LET’S get all the tenses right first.
Penang was a part of Kedah before 1786.
Kedah was a vassal or tributary state – under varying degrees of control – of a string of Siamese kings until the 1909 Anglo-Siamese Treaty ended Siam’s desires for Kedah (and Perlis, Kelantan and Terengganu).
Melaka was ruled by the Portuguese in 1511, the Dutch in 1641 and the British in 1824.
The Dutch were in control of Indonesia in 1816.
All in the past tense. Correct.
Those centuries of messy politics and bloody wars in this region were for a single reason: the Straits of Malacca.
This was the busiest natural waterway in the world from then until now because it is the smoothest and shortest passage between the Indian and Pacific oceans.
The other route is a detour of thousands of nautical miles through the southern part of the stormy Indian Ocean.
Ship captains, invaders and conquerors drooled over the sheltered bays and estuaries of this strait.
So when Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor seemingly started drooling over Penang recently, it was neither a surprise nor even his first time.
Election fever is coming. T’is the season for sentiment-fanning.
On May 21, Muhammad Sanusi mentioned on social media that Penang was a part of Kedah because of the repeated acts and omissions of the British centuries ago.
Despite criticisms after that, on May 30, in a video interview, he smilingly said Kedah shares borders with Perlis and Perak but has no borders with Penang because it is a part of Kedah.
That earned Muhammad Sanusi a rebuke from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on the same day:
“Sometimes, when a leader speaks, he has to understand the Constitution; he has to understand what an agreement is.
“The agreement may have been signed 300 or 1,000 years ago, (but) there is the final agreement of establishing the Federation of Malaya and that is clear,” chided Anwar.
Then Muhammad Sanusi changed his stance the next day (May 31).
He declared that he wanted the Federal Constitution to be amended in such a way that “the distortion of history” is rectified so that Penang would become a part of Kedah.
Many among the learned and well-informed have ever since been in a chorus of criticism against Muhammad Sanusi.
Some opined that the mentri besar may have pushed the line too far because, firstly, he stepped on the Federal Constitution, and secondly, he appears to have ignored the august office of the Yang diPertua Negri of Penang.
But those who keep an eye on current affairs know that Muhammad Sanusi’s braggadocio has no bite. His hobby is taking pot shots at Penang.
Calm down; he is not going to be able to effect a change to the Federal Constitution; Penang is not going to become a Kedah district.
After so many centuries of turmoil, it was the formation of Malaysia that finally brought peace to the land.
The Federal Constitution is a revered document binding all Malaysians to guarantee us peace and a unique kind of fusion culture.
This is just Muhammad Sanusi’s classic demagogue style, just his trademark style of inciting sentiments and prejudices.
But politicians are wise to be wary because Kedahans actually seem to like Muhammad Sanusi’s style.
Here’s an example:
The Sik parliamentary constituency in Kedah is in the rural backwaters.
In last year’s general election, Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan both chose to field women candidates versus Perikatan Nasional’s incumbent Ahmad Tarmizi Sulaiman.
Muhammad Sanusi went there and in a ceramah, spoke about women.
A woman MP, he said, would have messy hair if constituent members woke them up for help at 3am, and it would take them more than two hours just to get ready. A woman could not go out and help flood victims.
He caught a storm of nationwide criticism for saying all that, but he held his ground and maintained that Sik’s terrain, remoteness, jungles and socio-economic conditions made it necessary for a man to be its elected representative.
He brushed off his earlier words as things said in jest, adding that he was merely following voter sentiments and holding fast to his belief that Sik’s seat was not for a woman.
And what happened on polling day? Ahmad Tarmizi won with a 67.64% majority, over two-thirds of the votes cast.
Pakatan’s candidate, Datuk Latifah Md Yatim, lost her deposit after garnering only 7.3% of the votes. Barisan’s Maizatul Akmam Othman@Ibrahim got 25.06% of the votes.
Historians and philosophers since the birth of democracy have warned about the dangers of demagogues.
They call them mob leaders and rabble-rousers who make scapegoats out of minorities, exaggerate dangers to stoke fears, and whip up passions to drown out reason.
They exploit a weakness in democracy: given that ultimate power is held by the people, it is possible for the people to be misled into giving that power to someone who plays to the gallery.
Instead of fostering togetherness, the cheap shot at Penang’s sovereignty foments an interstate rift that benefits no one.