A Proton Perdana V6 (source: wikipedia.org)
THE Perak state government has come under fire ever since it announced it was going to replace its fleet of Proton Perdana V6 Executives with the Toyota Camry 2.4. Apparently, this is unpatriotic.
Perak is not the only Pakatan Rakyat-led government that has been criticised for wanting to switch marques because of the high cost involved in maintaining a Proton Perdana. Both the Penang and Kedah governments have also declared that if they had to buy new cars, it wouldn’t be Proton. Additionally, Selangor has said it was looking at other models, including Toyota and Honda.
In the latest volley against Perak and Kedah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi declared that they were “unpatriotic“. Zahid’s reasoning is that they trusted a foreign, rather than the national, auto maker.
There have been other criticisms, most notably, it would seem, because Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor are governed by the Pakatan Rakyat. But, we should be reminded that Barisan Nasional (BN)-led Terengganu was the first state government to switch from the Proton Perdana to the Mercedes, citing the same issue of high maintenance cost.
Still, what is it about the Proton that the national car has suddenly taken on the power to represent Malaysian pride and achievement? How did a marque which has suffered a significant amount of consumer derision, no less from Malaysians, suddenly come to symbolise patriotism and nationalism?
If we are to take criticisms such as Zahid’s seriously, the national car is undeniably one of Malaysia’s greatest achievements — we should be punching the air and bellowing “Malaysia boleh!”
At the same time, citizens on a cycling campaign organised by the civil society group Jerit have suddenly been ascribed the power to disrupt and threaten society.
(pic courtesy of Jerit.org)
According to press reports, the “Cycling for Change” expedition is campaigning for worker protection, the abolition of the Internal Security Act (ISA), comfortable housing and proper price controls of goods. The 16-day nationwide cycling feat is also advocating an end to the privatisation of basic amenities, and calling for local council elections to be restored.
And yet, they have been blocked by the police at every opportunity and treated like criminals. Organisers and participants, including elected representatives, were arrested while the cyclists tried to make it to Parliament to hand over their memorandum to the prime minister and opposition leader on 18 Dec.
(pic courtesy of Jerit.org)
Additionally, their bicycles have been torched by unknown arsonists. Even this has been used by the police as evidence that the cycling campaign could cause unrest. Any rational-minded individual, however, would know that it is the arsonists and not arson victims who should be deemed the problem.
In the latest development, police have said Sungai Siput Member of Parliament Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj will be charged for exploiting children and organising an illegal rally.
(pic courtesy of Jerit.org)
How does a small group of concerned citizens, embarking on a non-confrontational act of cycling to raise awareness, suddenly become a potential threat involved in “illegal activities“, including exploiting minors?
Power to ascribe
In the early and middle period of the 20th century, women in Europe who were healers or who didn’t conform to the status quo were burnt at the stake for being witches.
The act of demonisation is indeed a powerful one. It can move the masses to believe in the extraordinary powers of the demonised to threaten collective order and safety. Hence, the atrocities of Nazism against the Jews.
In obvious ways, demonisation is exactly what the authorities are doing to Jerit. How else can we explain why a group, a small one at that, with democratic and fair ideals is being cast as trouble-makers who need to be apprehended in their tracks?
Ascribing inordinate power to an individual, group or thing can also go the other way. Proton, a national car project struggling with issues of mismanagement, inefficiency and consumer dissatisfaction has now been elevated to become a symbol of national pride.
We should grimace at and be critical of these attempts. Because when we think about it, neither Proton nor Jerit has as much power as is being attributed to it. But these attempts are ways in which those in power try to deflect attention away from themselves or the issues which really matter.
(© Paal Gladso / sxc.hu)
The brutal murder of women in Europe was about powerful institutions like the Church or patriarchy deflecting attention from their bloated corruption and injustices. With Nazism, it was a means to justify racism and fascism.
With Jerit, it’s about ensuring that Malaysians don’t have a say in changing the way we are governed in a democracy. And with Proton, it’s about pretending that a Barisan Nasional government project was a success. Even though, for a long time, from both a business and consumer perspective, nothing could be further from the truth.
There is good news. True, the authorities have the capacity to assign power to others to prop up the status quo. But so too do citizens have the ability to resist the way issues are framed for our mass consumption.
We’ve already seen it happening, among others, with the growing discontent over the ISA and the vilification of Hindraf. The trick in a democracy is to be sceptical and to keep questioning. Only then will be able to see through the ploys of power, and reclaim what is rightfully ours.
Jacqueline Ann Surin used to drive a Proton because she couldn’t afford any other make. She is now the satisfied owner of a Perodua MyVi, and feels no inhibitions promoting the second national car maker.
See: The Nut Graph‘s poll on what cars state governments should have.