Wooing the disgruntled after Bersih 4

SEPT 9 — Judging from the public expressions of certain Umno Baru leaders lately, the recent Bersih 4 rally did have some effect on the ruling party. In particular, there seems to be increasing concern about the political drift away from the Umno Baru-Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, especially among the young and the non-Malay electorates.

In a recent interview, Tourism and Culture Minister and Umno Baru Supreme Council member Nazri Aziz opined that his party’s propaganda unit has failed to reach young voters. This statement was made in the wake of the 1MDB scandal as well as the Bersih 4 rally that witnessed massive attendance by young people.

He was troubled that unless something effectively is done to appeal to the young generation, his party and its BN coalition would fail miserably in the next general election.

It is here that Nazri, like many of the leaders of his party, seems to have missed a crucial point. What the young generation – as well as the rest of the population – needs badly is not "effective propaganda” aimed at changing their mindset, but a leadership that is able to address pressing issues of the day in a convincing, intelligent, rational and fair manner.

It is also important for the young people and the rest of the population to know that the Najib administration is committed to being transparent and accountable to the very people from whom its political legitimacy is derived.

People are generally tired and fed-up of having their intelligence often ridiculed by some of the things expressed by certain ruling politicians in their desperate attempt to justify the unjustifiable.

One only needs to observe the many ridiculous things already said by certain ministers in trying to answer a few simple questions regarding the controversial debt-laden 1MDB fund. It is indeed not satisfactory to say, for example, that the money that was parked in the prime minister's bank account was a (humongous) donation from some Arab prince. The why’s, how’s and where’s are not fully answered. The dots are not completely connected, which is disturbing to a lot of people, the young ones included.

No amount of political propaganda from Umno Baru-BN would satisfy the rakyat – including those who are trying to make ends meet – who are restless about the country’s endemic corruption, mismanagement of resources, the omnipresent GST, rising unemployment, increasing inflation, eroding civil liberties etc. Such hard facts are too big to be sugar-coated.

The Bersih 4 rally that was attended by many young people occurred because the demands made by civil society and people in general, such as for free and fair elections, free press and a healthy economy, among others, had fallen on deaf ears – and the mass rally was meant to remind the leaders of that, as well as raise people’s awareness about the pressing issues at hand.

Besides, the Bersih 4 rally also saw Malaysians who are averse to the prevalent kind of ethno-religious politics that is divisive. The assistance offered by non-Muslims in the ablutions of their Muslim friends provides a glimpse of this political sentiment.

In this regard, to say that the Bersih 4 is indicative of a healthy democracy in Malaysia, as Nazri argued recently, was erroneous, if not mischievous, because a thriving democracy necessitates strong democratic institutions, such as an independent judiciary and a free press, which our country lacks.

Additionally, dismissing the Bersih 4 participants as “shallow-minded” and, recently, “demo-crazy”, as Prime Minister Najib Razak did, isn’t a clever way of winning the hearts and minds especially of the young people. If anything, he alienates himself from the very people he supposedly wants to court.

And, as if to add salt to the wound, it appears that such a political mindset had also inspired, if not encouraged, public university authorities to threaten students who participated in the Bersih 4 rally with potentially severe punishment and disciplinary actions.

Needless to say, treating these young adults like kids is so un-intellectual and goes against their citizen and human rights. So uncool.

A day after the end of the Bersih 4 rally that bore witness to a huge crowd of ethnic Chinese and, to a lesser extent, Indians and Malays, newly-minted deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi made what looked like a desperate appeal to the vernacular press in particular to help convince the Chinese and Indians in the country to vote for BN.

One can only speculate that what Zahid meant was for the press to paint a rosy picture of the BN, warts and all, for the benefit of the non-Malay constituencies.

As intimated above, many Malaysians, irrespective of their ethnicity, are drawn away from the BN juggernaut precisely because they are disgusted by the systemic corruption, eroding civil liberties and human rights, lack of strong judicial system, unjust and undemocratic laws, lack of transparency and accountability, among others.

In other words, you don’t get to wash away these dirty deeds that easily by side-stepping the misconduct of the ruling coalition in the endeavour to attract the attention and political interest of the Malaysian voters.

While we’re cognizant of the fact that there are sections of the Malaysian journalistic fraternity who have been willing cheerleaders of the ruling coalition over the years, it is utterly contemptuous on the part of the political leadership to assume that other journalists who are professional and principled would also have no qualms in promoting the vested interests of the ruling party.

Politicians and political parties should be judged by their merits and demerits that are exposed by a free press for the people to see, without having the journalists to coax the voters to like a particular party or politician.

Indeed, this ministerial suggestion is akin to making journalists into public relations personnel, which is contradictory in real terms.

For the uninitiated (including politicians), journalists have the noble task of unearthing facts and getting to the truth so that people in the seats of power are made accountable for their actions, which have serious implications on the ordinary rakyat. Real journalists are not tasked to make ugly truths appear respectable.

Those who have been in power for far too long may have forgotten their raison d'être, which is to serve the people they purportedly represent. Obviously, failing this commitment would mean facing the risk of losing their political legitimacy, trust and support from the voting public.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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