“Is ours a government of the people, by the people, for the people, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?”
- Thomas Love Peacock
Some of you may be wondering what “kakistocracy” means and I humbly suggest googling the word. Apparently, we are intent on saving the country from a kleptocracy but still have not figured out that mainstream politics - establishment and opposition - is intent on maintaining a kakistocracy. Nowhere is this more evident in the disrespectful and malicious manner PSM is treated by the opposition who supposedly want to bring about change.
I have seen opposition politicians attack PSM while making excuses for other opposition political parties and their own parties who have engaged in behaviour which is corrupt, mendacious and which betrays the principles that the opposition insists they have. I have read opposition supporters engage in the most malicious of propaganda attacking PSM political operatives, who have actually put in the hard grassroots level work of building communities among marginalised people.
Catchy political bromides are the currency and while a party like PSM goes about attempting to build consensus far away from the preoccupations of urban polities who mock in racial and religious terms the rural folk, mainstream opposition politics is dominated by issues far removed from the realities that would ultimately determine this upcoming election.
Whenever I read of how anonymous apparatchiks who accuse the PSM of being “greedy”, I realise why “the knaves will always benefit at the cost of fools”. Is it any wonder in attempting to explain why Umno always has the advantage, I drew upon the work of PSM’s Jeyakumar Devaraj (and the Penang state government-aligned Dr Wong Chin Huat) in attempt to offer a strategy in dealing with the hegemon.
The DAP's Sungkai state assemblyperson A Sivanesan's attack against the character and reputation of Jeyakumar is the kind of gutter politics that the opposition engages in. Folks who read my articles will recall how national president Mohd Nasir Hashim described the backstabbing by Pakatan (this time PAS) in the past election -
“…he (Mohd Nasir) emailed me a list of underhanded tricks that would make Carl Rove proud and commented: ‘PAS' crude campaign surpassed Umno-BN's style. So unbecoming of PAS.
“‘We were literally on our own and got help from NGO friends. We were not prepared to fight PAS because they are not our principal enemy and our actions were construed as being weak,’ he said, reflecting on the recently concluded elections.”
Jeyakumar’s defence against the libel hurled against him by Sivanesan demonstrates the kind of politician Jeyakumar is. While he rightly threatens a lawsuit, he acknowledges the different backgrounds they come from but more importantly, acknowledges the privilege that his background affords him. Having said that, I will say (and this will no doubt embarrass the good country doctor) talk to the “old Penang people” and you would hear tales told in messianic fervour of this politician.
I have this running joke with Jeyakumar that he is too nuanced for politics. People have short attention spans. They want you to scream “kleptocracy” and then they pat you on the back. When Jeyakumar talks about corruption, he talks about the corruptive aspects of politics that democracy nurtures. He talks about how expectations from his constituents makes it harder for him to fulfil his obligations which goes far beyond merely satisfying their pecuniary needs.
What he says here - “‘I asked them, ‘do you want me to be clean or not?’’ he recalled.
“‘You want your YB to be Santa Claus, a feudal lord giving away money... But at the same time, you want your YB to be clean. It doesn't jive,’ he stressed, adding that the role of politicians goes beyond just providing cash handouts or immediate assistance” - is something that many political operatives have said to me...