Column archive: It’s all about the rakyat

(This was first published on The Malaysian Insider on July 30, 2009. It was just five month after the Perak government fell in the most audacious manner and speculations were made about Selangor following the same path. The Pakatan governments had just hit a year running their states with varying successes. It carries similar themes to my column today in The Malaysian Insider, that Umno does not want participatory democracy. It wants all of us to butt out while it runs things, and thank them at the end, irrespective the outcome)

JULY 30 (2009) — Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are. Bertoldt Brecht’s advice from the middle of the last century strikes a chord with Malaysia — a nation struggling to navigate its way recently through a myriad of political stalemates.

Sitting in a restaurant in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, on a Tuesday evening, you get a certain perspective, a certain know of how things operate, even if it is eclectic thinking. That and all the colourful characters walking in and out of the restaurant.

The “situasi” then.

The public discord — what is distracting the country — is due to an opposition front which is diverse, possessing unrelenting energy, squaring off with the Umno-led government which is fixed in the past and has all the resources.

There are mini-battles in all areas, initiated by both sides — with the Barisan Nasional (BN) not showing much grace on the pitch.

The past two years at least, Umno has been looking high and low for leaders in this prolonged season of discontent.

Which leads us to “Ending Rebellions 101”, lesson one — put down the leaders. The headless chicken will run mad, but die soon enough. And so they searched.

Once found you can rid them by buying them, imprisoning them or setting them against each other, anything that would keep them from their flock.

Leaders are the movements, and the movements cease without leaders.

It has always worked. The arrests of trade unionists (some were even hung) and Malay lefties in the ‘30s. The false start of the Emergency in 1948, leading to another round of arrests of trade unionists, communists and Malay lefties; 69, 87 and 98 are just numbers really, but the application of the full force of Umno’s apparatuses of power resulted in the opposition dwindling, stuttering and then going into hibernation.

We are experiencing another wave of that. A leaders attrition programme.

There is every chance the Selangor government might collapse. People who have been running the richest state for only one full year are vulnerable — the chain is only as strong as the weakest link and there are numerous weak links. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim might end up in prison, in the face of international consensus in favour of him. The judiciary in Malaysia is quite ready to dispel foreign admonishments and press the button for its just (unjust?) dispensation.

There are more than just one Hee Yit Foong inside DAP, and if Penang and Kelantan remain the only opposition states by the next election, PKR would have lost its leverage or leadership of the Pakatan Rakyat, and BN would have a real chance to win back its losses. Sabah and Sarawak are large states with low development, and “money is no concern” campaigns will win votes from the disenfranchised — no different from the pre-industrial age landowners’ grip on their serfs.

Incumbency — a grip on the courts, civil service, the police, anti-corruption agency and educational institutions — has absolute benefits.

In just two years we have had unending drama, efforts to remove people — the arrests of the Hindraf 5, Anwar’s never-ending court cases, Teresa Kok in prison, Raja Petra Kamarudin in prison, Ronnie Liu’s contractors’ dance-thon, vigil arrests, reporter arrest, corruption charges and investigations, Perak the musical, etc — and more are under way.

This is when the writer ventures to present a perspective, a prophecy.

The energy that is crippling the Umno-led government is not down to rabble-rousers leading the masses against them, it is the masses themselves. The people have reached a tipping point, and to quote Maggie Thatcher “we cannot go back to the time of not knowing.”

The people, or enough people, know and they are unwilling to return to a state of acceptance. We’ve passed a tipping point, and as soon as Umno realises it, the sooner we all can go back to getting our country moving again.

The common opposition is Umno’s power monopoly. Its unwillingness to allow space to others — in politics, in the economy, in personal freedoms, in anything.

Many people in Malaysia are not overly enamoured by the parties that make up Pakatan Rakyat right now, or by the NGOs that keep pestering the government or anyone in particular, Umno included.

But they are fed up with Umno’s belief that we can live in a country where only they get their way, in anything.

Those who ride on the discontent of the people prosper as seen by Election 2008.

It’s the rakyat who are in your way, Datuk Seri Najib Razak. They have come a long way, and enough of them cannot live in a Malaysia where “business is as usual.”

And more will join them. They will write in blogs, they’ll comment in this newspaper and anywhere else — with keyboards, pens, felt-tip markers or those pens which go on and on. They’ll read what is consistent with their aspirations, and ignore those that aren’t. And they are looking out for the next progress in technology, something that gives more power to them.

They will keep coming.

They are fed up of waiting for the government to empower them.

So go on Najib, arrest them, harass them, leaders you think are poisoning the minds of the many. That won’t matter.

There are enough not to replace them but to continue on desisting Umno’s power hegemony. And that will be enough.

Umno has to find a way to share power with people it does not approve, or it will lose power. Sooner than it thinks. Sooner than we think.

There will be no headless chicken this time. We’ve gone viral.

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