IN light of the recent Bersih 2.0 demonstrations, and the unjustified crackdown by the authorities, one may be forgiven if one were to be carried away in denouncing the current administration. They handled the demonstrations in an appalling manner, both in the run-up to the actual day and on the day itself. The conduct of the administration is shameful, arrogant, and senseless. The lies that are spewed to cover up the very public acts of violence add insult to injury.
In contrast, the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has cleverly stepped in to support Bersih 2.0. It cannot be denied that Bersih 2.0’s demands, which promote fair play and a level playing field during elections, would end up favouring the federal opposition. And except for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s gaffe in claiming that he could call off the demonstrations, the PR has generally allowed civil society to take the lead in this movement.
The dramatic unfolding of events on 9 July 2011, as broadcast to the world through social media, YouTube and international media, may lead one to conclude that clearly the PR is the better choice for the next elections. However, there is one major obstacle, to my mind: Anwar.
For all intents and purposes, and subject to the court’s verdict in Anwar’s sodomy trial, Anwar is the person put forward by the PR as Prime Minister designate. But is Anwar in reality a better candidate than Datuk Seri Najib Razak to be PM of Malaysia? With respect, I cannot at this juncture respond with a resounding “yes”.
Points for Najib
Grudgingly, I must admit that Najib has made some good moves as PM. The 1Malaysia campaign stands out as an extremely clever move. Yes, 1Malaysia means different things to different groups, but isn’t that part and parcel of the art of politics? And while many may belittle this campaign as nothing but empty talk, I beg to differ. As a practising lawyer, I have observed in the past couple of years an increase in the recruitment of non-Malay Malaysian personnel in the courts. Of course, this is anecdotal evidence, but the observation must be recorded.
The appointment of Datuk Sri Idris Jala to the cabinet is another outstanding feather in Najib’s cap. Idris comes with excellent credentials, and an enviable track record. I feel safe for Malaysia that someone like Idris is taking a hard look at the state of the Malaysian economy. I am comforted when Idris announces that Malaysia may potentially go bankrupt, because it tells me that at the very least, the authorities know the dire straits we are in. I would be much more alarmed if the authorities keep on insisting that Malaysia is on a fine growth track, and we are poised to be the next Asian economic powerhouse.
Najib has also eased much of the tension between Malaysia and Singapore, and that too is a good thing. Really, we have got to stop the rivalry between our two countries. Singapore can be very beneficial for Malaysia, and Singapore can gain much from cooperating with Malaysia as well. We have got avenues to strike win-win collaborations. Twenty years of demonising Singapore under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s rule is enough. It’s time to move on.
Here’s another reason why I like Najib. He appears to be a man of the world. He does not pretend to be overly religious, or cite the scriptures wantonly. I don’t know him personally, but I suspect that he may have a quiet sip of Chardonnay on some nights. In Malaysia, there are so many politicians who want to claim the moral high ground, either by asserting religious or racial rights. That makes me exhausted. Sure, there would be occasions when Najib, too, would have to play to the gallery. But I imagine our PM is not reading books on political philosophy during his free time. One could imagine him sitting down on a quiet Sunday afternoon with his family watching The Simpsons, and actually appreciating the show.
Points against Anwar
In contrast, Anwar may speak much about unity, but he can never fully explain away his years in the Mahathir administration. Yes, imprisonment (usually referred to by Anwar as “solitary confinement”) can change a person. Nevertheless, I do not buy Anwar’s story of solitary confinement. I imagine the Malaysian prison to be a crowded and unpleasant place, and I imagine that Anwar was given his own cell due to his previous high position. Hence, what he touts as “solitary confinement”, I suspect to be a benefit accorded to him by the prison authorities.
Anwar promotes populist economic policies. He claims that the eradication of corruption would be sufficient to maintain subsidies for the Malaysian economy. I think this is a muddied approach. Yes, we need to install a social net for the poorest of the poor. But why should money saved from the eradication of corruption go towards maintaining subsidies? Why should the subsidy mentality be maintained?
Anwar was in the forefront of the fight to restore the use of Malay language in the teaching of Mathematics and Science. That is subjecting our education system to politics, and that is irresponsible. We are in a global village, and English is the lingua franca. Perhaps the policy to use English could have been better thought out. Perhaps there could be a dual system. And perhaps some schools may be given a choice. Anwar did not discuss any of these options. It appears as if he sensed an opportunity to score some brownie points with the populace, and he took the opportunity. Opportunists do not make great statespersons.
And finally, I sometimes cannot understand Anwar when he launches into his intellectual mode. An old proverb says, “When words are many, sin is not absent.” Have you heard Anwar when he tries to assert his intellectualism? Sure, bombastic words sound impressive. And when someone quotes multiple sources, he or she sounds credible. But in doing so, he or she forgets that 93% of communication comes from non-verbal cues. To me, in Anwar’s case, his words get so much in the way that I cannot sense his heart. And that makes me have reservations about him.
Chan Kheng Hoe thinks the right to vote is illusory when one is offered the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.