The birth of a new political culture?

With what is happening in Malaysia’s political landscape of late, voters have every reason to be sceptical and believe that politicians have only one code of conduct – protecting their own interests.

BACK in 2009, a book titled New Politics: Towards A Mature Malaysian Democracy caught my attention. The author of the book was Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (now Datuk Seri), who at the time was deputy minister of the then Ministry of Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development. He entered politics with impeccable credentials as a youth leader.

In his book, Saifuddin argued for integrity in politics, good governance and the critical role played by civil societies. He criticised destructive politicking and the politics of division.

More importantly, he argued for diversity in opinion, which he believed was a pre-requisite of a mature society. He strongly supported dissenting views.

More than 11 years have passed since the publication of the book. In 2008, Saifuddin became Temerloh MP with a slim majority under the Umno banner. He lost his seat in 2013.

In 2018, he contested under the PKR banner and won the Indera Mahkota parliamentary seat. He was later appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In February 2020, he joined Datuk Seri Azmin Ali as part of a new independent block in support of the current Prime Minister. He is now the Minister of Communications and Multimedia.

I am not sure how he had currently views the idealism that he put forth, the dangers that he warned of and the future that he envisioned in his book.

Saifuddin is a consummate politician now and I am sure he is a reasonably significant player in today’s political landscape. He is at the helm of a ministry that oversees the voices of the people, including dissenting ones.

I am hopeful that Saifuddin still upholds his idealism, at least in his belly. Politics may change him, but he must have the audacity to hope for the better, to help create an improved political eco-system and to bring sanity to our political culture.

New politics should not be about labelling. Or is the old political order still in place? Could it be that Saifuddin has been consumed by the system, just as many others have been?

Looking at what is happening in Malaysian politics of late, one has every reason to be sceptical. Many believe politicians have only one code of conduct – protecting their own interests.

Unfortunately, we live in a highly politicised atmosphere. Everything is being defined through the prism of politics. And sadly, we are at the mercy of politicians.

Our politicians have failed us spectacularly many times over.

The good thing is, we have a choice now. We can be powerless, but there are times when the powerless can make a difference at the ballot box. In a way, democracy is very much alive and kicking in our country.

Politicians can be a scheming lot. They have plans and counterplans. Even in the times of the Covid-19 pandemic, some are planning to usurp power from the ones they believe usurped power before them.

Take the case of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, for example. Some say that he has nine lives, politically speaking. He has used up seven and the last two might take him to Putrajaya.

Never underestimate him. Anwar is a born fighter, a man who perfected the art of political survival. Spending years in prison did not deter him. He is as much a fighter now as he was back in the ‘70s as a student leader.

Some say he has just one dream – to be the Prime Minister. What happened last week wasn’t a surprise to many.

Anwar previously claimed to have the numbers to govern in September 2008 during Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s leadership. Twelve years on, he is making another claim to the post.

Democracy is not perfect, but we uphold the principles of democracy within that imperfection. Politicians can fight their own battles for their own survival or in the name of glory or position, or perhaps even wealth.

However, the rakyat have to move on with their lives. Their lives matter too, not just the intrigue and drama created by politicians.

Perhaps we will have a new prime minister tomorrow. Perhaps it is true that many parliamentarians will rally around Anwar.

Party-hopping is not an aberration in Malaysian politics; in fact, it is fast becoming a norm. But is that our idea of a new dawn of political freedom and expression? Are we welcoming a new political culture that is more robust and open but lacking discipline?

Come to think of it, Saifuddin needs to rewrite his book.

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. And a diehard rugby fan. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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