Malaysiakini Opinion

Only voters can hold Umno accountable

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Those who corrupt the public mind are just as evil as those who steal from the public purse.”

– Adlai Stevenson

COMMENT | Are Malaysians experiencing a 1MDB fatigue? I think Pakatan Harapan supporters are experiencing it but the demographic that props up Umno is feeling crappy about a whole range of issues and 1MDB is not one of them. All these foreign reports about the ongoing case of perhaps the biggest kleptocracy incident in the world mean nothing to the people who sustain Umno.

It goes without saying that this kind of sucks. I mean, people think it is business as usual when the Australian police freezes the account of a high-level state security officer on suspicion of money laundering or proceeds of a crime. Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department director Wan Ahmad Najmuddin Mohd denies wrongdoing, but claims that it would be too expensive for a court action to retrieve the money.

If the monies were bribes of some kind, who paid him? What were they getting in return? Beyond his allegedly guilty actions and the non-consequences he faces here, what kind of consequences would the country face by the hands of the people who (allegedly) put money in his bank account?

Crime? Terrorism? Who knows? Certainly not our state security apparatus which considers the matter closed. Certainly not establishment politicians who probably are worried about their own accounts all over the world. I would add opposition politicians but the state seems more interested in discovering their alleged criminal wrongdoings then their overlords in Putrajaya. And while their minions are fair game, essentially the protected Umno class is safe for the time being.

Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed wonders why Australia is trying to “embarrass” Malaysia as if the act absolves the person from the criminality or whatever else the embarrassed party is attempting to hide. These kinds of statements want to make me vote against the Umno hegemon just for spite.

Indonesia seizes Jho Low’s superyacht, Singapore seizes Jho Low’s private jet and everyone thinks, that this is it. This is the smoking gun. However foreign powers have their own crimes to hide, their own banking institutions to protect, so small fish are roasted over the fire of international opprobrium while the game goes on. Putrajaya knows this. They understand deals can be made, which is why the old maverick bemoans the fact that we are slaves to foreign powers.

Opposition political operatives call and tell me that this 1MDB issue is not gaining traction with the demographic that sustains Umno. “They do not understand the issues involved,” they decry. They do not understand? On the best of days, I barely understand it and I was a practicing lawyer. Going about chanting 1MDB and expecting people to choke on their outrage and decide to vote for you is not going to work.

It boggles the mind that they are politicians when they complain that certain issues distracts from the whole 1MDB scandal. Well yeah, but if the 1MDB scandal is not gaining traction maybe you should discover issues that does gain traction with the people whose votes you want. The most important thing is realising that the 1MDB scandal is not the single issue which will bring down the current regime.

1MDB is big city stuff

Do not get me wrong, corruption is a major issue but I think sometimes, the strategists within Harapan conflate online chatter with the real life. Corruption does not solely have to be about the biggest case of kleptocracy the world is witness to. There are enough cases of corruption that have a direct, profound impact on local polities that would ensure that the current regime is benched.

I absolutely love it when the opposition highlights cases that demonstrate where the government has screwed the demographic that sustains them and let us face facts, with the Felda case for instance, there were immediate and still ongoing consequences for the Umno establishment and the opposition has gained points with the people whose votes matters most.

Anecdotally speaking, when young Malay voters write to me, they more often than not speak to me about the Felda fiasco and the Tabung Haji fiascos and how the opposition “did good” and rarely about the 1MDB case which just confuses them.

Get this straight. Malaysia is not made up of people with pitchforks chanting 1MDB and hoping for regime change, simply to dispose of a kleptocratic regime. Is there dissatisfaction that the opposition can capitalise on? Yes, there is but the opposition needs to recalibrate their narratives to get people to vote for them. They cannot whine and stomp their feet that people are unwilling to see that 1MDB is the baddest thing to happen to this country. While it may be the biggest case of its kind, the reality is that Malaysia was a failing state way before the current bunch of kleptocrats took over.

Some folks have asked me, why I do not care about gerrymandering and other kinds of electoral legerdemain. It is not that I do not care but rather because I know if opposition politicians grab the peoples’ interest, waves of voters supportive of them will overcome any breaches of electoral malfeasance. The more people you convince to vote for you, the less effective the dirty electoral tricks of the establishment.

My advice is always stay local. 1MDB is big city stuff. That is realpolitik. Umno knows this, which is why they play offence when it comes to this issue. What Harapan should be doing is dredging up state-level corruption. The goal is to get Umno to drain its war chest by attempting to put out fires started by local oppositional operatives screaming blue murder about state-level corruption. There is only so much money and the Umno state cannot be everywhere.

If local, state-level, village-level, corruption where bandied about in concert with the 1MDB fiasco, Umno would have no choice but to get on the ground and deviate from the standard propaganda they shovel out by the buckets loads. They would have to engage with the opposition which are relatively “clean”.

For years, Umno has never addressed these issues because the opposition were intent on not deviating from their own scripts which plays well with urban and semi-urban audiences but is ineffective with the demographic that sustains Umno.

As I said, “corruption” does not have to be solely about 1MDB. While foreign powers will extract their pound of flesh for the sins of 1MDB, the only people who will hold this regime accountable for corruption is the voting public of Malaysia. The trick is not thinking that 1MDB is the greatest con perpetrated on the people of Malaysia.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.