THERE is this very interesting interview, allegedly from the 1400s, in which someone asked French King Francis I about his rival and brother-in-law, Spanish King Charles V with whom he had been locked in a 60-year war over the control of Italy.
Francis was asked what differences he had with Charles that made them hate each other so much.
His reply: “None whatever. We perfectly agree. We both want to control Italy!”
That really changed the way I looked at political rivalries, which I had once thought was set up because two sides cannot agree. Black and white. Night and day. Iron Man and Captain America. But that’s not the case.
"Men enter into conflict not because they are different but because they are the same," writes political scientists Robert Melson and Howard Wolpe.
Political conflict is not borne out of differences, but desires for the same things.
Those two examples have been very helpful for me to understand the recent developments over the upcoming Cameron Highlands by-election.
The seat, won by MIC’s Datuk C. Sivarraajh, became vacant after the Election Commission (EC) nullified the results upon finding evidence of vote-buying by the Barisan Nasional candidate.
Despite this, money politics and patronage still hangs over the constituency, beginning with news that PKR Senator Bob Manolan Mohamad had allegedly warned village Tok Batins that they could lose their salaries and posts if they did not support Pakatan Harapan in the by-election.
To Pakatan’s credit, leaders came down hard on Manolan. The senator first denied making the statements, but later apologised.
Next, photos surfaced online of a woman in a Pakatan shirt handing out cash to some orang asli, who were also wearing Pakatan shirts, during the Cameron Highlands election on May 9, 2018. Barisan leaders, unable to recognise irony, harped on this issue - crying foul and claiming hypocrisy, saying that the ruling coalition too were engaged in bribery.
This new development proved more contentious than the last. DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang defended the photo, saying that the woman was a party volunteer and was giving out RM20 to reimburse volunteers as part of their travel costs.
The spending was declared as election expenses.
Election watchdog Bersih 2.0 sees no problem with this explanation, as the “reimbursement” were accounted in the party’s election budget. However, it is of interest to note that Bersih 2.0 itself had called vouchers/tickets/travel reimbursements as forms of bribery in its People’s Tribunal report on GE13.
The EC is a little more reserved on the issue, saying that it was for the courts to decide if this should be deemed an election offence.
But what I find most interesting in this scenario is the attempts by Pakatan supporters to try and justify these developments.
On social media, some Netizens argued that it was “sensible and practical” for such handouts to be given as volunteers need to eat and get from their homes to the election centres. Others argue that RM20 is nothing compared to the money dumps allegedly done by Barisan candidates in the past.
Others used the "fight fire with fire" argument, saying that if the opponent was engaging in money politics, it justified the use of money in this case – especially since it’s a smaller amount.
I can see some points in these arguments. And I also see the practicalities in Kit Siang’s explanation. However, what I can’t get out of my head was this - would Pakatan supporters say the same thing if the photos were of Barisan volunteers and the explanation came from a Barisan leader?
There is a noticeable double standard that I have been noticing within supporters of the new government.
Rather than revisit the whole "willing buyer, willing seller" nonsense, let’s look at the recent news articles.
In the last two months, we have seen Pakatan ministers criticising supporters for trying to curry favour with them or demand contracts from their portfolios.
We have seen supporters expressing hope that the police would clamp down on public rallies that disagreed with their ideologies, like the anti-ICERD gathering in December.
And we have seen people happily celebrating Barisan-linked leaders being called up for sedition charges, when before this they were appalled at its draconian nature when it was being used against their leaders.
These don't sound like the attitude of New Malaysia proponents. It sounds like the antics of the ones New Malaysia was created to eradicate.
Back to Cameron Highlands. If Pakatan supporters rallied and voted because they wanted a government that was free from corruption, why is this little money handout okay?
It certainly fits the definition and the optics of what we have come to think of as election corruption and bribery – but is it okay because the one doing it is on their side?
There’s a disconnect here. How can we advocate one thing but allow the thing we are advocating against to slip away in small amounts when it suits us?
Do Malaysian voters really want a New Malaysia or just the old one, as long as it's on their side?