AS far as Malaysian politics is concerned, 2016 has served up quite the storm.
Betrayals, “family” feuds, unlikely friendships, untimely deaths (of political careers) – it had overflowing doses of drama and intrigue to make for a very addictive soap opera.
The last 12 months have also shaken the very core of what many of us knew and believed about the nation’s political landscape, spanning the last few decades.
The sight of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad breaking bread with the same people he vehemently opposed for 22 years still feels like a scene from an alternate universe.
Equally surreal is the idea of Umno and PAS seemingly on the verge of an unprecedented political agreement, especially pertaining to Islamic matters.
Indeed, the unexpected twists and turns in local politics have made it the flavour of the year in most Malaysian circles.
In fact, there is little else we enjoy talking about these days.
Almost every topic of discussion, at least the many I’ve found myself engaged in with friends and strangers alike, seems to eventually skew towards politics.
On one hand, it is comforting to know that as Malaysians, we are becoming more politically aware, thanks in large part to social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
But I do wonder, when does it become a little too much? On many occasions, issues that seemingly have nothing to do with politics are somehow politicised.
Be it in cyberspace or during social gatherings, it has become increasingly harder to steer clear of the “heavy stuff”.
And like it or not, such discussions have a way of quickly souring an otherwise pleasant atmosphere, as there are bound to be clashes of opinions and heated arguments among people of different inclinations.
A daily scroll through The Star Online’s Facebook page, which I manage together with my colleagues from the online team, reveals hundreds of comments from readers that are highly political in nature.
What is perplexing is that these comments are even found under lighter news items such as sports and entertainment, which are rarely linked to the politics of the day.
It appears that Malaysians have a remarkable gift for seeing everything through a political lens, and while that can be a necessary safeguard against perceived injustices committed by those who serve us, it also has the potential to become an unhealthy obsession.
For starters, an increasing reliance on information sourced from shoddy blogs, websites and unverified viral messages, has created a society that is unable to separate fact from fiction because of individual biases.
The tendency to argue one’s position based on rumours and emotions, as opposed to facts and reasoning, is also evidence that while political awareness is increasing, political intelligence is not.
It explains why many of the comments left by readers on our Facebook postings are often insensitive and riddled with factual inaccuracies.
Most of these commenters resort to vulgarity, name-calling and insulting either their fellow commenters or the very subject(s) of the article in question.
Let’s not even get started on the colourful language reserved for some of our politicians.
This does not in any way imply that politicians should be immune from criticism. We deserve to channel our anger in the strongest terms possible whenever they fail to live up to expectations.
However, any kind of criticism requires basis and context, and can definitely be conveyed in a more tactful manner than the vitriol we are accustomed to these days.
So whenever we come across people who feel the need to spew unfounded allegations or half-truths, and to politicise where it is unwarranted, we must remind ourselves not to get caught in the trap they’ve set.
A prime example is the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project that recently saw its first phase, connecting Sungai Buloh and Semantan, being opened to the public on Dec 16.
This was a project that had been highly anticipated and despite some traffic inconveniences and minor hiccups in its construction over the last two or three years, it was completed within the stipulated timeframe and budget.
The rail line has been operating for two weeks now and is clearly benefiting the public, especially those who reside in the Damansara area.
Its early success has hence been a source of pride to the Government and all the stakeholders involved in the project.
Many Malaysians are also raving about the brand new trains and the level of convenience offered to travellers, with the initial free service and feeder buses to the MRT stations.
Yet, there continue to be perpetual sceptics out there who prefer to search high and low for flaws in the project just so they can politicise it.
Allegations of budget excesses and claims that the MRT costs would increase the national debt are among some of the falsehoods that have been spread and are being eagerly lapped up by sections of the population who are too stingy to offer credit where it is due.
And this sentiment doesn’t just exist among the anti-government supporters, but also the pro-establishment folks who choose to blindly condemn some of the finer things the Opposition has done.
Their quest is usually led by lawmakers from both sides who produce and recycle claims based on paper-thin evidence just to earn some political brownie points.
As learned voters, however, it is time we moved beyond and above such single-minded rhetoric. This starts with changing how we make ourselves heard online as it is the only way we can prove to the world that Malaysia is indeed progressing towards a First World mentality.
So the next time we are tempted to unnecessarily politicise or to make sweeping condemnations, pause and consider that it is important to be objective every once in awhile.
It is at least one of the simpler resolutions we can make for 2017.
Online reporter Akil Yunus believes the world would be a better place without politics, but also a lot duller, something he addresses in The Flipside. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Akil Yunus believes the world would be a better place without politics, but also a lot duller. He is a moderate at everything but eating, and feels people should make sense, not war.