By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
Transparency International Malaysia’s recent survey which showed Malaysians perceiving political parties as being the most corrupt among several institutions in the country is most disturbing, to say the least. In the past the tussle for the top spot had always been between the Police, Customs and Immigration departments. The fact that political parties have come to replace the erstwhile culprits provides an unpleasant vista on the negativities of our system of governance.
Our Prime Minister’s boast that “Malaysia is the best democracy in the world” and his deputy’s assertion that our “education system as one of the best in the world” ring hollow. The propensity to make unsubstantiated claims by our political masters, of late, has reached such an incredulous level that today we tend to take whatever they say or do with a not just a pinch but a handful of salt.
Of the 2000 Malaysians interviewed in the survey, 45 per cent said that political parties were the most corrupt followed by the Police (42 per cent), public officials and civil servants (31 per cent) and Members of Parliament (28 per cent). So what does this say of our much-vaunted political parties, especially the ‘Yang Berhormats’ on both ends of the political spectrum? Can they be trusted to perform the kind of functions that we the rakyat expect? If this crisis of identity is never resolved or is allowed to escalate, then we are all in deep trouble.
In the days following Merdeka on August 31, 1957, the wakil rakyat was someone whom we kids in the kampong revered. The reverence was understandable as the wakil rakyat was the learned one, the guy who represented our kampong in parliament, a faraway place in Kuala Lumpur which we read in the vernacular papers and overheard over our battery-operated radios at home.
I can still recall the MP for Kerian, Rahman Rauf whom we fondly called Pak Rauf. He was a simple man; someone who went around visiting his constituents in his battered Morris Hillman, which had definitely seen better days. There was no air of arrogance and officialdom surrounding him nor did he exude a master-serf persona so evident among politicians today.
The fact that Pak Rauf remained our MP for over a decade till his untimely demise in 1966 was a testament to his skills as an astute and lovable politician, something grossly missing in today’s wakil rakyat.
If political parties bear the distinction of being the most corrupt institution in the country, which of the several does the name best describe? I do not wish to be crude by pinpointing the culprits.
According to Dr Wong Chee Huat of Penang Institute (Perak’s equivalent of Institut Darul Ridzuan), the perception suggested that there is an acute awareness of political parties’ power in horse-trading, sometimes even “collusion between the Barisan National and the Opposition”.
“It’s a pervasive sense of helplessness. The rakyat simply have no control over those in power although, theoretically, voters can punish parties through the ballot boxes,” he lamented.
This explains why you need not be a rocket scientist or a Stanford scholar to be a wily politician in Malaysia. With the right connections and backing, the sky is your limit. That is why in Malaysia a well-connected politician is prepared to give his arms and legs to be in the power loop. I need not say more.