Strange (and dishonest) BN math
THERE is a ubiquitous campaign billboard in Port Dickson now. It says, “For 63 years, Barisan Nasional (BN) has protected you. Don’t destroy the country’s security.”
The arithmetic is baffling. The BN was officially registered as a coalition in July 1974. As at October 2009, this would make the BN only 35 years old. Yes, the BN is only as old as Posh Spice a.k.a. Mrs David Beckham. Former US President George W Bush is 63 years old, not the BN.
But the number quoted on this billboard is intriguing. Perhaps a cursory look at the BN’s three biggest peninsula-based parties is in order. We can eliminate the MCA from this equation since it was formed in 1949, making it a youthful 60 years old only. Both the MIC and Umno, however, were formed in 1946. Just on a hunch, the billboard is probably not referring to the MIC. No, the billboard’s subliminal message seems to be that Umno is the BN, and voters had better not forget this.
Setting aside the subliminal message, such dishonesty is only a small part of the BN’s Bagan Pinang by-election campaign rhetoric. Take BN candidate Tan Sri Isa Samad‘s campaign trail. He piggybacks incessantly on government functions as part of his campaign platform.
For example, on 4 Oct 2009, he attended a function at Politeknik Port Dickson and delivered a campaign speech. The event was organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry’s entrepreneur funding body, Tekun.
The minister was there, as well as the Negeri Sembilan menteri besar. But when journalists asked Isa if his appearance at the function was an abuse of power and an election offence, he said no. “I am actually part of the agricultural development council for the Teluk Kemang parliamentary constituency, so I have a role to play here, too,” he explained calmly.
PR banner “bringing up” Isa’s history of corruption — “wo ai ni” translates as “I love you” in Mandarin
Does this explanation even hold water? Isn’t it the point that election campaigns should never abuse government amenities and public funds? And Isa’s dishonesty does not stop here. When the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) brings up his history of corruption and negligence as menteri besar, he throws up his favourite red herring. “Ask them to look at Kelantan first and say whether Kelantan is more developed than Negeri Sembilan,” he says.
This is another non-answer, because never at any point is he actually being transparent about responding to allegations of negligence and corruption. Instead, he diverts attention away from himself by pointing fingers at and making fun of his political opponent.
Isa is also not averse to playing the religious card. He criticises PAS leaders for not Islamising Kelantan, and Terengganu from 1999 to 2004, enough. The thing about Isa, though, is that he is such a charismatic, funny and approachable figure that these seem more like witty retorts than the deceit and manipulations that they really are.
And in this corner …
But is PAS, and by extension the PR, any more honest and congruent than the BN? One just needs to look at how the coalition purports to tell voters the whole truth about issues of public interest. These include Isa’s abuses of power, Isa’s corruption, and a tainted electoral roll, in addition to the tragic deaths of political secretary Teoh Beng Hock and suspected car thief A Kugan.
And yet, the PR seems uncharacteristically silent about other public interest issues that point at deeper problems in the coalition. There is not a peep about PAS’s support for the whipping sentence against Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarnor for drinking alcohol, its Selangor commissioner’s campaign against the minority Ahmadiyah religious community, its youth wing’s obsession with banning concerts, and cracks within the Selangor PR government. There is not even an attempt to explain the coalition’s side of the story regarding these issues. Why?
Like Umno, PAS also cannot help pouncing on religious rhetoric as part of its campaign. In an informal meeting with retired army personnel on 6 Oct, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang could not help but spin the army’s main role as defenders of religion first and foremost.
The battle between PAS and Umno in this constituency is indeed escalating, but it abuses facts and evidence. Instead, both parties seem to be resorting to religious legitimacy to gain the upper hand. And in this battle, it seems as though Umno is willing to stoop lower than PAS.
After all, it is in PAS’s political DNA to politicise religion. The party is an Islamist party, for heaven’s sake — if it honestly does not want to Islamise Malaysia or impose Islamic laws, then that would be news. That it is trying to walk the tightrope of upholding the PR’s non-communal, democratic vision is a breathtaking lesson in the art of the double discourse — one discourse for anti-BN Islamists, and another for anti-BN multiculturalists.
Anti-PR flyer. Doesn’t fit into 1Malaysia concept. It’s a
mystery who put it up.
But what is Umno’s excuse? Could it not, in theory, be the secular, or at the minimum, non-Islamist Malay Malaysian alternative to PAS? Could it not clean up its act in terms of corruption and misrule and yet not take the Islamic bait in its campaign rhetoric? This is the million ringgit question. It is a strategy Umno has not even thought to try in recent memory.
The question is, why? Are Umno leaders equally intent on setting the Islamic agenda on their own terms? Or are they merely using Islamic rhetoric as a political strategy to steal votes from PAS?
Whatever their motivations, it seems to make virtually all contests between Umno and PAS degenerate into an orgy of dishonesty and holier-than-thou Islamism. Perhaps this is what Malay-Muslim Malaysian voters want and enjoy, and what non-Malay, non-Muslim Malaysians are willing to put up with in their quest to choose the lesser evil. But is it good for the future of democracy in Malaysia? This is a question too big for Bagan Pinang alone to answer, but it must be asked nevertheless.
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