THE Barisan Nasional (BN) ruling coalition led by Datuk Seri Najib Razak has been making all kinds of election promises. From more funding for Chinese vernacular schools to more Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia handouts and the assurance of economic stability, Najib and his administration have gone into overdrive to influence Malaysian voters.
As if these carrots were not good enough, the BN, especially the Umno leadership, is also promising a stick to influence voters. What is this stick? It’s the promise of political violence. And while this promise has not been as overt as the cash handouts and other goodies, the threat of electoral violence grows more apparent by the day.
How can we tell that political violence is on BN’s election menu? And what needs to happen for Malaysians to be free of such threats?
Attack and assault
Over the past three months since the start of 2013, there have been repeated incidents of violence at political events. Bersih 2.0 has described these incidents as “an unprecedented escalation in political violence”, indicating that “violence is increasingly becoming a weapon of first resort”.
Throughout the months of February and March, opposition politicians including Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Nurul Izzah Anwar, Tian Chua and M Manogaran have all been assaulted. Other groups critical of the BN, such as the Felda Settlers’ Children Association and Gerakan Mahasiswa PRU13, have also been targeted and attacked. The groups that have used assault to silence and scare those with different political views have hurled rocks, bricks, wood, firecrackers, water bottles, a helmet and eggs to cause harm. They have damaged property and caused injury with near impunity, it would seem.
Two of the reported incidents of political violence have actually been targeted at the BN. However, most of the reported violence has been targeted at Pakatan Rakyat (PR) politicians or opposition-type events. In many of these incidents, those who attack and assault have been fingered as being somehow associated with the BN.
What’s disturbing about these events is not that there is political violence. After all, in any society, there are bound to be troublemakers who will resort to violence to assert their will, rather than respect the spirit of democracy. What’s troubling has been the BN leaders’ deafening silence. The most lame of these leaders must surely be Prime Minister Najib, who has remained absolutely mum about the increasing political violence against his fellow Members of Parliament (MPs). He has also not publicly admonished other perpetrators of the politics of intimidation such as Perkasa’s Datuk Ibrahim Ali, who called for Malay-language Bibles using “Allah” to be burned.
Umno and its president obviously cannot be oblivious to the political violence. The party leadership’s silence has prompted at least one Umno supreme council member, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, to be critical of his party. In an interview with KiniTV on 26 March 2013, Saifuddin declared the party should be more vocal in condemning political violence.
Why is this silence troubling? There is an oft-quoted saying about how evil happens: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing.” That’s right. Evil doesn’t just happen because there are troublemakers out there. Evil happens just as much because those in positions of power and authority don’t speak up against it.
Of course, if one wanted to be entirely cynical about it all, one could say that it isn’t surprising that the Umno leadership in particular, and the BN in general, has remained silent. After all, doesn’t the BN first need to have good people as leaders before one can expect someone from the ruling coalition to speak up against evil acts of violence?
Eliminate thy enemies
What we have seen happening instead is Umno’s very own Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who is home minister, recently and openly inviting more violence to occur. On 24 March, Hishammuddin tried to lay the blame on increasing political violence on the opposition. How the opposition would benefit from “creating anger” or “provoking a reaction” against themselves is anyone’s guess.
Hishammuddin’s leap and ungraceful fall from logic aside, we should pay close attention to what else he said. To the 1,000 youths he was addressing in Gombak, he stressed the need to “eliminate traitors” and “fight … these enemies”. To this, the crowd, made up of party youth supporters, shouted, “Kill Tian Chua!”
There must have been ample opportunity for Hishammuddin to decry such violent and criminal exhortation. He was, after all, at the podium. And yet, there is nothing in the media reports that suggests that the senior minister did any such thing, either at the event or after, to dissuade the crowd from threatening to murder a PKR politician and MP.
What’s more, the home minister, who is tasked with ensuring internal security, even invited more political violence to occur during the general election. How did he do that? He openly declared that the police force may not be able to stop more occurrences of violence in the lead-up to the 13th general election.
Now, why would a home minister announce that the police force was handicapped, especially when there is already an increase in political violence in the country? Shouldn’t Hishammuddin have instead said that the authorities would spare no resources in apprehending those responsible for violence? That the police would track down and arrest all troublemakers? That no violence would be tolerated?
By affirming that perpetrators of violence are likely going to get away with it, Hishammuddin is, in fact, inviting more political violence to occur. In fact, Hishammuddin seems only able to galvanise the full force of the police when it is the opposition that is deemed to be the source of political violence, whether or not there is any verifiable truth to that allegation. When actors linked to the BN are linked to political violence, he is unable to guarantee public safety. This suggests that the home minister is willing to turn a blind eye to violence perpetrated by Umno-linked actors and even invite it. But he will suddenly have the means to crack down on any whiff of violence from Opposition-linked agents.
In some ways, we shouldn’t be too surprised. It was Hishammuddin who openly defended the protesters who stomped on a cow’s head and threatened bloodshed to protest the relocation of a Hindu temple in their Shah Alam neighbourhood. That aside, my question is: Is this the kind of government we want, where the home minister demonstrates not just how ineffectual he is in preventing violence, but in fact encourages violence to happen?
Jacqueline Ann Surin is fairly certain that part of the RM36.1 million the Prime Minister’s Office spent on advertisements in February was for the ad in which Najib tries to impress voters that he and his son can speak Mandarin. She would be far more impressed with a premier who speaks up against violence than one who speaks Mandarin as a Chinese New Year gimmick.