damaged by recent floods in US.

    5. Books are for reference to guide us to the future like a road map. It may not be accurate but at least they provide some indications on how we are going to manage our current times and the challenges ahead. As it was written in the good book of Ecclesiastes, nothing is new under the sun: “..Whilst there is unceasing change, nothing is new; it is but a repetition of what has been before, and which again soon passes, leaving the heart empty and hungry still…”
    Politicians, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen, each trying to outdo one another with their brand of bravado, language, policies, leadership style and their tenacity on certain projects to make sure they or the people benefit. So are the politicians trying to make a difference in our lives? Yes. They try to do that publicly, taking advantage of photo opportunities from kissing babies, talking to elderly folks, distributing money and mattresses to flood victims and the like. What is new? Again, all these are not new. Ask any newspaper seller and they will tell you, election is coming soon.

    I could go on but I rather stop here in case you are getting migraine from my writings.

  2. Nobel Hargon says:

    It takes one, great effort in coordinating various facts and thoughts into writing. Stupidity is of no excuse when it comes to writing.

    But in Malaysian politics – one can give statements without thinking and stupidity is a well accepted motion towards glory.

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