NEVER let it be said that Bersih 2.0 is incapable of thinking outside the box. The coalition of “like-minded civil society organisations unaffiliated to any political party” has decided that external help is needed to rehabilitate Malaysian politics.
The first person it approached was a soft-spoken, petite Japanese woman named Marie Kondo.
For those who haven’t been touched by Kondo-mania – that is, people who have zero interest in being neat and organised – she is a self-described tidying expert whose fame and influence has been spreading fast in recent years, thanks to her books, online videos, TV and radio appearances, and this year, her own Netflix series.
Bersih has been campaigning for clean and fair elections, and it makes sense that one way to go is to spruce up our political landscape.
After all, the last of the coalition’s eight demands is to call for an end to dirty politics.
We all know how badly our political scene needs a spring clean. It’s grubby and littered with stuff that most of us don’t have any use for, or worse, that can cause damage.
We see too much divisiveness, one-upmanship, finger-pointing, deceit and meanness.
This is the result of decades of poor habits, shortcuts, complacency and feeble will. And we can’t help but be ashamed and resentful.
Many of us thought of last year’s change of government as a tsunami that washed out the grime, cobwebs and trash.
Very few feel the same now; a shower is often necessary immediately after wading through our politics.
For Malaysia to have a cleaner political environment, something else has to happen. Perhaps intervention by the person who has turned “spark joy” (more on that later) into a global catchphrase?
Kondo is an inspired choice to teach us how to declutter Malaysian politics. In these messy, confused days, her KonMari Method obviously strikes a chord.
“People around the world have been drawn to this philosophy not only due to its effectiveness, but also because it places great importance on being mindful, introspective and forward-looking,” says her website.
If that’s not exactly what Malaysia needs, I don’t know what is.
And there’s a bonus factor. It’s hard to imagine Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad dismissing what Kondo brings to the table – or more accurately, how she clears an untidy table.
He admires certain Japanese values and ethics. He was the one who drove the Look East policy, remember? His first official trip abroad after the 14th General Election (GE14) was to Japan.
In his book A Doctor in the House, Dr Mahathir talks about how attributes like cleanliness and orderliness are important to the Japanese.
And there is an even chance that he’ll be particularly open to the idea of a Japanese expert, bearing in mind that it was business consultant Kenichi Ohmae who sold the PM on the idea of Malaysia setting up the Multimedia Super Corridor.
But here’s the bad news: Kondo has said no.
Parts of it may have been lost in translation, but her email response mentions that she has declined Bersih’s invitation because she won’t stand for anybody casting doubt on her qualifications.
I will never look as good in black tights and with bangs and eyelash extensions as Kondo does, but I’ve studied enough of the KonMari Method to offer a first step to cleaning up politics in Malaysia.
Let’s start with what Kondo preaches.
My extensive research, comprising primarily a five-minute visit to konmari.com and watching one episode of her Netflix show, yields this explanation: “Most tidying methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom (sic) you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever.
“The KonMari Method encourages tidying by category – not by location – beginning with clothes, then moving on to books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items.
Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service – then let them go.”
Got it? Let’s move on to her six basic rules of tidying, and how to apply them in the clean-up of Malaysian politics.
Rule 1: Commit yourself to tidying up.
The GE14 outcome is definitely a sign that most Malaysians are serious about change. That gives us a firm foundation. But we mustn’t waver and get distracted by background noise. We should think long-term and stay focused on the major goals.
Rule 2: Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
Before GE14, many of us had dreamed so hard and so long for a better Malaysia that our hearts ached and our heads grew weary.
We are absolutely clear about what we want, namely, to live peacefully and prosperously in a country whose politicians value integrity, public service and good governance above all.
Rule 3: Finish discarding first.
In our context, this is best treated as a reference to reforms.
Whatever that holds us back should be thrown out as soon as possible and replaced with something better.
These include oppressive or outdated laws, wasteful practices and organisations, and anything that weakens national unity.
And yes, politicians who do more harm than good must go too.
Rule 4: Tidy by category, not by location.
This is about having a broader view of things. Rather than support politicians who merely pander to narrow interests (those of an individual, a party, a state or a race, for example), we ought to better appreciate leaders who always act with the overall well-being of the country at heart and who can contribute to the big picture.
Rule 5: Follow the right order.
We must make sure that the rule of law prevails and the country is governed efficiently and transparently.
This includes weeding out corruption and mismanagement; enforcing the laws fairly and effectively; and strengthening our institutions and restoring trust in them.
Rule 6: Ask yourself if it sparks joy.
Consider this the ultimate test. In the KonMari Method, when a person has to decide whether to get rid of an item or not, he takes it in his hands and see how his body responds. If the item sparks joy in him, he can keep it.
Kondo says the sensation is “as if every part or every cell of the body lifts up little by little”. The best use of this rule is during an election. Voters should choose a candidate who sparks joy.
If more than one candidate triggers such a response, the vote should then go to the one who elicits the most joy.
But it can get tricky. Election campaigns would be very stressful or downright traumatic for the candidates if people frequently go up to them and demand a hug.
So let’s compromise.
Shake hands with the candidates instead to see which one sparks joy.
Fortunately, most politicians are programmed for pressing the flesh.
Any pesky person is likely to ask this: “What if none of them sparks joy?”
That probably means politics in Malaysia needs further straightening out. Go back to Rule 1.