Clichés are in rich vein at the Cameron Highlands’ by-election.
If someone missed the whole of 2018, woke up today in the middle of the tea-growing region, the person likely relapse back into a coma, or beg to be induced into one.
Minor senator reminds the Orang Asli to vote for Pakatan Harapan as an act of gratitude. Pakatan worker seen passing money to volunteers. Najib Razak trekking up to the resort town to lecture people about financial propriety in a by-election. The Umno secretary-general tells all that his party is under-funded for the poll. The communication minister assures the locals about their broadband connectivity conveniently in during the campaign when party colleague is contesting the seat. The minister is Gobind Singh.
Welcome to the first by-election in a traditional Umno-Barisan Nasional seat after the 2018 by-election. Pakatan is itchy to etch itself into the collective consciousness of Malaysians as a colossal winner by collecting the scalp of an-always BN seat.
But the people watch on, the antics of the new people in power.
As a guide, Lord Acton whispers to the gobsmacked Malaysian crowd: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The trap that Umno fell into and never got out now lays in wait for Pakatan. In a system where too much is invested in political power, how will the new government avoid being, well, too powerful?
As it stands, it appears, not so well.
It is obviously a challenge and a half, since the prime minister himself is a past master of being delighted with power.
Mahathir Mohamad can’t understand why the concentration of power in the hands of a few is evil. He sees himself as a manifestation of how power can be positive. He held power for 22 years, and many see him as Tun, so he thinks, “What is so wrong with so much power in one so able to lead?”
He probably won’t see it any other way, till the bitter end.
Let’s pass the question to the rest then. For the ex-BN guys in Pakatan, it’s a mixed feel.
For those who have joined in government for the first time ever, it must be a chastening experience.
And here with eight days to voting in a seat so critical to re-establish the Pakatan momentum, would the federal leaders dare leave anything to chance?
In the frenzy, differentiate decisions with questionable corrupt behaviours in them, and those which allow the candidates and their ideas determine the victor?
The Pahang seat feels more west coast than east coast, and a fifth are Orang Asli who rely on government for peace. There are also those who have to decide if they want to drive back home to vote — for the very people who have failed to hold up the progressive spirit they expected from Pakatan.
With much on the table, will Pakatan lie to itself and utilise federal power to charge past the finishing line?
To restrain itself, to not pour the same scorn on Umno as they endured over the decades, it is a great act of democratic zeal.
However, the Machiavellians inside Pakatan strategy team would dispute the need for symbols and principles, after all, if power is procured does it really matter what is traded for it? The new government can use the power to achieve good.
Good has to be the objective, not how power is gained, seems to be the growing mantra.
No one will be as irresponsible as Umno, therefore, why not entrust more control to Pakatan so that they can correct the past?
The calmer lot would say this is all conjecture, and really, reading too much into several isolated incidences.
A few ringgit in different directions, eager ministers queuing to please the locals and over-the-top expressions of love for Cameron Highlands shows a keen government, not a vicious regime.
That’s fair, but eternal vigilance is the only true friend of fertile democracies. While every chance must be given to those in power, it does not dilute the responsibility of the people to remind this government at every turn to hold back.
These are the few of the many dynamics of a working democracy. For some to want, and for others to question, and the many to decide — and to repeat cycle.