Sunday February 10, 2008
All for the sake of winning votes
On The Beat
By WONG CHUN WAI
Come the general election, there is an unusual degree of tolerance and flexibility in matters of race, language and religion as politicians try to woo the people. Why can’t it be like this every day?
IT doesn’t look like it will happen in Malaysia for a long, long time. The world is currently glued to the US presidential elections where the front-runners in the primaries include an African-American and a woman.
The Americans do not care if their candidate is black, yellow or white as long as he or she is the right person. Their supporters comprise Americans of all races and gender. Throughout the campaign, candidates have so far managed to stay clear from race and gender.
More important, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both Democrats, have debated in a civil and intelligent manner, focusing on substantial issues.
Young Malaysians following the race must have surely asked when our politicians would live up to such qualities.
For a start, those who have overstayed must know when to leave.
Most of the voters are finding it difficult to swallow the argument put up by these leaders that they still need time to carry out their work.
Surely, they can’t expect us to believe them after holding on to their posts for decades.
Used to walking the corridors of power and enjoying the prestige and perks that come with their positions, many find it hard to be like us, ordinary Malaysians, again.
The thought of not seeing their names and pictures in the newspapers must be difficult to fathom.
By clinging on to their posts, it is also an insult to their party members because the impression, which they like to create, is that no one else is suitable to take over.
No one else seems good enough to fill their shoes. You find these politicians on both sides of the political divide; they seem to be there forever.
Then there are those who have had their chances. They had served in various capacities but had to quit in the most controversial situations.
Now in their 60s, the age when most Malaysians are thinking of spending time with their grandchildren and watching the sunset with their loved ones, they dream of staging a comeback.
Some of these figures do not even know how to surf the Internet and have no inkling of what young people are saying about them in cyberspace.
They probably assume that the new voters, like their grandchildren, have forgotten the trouble they had landed themselves into, or the huge embarrassment they had caused their party.
Their renewed ambitions must be difficult for the younger leaders in the party, especially those in their 40s and 50s, who have worked faithfully and are waiting in the wings.
Then there are one or two Mentris Besar or Chief Ministers.
It’s amazing how some of them seem to assume that their respective states are their personal fiefdoms.
They show their displeasure at even the slightest suggestion that they ought to contest a parliamentary seat.
They lobby to remain at their posts but then advise the other state assemblymen that they must abide by what their party bosses tell them to do.
Also, there are those who still continue to play the race card, in this age and time.
At their party conferences each year, they play to the gallery by projecting themselves as the communal heroes.
But during the general election, they shamelessly become the true Malaysian leaders we dream of.
They greet their voters in Malay, English, Mandarin and Tamil; and if they can speak all these languages fluently, they would do so.
But for the rest of the five years until the next general election, they would insist only on one language for us.
Never mind if we all know that they send their children to boarding schools in England or Australia.
Some, it is said, have homes there, too.
Of course, they are upset if we do not send our children to national schools, questioning our loyalty to the country.
Suddenly, all these languages are used in posters, bunting and advertisements, and you wonder why Malaysia cannot be like this every day.
Why can’t we embrace such Malaysian features and why must multi-culturalism be acceptable only during election campaigns?
Such an unusual degree of tolerance and flexibility seems almost unbelievable.
Even PAS is prepared to stop talking about an Islamic state during the elections but throughout the next five years, we can be sure they will tell us how certain principles cannot be compromised on religious grounds.
Politicians are also busy visiting places of worship and meeting religious leaders, including those of other faiths.
Yet we know we will continue to grapple with various bureaucratic problems relating to faith issues because these same politicians will struggle to stand up for the rights of all citizens once the election season is over.
Fortunately, there are many who take their positions as MPs and assemblymen seriously. They work hard, help their constituents and speak with decorum.
They are a credit to their party and the people who voted them in.
How we wish we could have elections more regularly instead of just once every four or five years.
But hey, good things don’t happen every day.
Let’s enjoy all the attention while we still can.
It’s good to tell the politicians what we want once every four or five years and do our best to hold them to their promises – every single day.