By Joachim Ng
December 2020. Perak could have ended the year on a cloud with a silver lining as a great moment in time suddenly appeared like a rainbow. For a brief while, UMNO and DAP talked about coming together so that a non-partisan government could be formed and take us on a skyride into 2021.
But Perakians let go of the rainbow and stuck to the identity politics that has engulfed us like a sandstorm. Identity politics, a major colonial vestige, seeks to perpetuate a chasm between “us” and “them” — a chasm that keeps deepening.
For years, neither side could resist the temptation to demonise the other. So, it was amazing that a ray of light penetrated the minds of a few senior leaders in UMNO and DAP who expressed willingness to work with each other. However, the candle was fast blown out as middle ranking leaders and followers on both sides greatly resisted the light.
All over the world, national resilience is being undermined by divisive politicians and their ardent factional supporters who can’t see the engulfing storm as we face severe battering from a ravaging COVID-19 pandemic and a faster paced climate change.
America is seeing ugly fights between conservatives and liberals; Britain is cracking up with the Remainers (pro-EU) and Leavers (pro-Brexit) in eyeball confrontation. In Malaysia the politics of race, ideology, and religion in parallel with the importance of being the party in power has blinded us to the advantages of diversity.
Pfizer’s vaccine will not destroy the killer virus. In fact, virologists believe that a Disease X will come on the heels of COVID-19 as the conditions for another pandemic are still there – forest devastation, wildlife captivity, and livestock crowding. Disease X, just like COVID-19, will not select its victims on the basis of race, ideology, or religion.
Adding to that is the unsettling discovery that the pace of climate change is accelerating, and up to 7 billion human beings may perish before the end of this century. The storms of climate change are also blind to race, ideology, or religion.
Although several luminaries have proposed that our houses of worship—mosques, churches, temples—hold monthly interfaith gatherings to spread multicultural understanding and appreciation of diversity throughout the population, the suggestion has been ignored because of fear, suspicion, or simply conservatism.
What should Perak do in 2021? We could ditch some colonial ideas that are ruining the nation. One wrong idea is that race, ideology, and religion are the essential criteria in forming a government. Hence, you let the people split themselves into competing ideological camps anchored on their separate identities.
The competition between parties to garner more votes than their opponents by stressing factional identity supposedly acts as a check and balance in a well functioning democracy. The reality is that it subverts unity and true empowerment. Visit Africa to see for yourself the highly destructive results of gladiatorial politics.
The right way to govern a state is to pick the best and forget the rest.
Every candidate who gets elected should represent all the people of the state and not just his party. Ipohite KY Chang once quoted statesman Edmund Burke telling British MPs that if a bloc of constituents wants something that goes opposite to the real good of the community, the MP for that constituency ought to distance himself from such a move.
Similarly, none of our MPs or ADUNs should be partisan about whom they represent. You are paid your salary and allowance by the taxpayers as a whole entity. Hence, you should represent all who need your representation be they Malay or Chinese, B40 or M40, Muslim or Hindu, urban or rural.
The idea that we elect reps to look after specific communities is so 20th century. Ipoh City Watch president Dr Richard Ng has asserted that the state government must render assistance to all segments of society irrespective of their ethnicity.
Fortunately, new Menteri Besar Dato’ Saarani Mohamad is steering Perak in a new direction – the correct direction – in seeing to it that all 59 state assemblymen will get equal allocation of RM200,000 and that all 59 will be invited to the district action committee, focus group and disaster management meetings.
When it’s time for GE15, Perak should bring forth a resolution that individuals should compete against each other by demonstrating that they have a track record of being more competent, more conscientious, and more inclusive than their opponents.
As Datuk Sohaimi Shahadan, vice-president of the Malay Businessmen and Industrialists Association of Malaysia, has said in commenting on selection of leaders to govern: “They should not be appointed based on political appointment or connection, networking, or to pay back any form of political assistance.”
Take it one step further and ponder why it is wrong to keep voting according to party lines. A party is like what the word itself says it is: a merry-making scene with only the servers truly working. The rest are there to enjoy the party and not to serve. Pick the servers and not the partygoers; pick the best and forget the rest.