After a spate of controversial incidents involving elected representatives, Prema Devaraj urges voters to really scrutinise the candidates’ integrity the next time they head to the polls.
Malaysians are witnessing events in the political arena like never before.
Earlier this year, we witnessed the dismantling of a legitimately elected government and the realigning of component parties. The Perikatan Nasional government exists precariously, not just by a whisker of seats but also due to rumblings of discontent from within, among new coalition partners.
We continue to witness ill-thought out statements from PN government politicians. One minister recently remarked that all filming, even on social media required a licence. Another said that defecting from one party to another is the new norm. We have also seen U-turns on positions previously strongly held, eg the push for local elections has now been dropped.
It just shows political expediency and a clear lack of principles. Politicians continue to “hop” from one political party to another in a manner that puts frogs to shame and disrespects the electoral process – and the voters. We are still witnessing moves and counter-moves to remain in or seize power at state levels.
Do check out what’s happening in Sabah at the moment. The Sabah snap elections will bring with it its own revelations.
Now, we have a new political party, Pejuang, to serve the Malay electorate. This is on top of Bersatu, Umno and Pas in PN or Umno and Pas in Muafakat Nasional. Let’s not forget Amanah and PKR, which is multiracial but has an ethnic Malay majority, in Pakatan Harapan.
Now which group will link up with Pejuang? Apart from the discussion about splitting or pooling the Malay vote, the more important question is whose needs are really being met. While the political elite play their games, one must ask – to what real purpose?
Against this backdrop, former Prime Minister Najib Razak was convicted of all seven charges of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering in relation to RM42m belonging to SRC International Sdn Bhd, a former subsidiary of 1MDB. The High Court judge handed him a 12-year jail sentence and a RM210 fine when the trial ended at the end of July. Najib has filed an appeal.
This is just the first of several trials – beginning under PH reign and continuing under PN – Najib has to face. Time will tell how all this plays out, as the recent conviction is just “round one”, as many say.
Within 10 days of Najib’s conviction, former Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng was arrested and charged with three counts of graft at the Kuala Lumpur High Court and later at the Penang Session Court, in connection with the controversial RM6.3bn Penang undersea tunnel project and abuse of power to obtain gratification.
Lim’s wife, Betty Chew, was also charged with money laundering under the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act. Business woman Phang Li Koon is also facing graft charges. Whatever next!
Social media and coffee shop talk is full of comments from supporters and detractors. Is it a case of political persecution or vindictiveness? Tit for tat? Further destabilising of what is left of PH? Going after DAP? Or did something really transpire? But why was Lim treated differently from the former PM when held overnight by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission? And so on. Everyone seems to have an opinion or a theory. In getting to the truth of the matter, there must be proper due process.
Herein lies one of the many problems facing the country: public perception of the integrity and impartiality of the agencies involved. Do we believe that proper due process without political interference will take place? What have been the examples so far? The acquittals of Musa Aman and Riza Aziz of corruption and money laundering charges raised a public outcry.
The fact is that many have difficulty believing in due process, despite Najib’s conviction, and in separating the truth (whatever it may be) from the drama and the sea of allegations and explanations – especially over social media – surrounding it. One sincerely hopes that the truth will somehow prevail.
While high-profile cases are keenly watched on national and international news, spare a thought for the ordinary person who is arrested, detained, charged, unable to raise bail or unrepresented and imprisoned. Altogether, 214 people died in detention in the first six months of this year – police cells (3), prisons (188) and immigration depots (23).
Spare a thought too for media freedom and independence in the country. A Federal Court judgment is due on whether Malaysiakini and its editor-in chief are guilty of contempt over five readers’ comments which allegedly scandalised the judiciary. These comments, which Malaysiakini quickly removed, had appeared in the readers’ comments section below an article published in the news portal.
But, despite pleas from previous bar presidents to reconsider the contempt proceedings, the case went ahead. The judgement could have a far-reaching impact on freedom of expression online and freedom of the press in Malaysia.
Al Jazeera’s office in Malaysia was not spared either over its documentary Locked up in Malaysia’s Lockdown, which alleged mistreatment of migrant workers during the coronavirus epidemic. Its office was raided, and apparently the visas of two of their staff have not been renewed. The authorities also revoked the work permit of the migrant worker featured in the documentary. He is to be deported and blacklisted from entering Malaysia for life – a move human rights groups deemed drastic.
Next came the allegation of a government-linked company-sponsored RM6,000 lunch in Parliament for several PN MPs. If true, it raises the following questions. Why do government-linked companies have to sponsor lunches for MPs and why so expensive? When one thinks of the paltry minimum wage for workers, the ordinary people struggling in their daily lives to put food on the table, and the mounting joblessness that has prompted some individuals to commit suicide, then this lunch episode, if true, is vulgar.
Amid these carry-ons, the Temporary Measures Bill to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 was tabled in Parliament. The bill provides for a RM45bn fund for 29 stimulus programmes, which include wages and job retention, retention of workers, incentives to hire workers and training programmes (RM16.8bn); Bantuan Prihatin Nasional (National Caring Aid) (RM11.2bn), Bantuan Sara Hidup (Cost of Living Aid) (RM300m); skills and training programmes (RM2bn). Once passed, the bill will operate retrospectively from 27 February 2020 to 31 December 2022.
While the intention of the Covid-19 bill is to boost the nation’s recovery, the bill itself must be carefully scrutinised to ensure it does not leave out any vulnerable groups. MPs and others must thoroughly monitor the implementation to ensure that the aid reaches or is made accessible to the target groups, not just a select few, without getting lost en route or blocked or delayed by bureaucratic procedures.
It is unclear how this Covid-19 fund will reach workers in the informal sector, many of whom are women and who are involved in the care economy, ie spending time and effort on domestic chores and looking after children, the elderly and the ill. Their workload of caring at home increased tremendously during the movement control order. How is this being supported or compensated?
The country needs to pull together on many levels. Many ordinary Malaysians still believe in integrity, good governance and the need to do the right thing for the country and its people. Their moral compass can be seen through their expressions of exasperation, anger and deep disappointment over recent political developments.
People have had enough of the constant politicisation of issues through the race and religious lens, the personal attacks, and the lack of integrity of politicians and their flock.
If the rumours of an impending general election turn out to be true, then it may just be the chance for the rakyat to make their views known again. But who or what choice would the voters have? PH has to get its act together if it is to provide an alternative for voters. Perhaps it is time for a third force of smaller parties and concerned individuals to step forward.
Whatever it is, when we next vote in the general or even state elections, let’s really scrutinise the candidates’ integrity. We have all seen where compromising on integrity has led.
We certainly live in interesting, yet difficult times. Keep the faith for a better Malaysia.Prema Devaraj
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
13 August 2020