The election period in many countries is often called the “silly season”.
It is during this time – from at least the campaigning period until just after the actual polling day – that political parties, politicians, their supporters and even the media will issue statements and indulge in behaviour that many consider to be illogical, irrational and, yes, downright silly, even stupid.
Cuddling and kissing babies is one of these silly rituals campaigning politicians in the West indulge in. This is rarely done over here, perhaps because most of us don’t trust slimy politicians with our kin.
Or perhaps we are a pragmatic lot – we demand compensation from our politicians for their indulgences. Plain envelopes containing crisp RM50 or RM100 notes are, thus, the order of the day for many. Ethics, morals and the law be damned.
It’s the six state elections tomorrow (12 August) that is on the minds of many, although a low turnout is expected. Compared to last November’s general election, the campaigning this time around has been muted with fewer people attending the many ceramah (political talks and rallies). Even social media platforms have been relatively subdued.
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Many are simply tired of immature politics: we are sick of the personal attacks and constant recourse to the “three Rs” – race, religion and royalty – by politicians, especially those in Perikatan Nasional, which includes Pas.
When a bitter geriatric, having changed political parties more than a baby changes diapers, goes on stage and waffles on about the ethnic Malays losing everything in “their own land”, many of us just shake our heads and switch off.
This toxic old man, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, once internationally respected, sounded like a broken record during this silly season. It is a relief for many that, after his initial outburst early on in the campaign, he is no longer featured in the news media.
It truly is sad to see someone once respected by many as a national hero and treasure destroy his reputation in this manner. It is as if he was not only pleading his relevance but also trying to take centre stage away from this season’s top ‘clown’, the caretaker chief minister of Kedah, Mohd Sanusi Md Nor.
Embroiled in controversies and scandals, many of his own making, Sanusi has refused to bow to his detractors and has tried to carve an image of himself as a fighter and next leader of Pas.
A sidenote to Pas minions: moving to the right is one thing; moving to the right led by someone who lacks a moral compass and class is another. It says a lot about our politics that our future ‘leaders’ are of this calibre.
But then again, this silliness among our politicians appears to cross generations. One of Malaysia’s poorest states, Kelantan, suffers yearly flooding and unending water supply issues. The water they get from their taps often is milky brown, like teh tarik (frothy tea).
Just a couple of days ago, in trying to deflect criticisms of the state’s water supply, the caretaker deputy chief minister said, “The villagers will think of their own solutions. They dig wells and get the water from underground.”
It is this callousness and the gall of a senior state politician that is hurtful to many Kelantanese and a black mark on his office. Politicians conning the people into accepting their suffering – purportedly in preparation for a place in heaven – surely would have been tarred and feathered in another place and time? Instead, here they get to drive around in expensive, state-funded vehicles and live a life of luxury.
It is perhaps reflective of the silly season also that the prime minister himself can come on stage to take questions and then impatiently berate a nervous, clearly frightened teenaged student for purportedly being long-winded.
Granted, the Pakatan Harapan leader has been criss-crossing the country throughout the campaign period and probably was dead tired that evening. But, looking back, he probably would feel the student deserved better.
A quick public apology would have smoothened most feathers, but have you noticed this is, sadly, hardly the Malaysian way? We, more so politicians, prefer to ignore such mistakes on our part and respond by making excuses, like asking those suffering to pick up a cangkul (hoe) and dig their own wells.
Is this a sign of sheer insensitivity, even heartlessness? Or a sign of ignorance and stupidity?
Watching the much-publicised – and perhaps the only – public debate during this campaign period, we are tempted to say “half and half”. It was not a debate as much as it was a massacre. One humorous commentator called it “Real Madrid meets JKR Kelantan [Kelantan’s public works department]”.
It was supposed to have been a “debate on a new economic model”. Instead, we saw seasoned debater Rafizi Ramli facing a clearly uncomfortable Syahir Sulaiman from Pas, who ended up reading from a prepared script, not answering questions posed and now being accused of insulting Buddhism and Buddhist monks.
Indeed, it has been a silly season – a season that would have troubled the late long-suffering Haris Ibrahim, who died of cancer during the campaign, leaving us with one less freedom fighter. For decades, Haris tirelessly fought racism and bigotry as a lawyer and activist and worked for a better Malaysia.
Would it be too much for us all to come out and vote, in the hope that this Saturday’s state elections will see us moving one step up towards achieving dear Haris’ dream?
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
11 August 2023