Most columnists of the world’s major media will say that they need to stay ‘objective’, to not take political sides, but to rip into arguments and bare the kernel of truth. Problem is, even the best columnists wouldn’t know what truth is even if it were to bite them on the kisser. The other problem is that it’s impossible to stay neutral, not only today, but since the year dot.
S. Thayaparan can’t be faulted for his biases every time he writes for Malaysiakini. It is, I suppose, a rite of passage of sorts for columnists or opinion-writers to expose their prejudices.
The problem, though, lies with Thayaparan’s argument or, more to the point, the assumptions that underlie his argument. That Muhyiddin Yassin calls the next election an ‘ultimate grudge match’ between Umno-BN and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat is wholly irrelevant.
It should never be the starting point of Thayaparan’s column, ‘Umno’s last tango before its reckoning’. Why? Because it opens the writer to confusion writ large, and, what is more, recycling well-rehearsed points that have long borne the realities of contemporary and even historical Malaysian politics.
There’s no doubt this next election will be an important one for two primary reasons. One is that it will be Anwar Ibrahim’s last tilt at becoming Malaysia’s prime minister directly from an opposition platform.
The other is that this is not a ‘grudge match’ but a struggle for the soul of Malaysia - a country racked by embedded racism, embedded corruption and myriad other embedded forms of prejudices, including injustice wrought by incumbent government, Islamic authorities and security forces. Thayaparan seems ever so prone to situate politics at the elite level, almost as if ordinary Malaysians would be untouched by all the politics.
Thayaparan prefers politicking in a ‘two-coalition paradigm’. That’s fine. But given the nature and realities of Malaysian politics, principally the structures and institutions that govern it, a two-coalition paradigm would merely entrench politics as an elitist pursuit with little nor not real effect that may herald positive change for ordinary Malaysians.
After all, Malaysia, despite its dalliance with democratic-like election cycles, democracy - as a structure and institution - in Malaysia is constantly over by autocracy that was deeply embedded after the 1969 elections which resulted in racist violence and bloodshed of Malaysians.
Hard-pressed to find functioning democracy
Agreed that it is this that must change, if Malaysia is to enjoy a brighter future, but there is every reason to believe the truism in the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Undoubtedly GE13 will be the most rigged election in Malaysia’s post-independence political history. It would not be too much of a stretch to suggest it could be marred by the worst violence since 1969.
Being aware of the people’s will is not automatic for either Umno-BN or Pakatan to produce real and positive change for Malaysians. Take a good, hard look at post-Apartheid South Africa, or Fiji, or for that matter, most post-colonial states around the world. Point to a fully functioning democracy in the Third World; you would be hard-pressed to list even one. And please do not suggest India or Indonesia.
It’s hard to understand what Thayaparan’s real beef is, for he appears to dislike the potential of Umno-BN as much as Pakatan’s. Yet, he prefers a two-coalition political system in Malaysia. He can’t have it both ways.
Umno-BN’s record in office is well known amongst Malaysians, even though there still exists a fair number of ignoramuses and a section of voters who can be easily bought by a dangling Umno-BN carrot called ‘the ringgit’, much of which is worthless in most parts of the world.
Equally, however, Pakatan’s record is both known and unknown. This record is known in the states of Selangor and Penang but few, if anybody has really analyzed these states’ successes. Perak lost early after the 2008 election, thanks to a few then Pakatan turncoats who swallowed Umno carrots whole. Kedah is tottering and is a real chance for Umno to grab back.
And Kelantan may be ruled by a ‘pious PAS’ but it’s still a backwater state with a backwater economy whose government is littered with contradictions galore and remains coy about its Islamic state agenda.
Most of all, Malaysians will remember Anwar Ibrahim’s Sept 16 macabre assurance that Pakatan would march into Putrajaya after a serious number of turncoats flee the Umno-BN sinking ship. Perhaps Anwar was mouthing off.
Or he became sufficiently cocky by misreading the numbers by his number-crunchers who got it all so badly, pathetically, embarrassingly wrong. Which also seems to run right through to Pakatan’s policymaking areas. Who would voters pick between Umno-BN’s policy failures and Pakatan’s absence of credible alternative policies.
If 2013 is crunch time for both the governing and the opposition coalitions, Thayaparan would do well to spend his time dwelling on critical policy matters rather than re-boiling boiled eggs. Strikes me as though the old Commodore can only rehash what has been rehashed time and again.
Maybe it’s time he thought things anew. Because otherwise, his writings will be littered with confusions, such as this passage: “The only real loss for Umno would be the possibility of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s retribution and of course, ejection from the gravy train which has sustained Umno all these decades. This is the great loss which Umno attempts to portray in terms of Malay hegemony and the decline of Islam.”
There are others like this, but go figure.