New initiatives from the ground up

Election Commission staff members making the final preparations for polls. - Filepic

“THERE are a couple of initiatives trying to reshape our politics, ” a politico told me over WhatsApp.

My curiosity was piqued. Politics in the time of Covid-19 has turned me off. There is too much politicking when the country needs to be focused on fighting this pandemic.

There are one too many politicians dreaming of becoming Prime Minister. Some politicians are playing politics for the sake of politics. And politicians who are doing whatever they can to cling to power.

The politico explained that ABIM (the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia) is pushing for Bangsa Malaysia. Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) and Civil Society Platform for Reforms are working on People’s Manifesto.

“There’s the successful Rasuah Busters. Datuk Seri Nazir Razak and Datuk Dr Anis Yusal of UKM have been working on a plan for Making a Better Malaysia, ” he said.

Intrigued, I spoke to Anas Zubedy of Rasuah Busters and Abim president Muhammad Faisal Abdul Aziz to get an idea of their initiatives.

Anas explained that Rasuah Busters was not trying to reshape Malaysian politics but Malaysian culture. He said they were trying to create a new platform, new hope and new belief that we can reverse the rasuah (corruption) culture.

“We want to change the moral standards and the ‘inside’ of Malaysia. When we get Malaysians right, our politics, our government, and our business will follow through, ” he told me.

Anas believed if we managed to mitigate corruption as low as possible, Malaysian politics would be more advanced, deeper, effective and efficient.

“Rasuah makes things ineffective and ineffective, and it is not getting the best person for the job, ” he said, citing the example of someone who has money getting the job rather than someone who has real talent.

Abim president Muhammad Faisal Abdul Aziz gave me a lengthy explanation of his movement’s Bangsa Malaysia concept.

In summary, Muhammad Faisal argued that we see our social problems via our racial lenses. For example, he said, the stereotype in Malaysia is poverty is associated with the Malays, corruption with the Chinese and gangsterism with Indians. He said Abim wanted the country to be solution-driven in solving our social problems.

In a letter to The Star, the Abim president wrote that it was important to address concerns about the concept of Bangsa Malaysia that have historically arisen, especially when seen through the political lens. “On the one hand, some see Bangsa Malaysia as a tool of elite Malays to dilute the identity of other races while on the other, some fear that Bangsa Malaysia is similar to the concept of ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ that is associated with efforts to dilute the identity of the majority race, ” he said.

“These problems arise when we see racial and ethnic identity through the wrong lens. The right way to understand identity is to see it as an inclusive, unifying factor rather than something that divides and separates.”

In terms of politics, the Abim president said his movement wanted to change the game.

“Politicians should not see the problems in the country based on race. We should focus on the empowerment of Malaysians, ” he said.

I asked political scientist Prof Wong Chin Huat for his take on why there are initiatives to shape the country’s politics.

“All these movements to provide solutions to the problems that trouble the country suggest two related phenomena: the failure of politicians to provide leadership and the maturing of civil society organisations to fill in the void, ” he said.

On what needs to be fixed in Malaysian politics, Prof Wong contended that political parties must offer better policies that benefit as many people as possible. He said for that to happen, society must have productive division over ideas or ideology, and not over identities or patronage.

“What we have now is bad competitions over either identities or patronage or both, ” he said.

For example, he said: “When voters believe that the most important questions are’ whose ancestors came here first?’, ‘whose God is the greatest?’ and therefore ‘which party in government would give most favours to me, my family, My community over others?’, how can politicians not compete by playing up ethnicity, religion and language, by buying votes with cheap and unfulfilled promises, by jumping party to join or climb up in government?”.

“Every person deserves their politicians, who are often just a reflection of society’s ugly true self. As some wise person says, ‘you are never really caught in the jam. You are the jam!’” he said.

Prof Wong said to revolutionise Malaysian politics; we need to ditch our fetish for “unity politicians” and “better politicians”.

He explained: “If Mydin, Giant, Tesco and AEON are all united, consumers will not have any sales. Likewise, if politicians are united, there will be no multiparty competition, no check and balance. People craving political unity should migrate to North Korea, China or other one-party states.”

He argued that instead of changing politicians for the better ones – defined as younger, principled, non-communal, clean, pro-poor, non-partisan, depending on whom you talk to – we should change our political system and rules of the game.

On why there are several initiatives to shape the country’s politics, Anas of Rasuah Busters listed:

1. Malaysians are looking for leadership.

2. Uncertainties abound in politics, economic, social and health as such many looking for answers.

“Social: the relationship between races/religion and location – Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia. Politics: no real strong Malay leadership. DAP’s mistakes for the Chinese and no leadership for Indians. Economic is obvious. Health: perception of slow vaccines push out and money at play, ” he said.

3. A 22-month taste of Pakatan Harapan government was not inspiring, so Malaysian are looking for alternatives.

4. Umno is split – it no longer offers sure PM candidates.

On the ground, social media and WhatsApp, I get a sense that some Malaysians are getting fed up with politicians. They think that the politicians are the problem and not the solution.

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