By Bakri Musa
By right Malaysians should still be relishing the afterglow of their 50th Merdeka anniversary celebrations. Alas, the much-anticipated euphoria was short lived; the grim realities of Malaysian life quickly intruded.
Even the mainstream media carry daily headlines of gory crimes. If those were not scary enough, residents now live in fear that their basic freedom is being threatened, not by some external enemy rather by their very own government. Malaysian leaders mistook their electoral mandate for a license to trample on citizens’ basic rights, as in the rights to free assembly and the freedom of conscience.
Those breaches of course did not grab the headlines in the mainstream media; you have to read the alternative media or international publications to get the real news. The mainstream media instead highlighted Prime Minister Abdullah’s “small” wedding to his “downstairs lady.”
The images of Malaysia projected onto the world stage towards the end of the year were not of a modern nation poised for Vision 2020, rather the typical backward Third World state with a stubbornly bumbling warden as its leader.
The scenes on Al Jazeera and CNN were of the police wildly tear-gassing and firing water cannons upon thousands of peaceful citizens who dared exercise their basic rights to a free assembly. If those images were not ugly enough, there was Minister of Information Zam in a fit of latah in front of the television cameras for the whole world to see.
Zam is a poor imitation of Saddam Hussein’s Information Minister “Comical Ali.” At least Ali entertained us with his outlandish bravadoes; Zam nauseated us with his blabber.
Just as we thougt it could not get worse seeing that it was already November when Zam was blabbering in front of an international audience, there was Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharum declaring that only Muslims are entitled to use the word “Allah” (God). He threatened banning the Malay version of the Catholic Church publication that dared use the word “Allah.”
The startling observation was that this moron of a minister could get way with such idiocies. By his silence, Abdullah reveals that he is equally moronic.
How did a nation that was so full of bubbly confidence as encapsulated in its “Malaysia boleh!” spirit only a few years ago descended so fast and so far, and with so few of the elite class protesting?
To be sure, Malaysia is still far ahead of Pakistan or Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, far too many, especially the leaders, take comfort in this.
Malaysians had premonitions for this long Annus Horribilis. It began ominously with the southern part of the peninsula being flooded, with hundreds of thousands displaced. It was the worst flooding in decades.
Where was Prime Minister Abdullah in the hour of need? Off to Australia for his scheduled sailing vacation and the opening his brother’s nasi kandar restaurant!
His “bright” young advisors did not see fit to advise their man to cancel his vacation in the face of a national emergency. The old man was of course clueless.
The floods soon receded and the residents went back to their daily grind, helped by many generous fellow citizens and non-governmental bodies. When you see your fellow Malaysians in need, you pitched in. That comes way ahead of your holidays. Unfortunately you cannot really teach these things, not even at Oxford. You either have the sense of human decency or you do not. Fortunately many Malaysians do have it; we just do not see it in the leaders.
Allah (if I am permitted to use that word here) must have known that our leaders are slow learners, for a few months later there was yet another massive flood, this time in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, paralyzing it.
As for that grease spot whose opening was graced by the Prime Minister, it closed soon after.
Horrible In Between
Between the terrible beginning and the horrible ending to the year, there were plenty of hideous fillers in between.
The tenures of the Director of the Anti Corruption Agency Zulkipli and the Chief Justice Ahmad Feiruz were not renewed. Both left under a cloud. That should be a feather in Abdullah’s cap, except that Abdullah was intent on keeping them both! Unrelenting public pressures forced him to back off. Abdullah may not have wanted the people to challenge him, but they did anyway.
Ahmad Feiruz was again the “off stage” star attraction later in the year in the infamous “Lingam tape.” Again you would not find that in the headlines of the mainstream media. Thanks to former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, we had a sniff of the filth that is the Malaysian judiciary.
Weakened by his endless displays of ineptitude, Abdullah was in no position to brave public opposition. A few weeks after the Johore floods, Raja Petra Kamarudin’s Malaysia-Today carried a detailed expose of the Prime Minister acquiring a luxurious corporate jet, at public expense of course. Raja Petra had the details nailed down; right to the jet’s tail number.
Malaysia-Today’s phenomenal success is the one rare bright spot. No wonder World Business named Raja Petra, together with Bank Negara’s Governor Zeti Aziz and former Prime Minister Mahathir among Asia’s Top 20 Progressives. Meanwhile Tokoh Wartawan Negara Zam remains a jagoh kampong (village champion). He and those who honor him belong there.
Raja Petra made other headlines. The police questioned him and his wife Marina separately over some activities purported to be harmful to the state. Presumably one of those could be his release of the sordid details of the messy divorce settlement of one double Muhammad, a senior UMNO operative. Raja Petra went further; he challenged this double Muhammad to a public debate to expose this discredited politician, but the latter chickened out.
The police interrogations went nowhere; the police were flummoxed. Marina in particular refused to answer questions claiming that as a Muslim she is entitled to have her husband present beside her. Isn’t it great to be a Muslim!
Lina Joy however, did not think so. Her celebrated case, a simple and routine administrative matter of changing the religious designation on her identity card, attracted worldwide attention when Malaysia’s top court ruled that, the norms of civilized society notwithstanding, there is no freedom of conscience in the country. Malaysians cannot change their religion on a whim, according to the wisdom of Chief Justice Ahmad Feiruz.
Pursuing this theme, the religious authorities in Perak charged a young Malay mother for “encouraging immoral activities” while singing in her sleeveless blouse in a nightclub.
And pursuing the moronic theme again, some well-meaning supporters (“arse lickers” would be the more appropriate though crude term) of Abdullah nominated his late wife Endon as Anak Gemilang Malaysia (Illustrious Malaysians). Mercifully, they withdrew her name, but not before some very unkind jabs by bloggers. I do not blame them; instead rap the knuckles of the idiots who set her up.
I am uncertain which was more idiotic, that or the hysterical reactions among the leaders to a student’s sophomoric rap rendition of Negara Ku. Or that character Mat Zakaria Derus and his mansion amidst the slums of Klang.
The annual Auditor General’s Report too made headlines, again! There was the RM 4.2 billion Port Klang Free Zone development project debacle, and the Sports Ministry’s spending sprees. The list goes on.
I am certain that the theme will be repeated next year; only the players, projects, and price tags would vary. Well at least we can be comforted by the fact that those boondoggles still make the headlines. The day may come when they won’t. With Abdullah in charge, that will not be too far off.