June 13, 2017
Malaysia’s ‘Men of Always’
“When I say devils, you know who I mean.
These animals in the dark.
Malicious politicians with nefarious schemes.
Charlatans and crooked cops.” – William Elliot Whitmore (Old Devils)
COMMENT | In the gripping if romanticised Netflix drama “Nacros”, Pablo Escobar, in a moment of inspired self-serving rhetoric, claims, “the men of always aren’t interested in the children of never”.
The men of always were the established political class of Colombia, but more importantly, they represented the idea of political permanence sustained by populism, corruption and systemic dysfunction. The children of never should be self-evident.
The Men of Always–God help Malaysia
Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the IDEAS man, recently claimed that Pakatan Harapan needs to move on from the “old batch” and that “fresh blood” is needed. This comes at a time when most opposition supporters have made peace with the man they claimed destroyed Malaysia and laid the tracks of the Najib Kleptrocratic Express.
This writer, agreeing with Zaid Ibrhaim, wrote – “This is the game the opposition has chosen to play and if they want to win, they have to play for keeps. And that is the only way the former Prime Minister knows how to play.” I am, I suppose part of the problem.
The problem I have with Wan Saiful’s rejoinder is that there is no new batch. There is no fresh blood. Malaysia’s men of always have seen to it that their imprimatur is stamped on the new political operatives that are supposedly stepping out from their shadows.
While PAS has an ideology, granted one that any rational person would reject, the rest of the opposition is, in reality, playing the old alliance game of the politics of racial and religious compromise that has not worked.
This is the main idea of Malaysia’s men of always. That we have no choice but to embrace their ideas because it is the pragmatic thing to do. That it is the only thing to do because people will never change and we are all ghettoised in our racial cocoons.
The reality is that the Malay community has changed. This change was deliberate. The Chinese and Indian communities have changed. This change was reactionary. Change is not alien in Malaysia, just misunderstood.
Back in the old days, opposition to the Establishment meant something, those were the days when UMNO’s political operatives feared the opposition because their ideas of dissent were not diluted by establishment ideas that come with power. The opposition tsunami that brought UMNO to its knees was supposed to herald a change in the way how business was run, but not as a refinement of old ideas.
There is no “new batch” – only a political operatives cast from the same old mould but mimicking the rhetoric of progressive politics. There is no fresh blood, only blood infused with the DNA of old policies meant to divide us along racial and religious lines. This does not mean that there are no Malaysians who want real change, only that their voices are drowned out on social media and the endless new cycles of establishment malfeasances.
Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (photo), in his comment piece about the possible lessons learned from the recent United Kingdom election, attempts to draw similarities with our own disparate opposition. This is problematic for a variety of reasons. I think there are some things we could learn from the recent UK election fiasco, but I do not think we should be so eager to see similarities when the our political landscape is very different.
Here are few takeaways from the recent election that may be helpful, if you wish to draw analogies.
(1) Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, although a polarising figure in the Labour establishment, won his seat at the head of the table legitimately and had an underlying ideology which, although not in the Labour mainstream, resonated with a diverse voting demographic that despised the May regime for a variety of reasons.
(2) Labour’s election manifesto was widely disseminated and struck a nerve with a diverse voting demographic because of its supposedly egalitarian values, not to mention an anti-austerity agenda that rightly pointed out that the Tories (Conservatives) were sacrificing the many in the name of the few.
(3) Although there has been no official data, young people came out and voted in large numbers because they rejected the politics of business as usual, which was the mainstream of the Labour and Conservative regimes.
(4) Theresa May ran one of the worst campaigns in recent memory and the rejection of the conservative party was seen mainly as a rejection of Theresa May, who had trust issues not only with Labour voters but with her own base as well.
Youth vote is extremely important
What I think could be of great use for those looking for regime change here in Malaysia, is point (3). The youth vote is extremely important and, as demonstrated in many countries where the ruling establishment has suffered shock defeats (or barely maintaining power), the youths have come out to vote strongly against the ruling establishment.
In my advice to the young political operative when he was setting up his Youth wing, I made two points: (1) “The younger generation of Malay voters are a promising demographic but they are currently embroiled in a culture war that consumes most of their energy and effort. Young Malay oppositional types not only have to contend with the UMNO regime but they also have to contend with the Islamic forces in this country, with no help whatsoever from mainstream Malay political parties or non-Malay political parties, which do not view them as part of a new deal but merely as a specific racial demographic needed to win the throne of Putrajaya.”
(2) “There are literally hundreds of fringe Malay groups of young people who form the complex structure of alternate Malay politics, and instead of carrying on ghettoising them and appealing to them when needed, they should form the mainstream of Malay politics or, at the very least, the mainstream of Bersatu Youth politics.”
So what is the real lesson we can learn from this? That the opposition needs a leader who, although dismissed by his own mainstream, resonates with a diverse, fractured voting demographic. That an election manifesto that takes into account the needs of the many, instead of the few, is a flashpoint for change. That the ruling establishment coasting on previous victories and running a poorly managed campaign is a soft target but more importantly, young people, if inspired, can wreck havoc on traditional political wisdom.
Dr. Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj– A Model Malaysian Politician
My own fantasy is that PSM’s Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj becomes a Jeremy Corbyn-like figure in Harapan and manages to bring the existing regime to its knees. I know that this will never happen of course and that is really a shame, for this country.
The only way this can be done – is if oppositional politicans give people something other than what their bases think is important or pragmatic. The only way this could be achieved, if the opposition is so overtly different from the establishment, is when people who want change, but who do not necessarily support the opposition, think that their votes will make a difference. Especially young people.
Most importantly, you cannot serve the men of always and expect to free the children of never.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.