Saturday, 7 February 2009

Perak: A right royal mess

Developments in the past few days have left me rather bewildered. What was going on in our southern neighbouring state? Tumultuous upheavals that were leaving the people in Perak angry like they've never been before. Accusations and counter-accusations flying all around. People claiming allegiance to new political masters without a care to responsibility or consequences. One intrigue after another that would have gained the respect of any producer from the Shaw Brothers movie studios in Hongkong decades ago.

Was I angry? Of course, I was angry. Why shouldn't I be angry when I see politicians and the common people occupying themselves with power play when they should be paying more attention to the sad economic state of the nation. For goodness sake, there are economic uncertainties and people are losing their jobs; yet here they are, the politicians plotting and counter-plotting on besting their political enemies. Sadly too, in the process, the people are drawn into the plots like moths to a flame.

Was I angry? Darn, yes I was. So darn far removed from the drama and yet, I was angry. Needless to say, some of my friends were angry too. But of course, our anger were all different. Although all were directed in the same direction, the reasons could never be the same.

But last night as I laid down in the darkness, I reflected on the whole mess. My thought processes are still jumbled up but the gist is here:

1. From the very beginning, politics is a very dirty game. Politics is a numbers game where control is vested in the hands of the majority. Therefore, when it comes to time for the elections, there is a scramble to find enough candidates to stand in the seats because winning a seat brings a political party closer to forming a majority. Never mind the quality, never mind the background, never mind their integrity, just find the candidates. On a large scale, politicians in the Barisan ruling parties jostled for power during the run-up to last year's General Elections. There were more than enough greedy candidates for the parties because being chosen would have meant half their political goals won, half their journey's reached towards their personal political agenda. On the opposition parties' side, jostling was on a much smaller scale because not being in power meant an uphill task with little financial resources and, also to a great extent, lack of willing or qualified candidates. I don't envy the opposition's leadership. They had so much stacked against them before the elections. Maybe after the elections too. The real jostling emerged later when the realisation came that, hey, my party has suddenly won and we have the political power to do something.

2. People were dissatisfied with the ruling parties in the run-up to the last general elections. Problems were ignored, not attempted to resolve. Covert threats were issued and wedges driven to divide people instead of bringing them together. No wonder the people were getting disheartened when they could see that the ruling parties were closing their eyes and ignoring the rising discontentment. No wonder that people started leaning towards electing an alternative government. During the campaign period in many parts of the country, the opposition parties could see that change could be a real possibility. People were talking of voting for the party instead of voting for the candidates. In such a situation, I think anyone could have represented the opposition and won. Heck, Mickey Mouse could have won the election if he were a Malaysian candidate! But after the elections, it was too late to select better candidates (because there were none). The opposition had to make do with who they have.

3. Many of the opposition candidates were obviously unqualified when they were selected by their parties. Oh yes, they knew how to make noise on the ground but that was all. They didn't have any real political experience of doing things. They were selected because they were visible and they were vocal. Besides, nobody else wanted to be case they had lost. But as I said, Mickey Mouse could have been picked and won a seat in Parliament or a State Assembly. Whose fault was it anyway? The candidate's fault? Or the party's fault? Or the electorate's fault?

4. So what happened after they were elected? Being new to the game and faced with a situation never experienced before, the elected representatives looked at one another and tried their best to come up with their teams to head the state executive councils. Of course, the senior party leadership could claim the top spoils first followed by their second and third tier members. Those who could not become part of the Exco were, at least, still state assemblymen. It was a unique position for both the seasoned and overnight politicians. They never thought they could become part of the governing side. Where once they criticised the old ruling party, they are now the new ruling party. Instead of giving criticisms, they now have to take criticisms. A whole new ball game. Unfortunately too, we've all heard of that adage, "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absulutely." Luckily, we are not at the second stage yet. Nevertheless, power does corrupt. And personal greed does come into the picture. A lot of personal greed. "What's in it for me?" seems to be the common thread connecting many of them. Now part of the governing side, the opportunities for corruption opened up like never before and yes, it was sooner rather than later that we heard that two of the new Pakatan Rakyat state assemblymen (state exco members, some more!) in Perak had been charged with corruption. I'm not saying that this wouldn't have happened to any Barisan state assemblyman; most probably if the opportunity presented itself, any of the assemblymen would have equally succumbed easily too.

5. But the fact remained that corruption always exist in any political structure. The only difference is whether you are smart enought to be found out or not. When you are dealing with likely opportunists, they can well turn out to be embarrassments. In the first place, they arose from scraping the bottom of the political barrel to select the best from among the worst to stand in an election where Mickey Mouse would have won because people voted for the party symbol instead of the candidate representing the symbol. And these two buggers, having been found out and charged with corruption where upon conviction they most probably have to surrender all their privileges and possibly be disqualified from their elected positions, they were most vulnerable to enticements from the other side. What did these scums hope for? That their charges would be dropped or no case could be made against them? Good luck to them and good riddance to bad rubbish. And good luck too to their new political masters for wanting them with open arms. Let's wait and see.

6. I'm not going to say much about the crossings over and the re-crossing over of the crossed over that led to the downfall of an elected government, but to echo calls that there should be a law to prevent this. This is not the first time that it has happened but it couldn't have happend at a worse time. We should be more engrossed with efforts to pull ourselves out from the economic downturn rather than have attention diverted to politics. It's how you want to use your time. But unfortunately, it's difficult to focus on the economy where we'll have to shed honest sweat for the money than focus on some political shenanigans where we simply have to feel outraged, stand in the hot sun or pouring rain and shout slogans.

7. People say the Perak Sultan was wrong in asking Pakatan Menteri Besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin to resign and asking Zambry Abdul Kadir to be the new Barisan Menteri Besar. People say that Azlan Shah was wrong in his numbers game, that the three crossed over frogs from the PKR and DAP had already resigned from their elected positions. But as I was quietly reflecting on this in the dark last night, I kept asking myself would Azlan Shah - possessor of one of the sharpest legal minds in the country - be wrong? As a former Lord President of this country, wouldn't he be aware of the laws of this country, of the past decisions in the courts? Maybe he still has a stack of law books and law material stuck up somewhere in his palace for reference. Maybe he knew that the three resignation letters signed by the three frogs wouldn't stand up in any court of law. I'm only guessing this much. Maybe knowing that the resignation letters would be deemed invalid anyway, he pre-empted the issue by concluding that the frogs were still sitting assemblypersons and yes, there's no hung State Assembly with any vacated seat and yes, the Barisan folks could now command a simple majority. However, I'd like you to read this very interesting opinion piece too. It's something about the Sultan disregarding the integrity of the frogs.

Yup, this is how I see it. Falling back on his legal knowledge, Azlan Shah has made a clinical decision like a Federal Court judge would have made his. Whether we like it or not. There's nothing more to be said or done about the decision. A coup d'etat fait accompli. We can't expect him to change his mind. No more avenues for appeal. One thing was certain, though. He misjudged the mood of the people of Perak. And the reactions of the past few days? I'm sure he has been surprised by those too....

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