In March 2017 American comedian and actor Dave Chappelle gave a speech at Chappelle Auditorium at Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina.
Even though the event and his speech had nothing to do with Malaysia’s upcoming general election, his remarks at the end about the need to keep ethics intact inspired me to write this piece about the current political tussles in Malaysia.
… people are trying to replace this idea of good and bad with better or worse, and that is incorrect; you’ve got to keep your ethics intact because good and bad is a compass that helps you find a way. And a person that only does what is better or worse is the easiest type of person to control; they are a mouse in a maze that just finds the cheese. But the one who knows about good and bad will realise that he’s in a maze.
Chappelle’s statement illustrates the modern society we live in and highlights the demise of its moral compass. As concerned persons, we are called to be critical of the realpolitik in modern times.
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In post-Sheraton Malaysia, we are witnessing the demise of our own society’s moral compass. Malaysian politics has been reduced to a tussle for power and control, often chaotic and visionless.
Since the Sheraton move that led to the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition government and the takeover by the loose Bersatu-Umno-Pas coalition, Malaysian politics, especially Malay politics, has been in disarray.
The people’s mandate has been ripped apart by the political tussles among the political elites, who are in it for their selfish interests.
Meanwhile, the outlook for contemporary Malaysian politics looks unclear and uncertain. This is due to assorted (often false) promises offered by the various political party alliances to the people. Their promises are often superficial, unclear and not substantive.
Before 1998 Malay party politics used to revolve around Umno and Pas. Then came reformasi politics in 1998 and PKR, which has survived until today.
We also witnessed a splinter from Pas – the Amanah party – and another breakaway from Umno – the Bersatu party.
In 2020 another political coalition emerged – Perikatan Nasional (PN), comprising Bersatu, Pas, Gerakan and the Sabah Progressive Party.
All these developments have thrown Malay politics into disarray. The disarray is not just due to the (Malay) multi-party structures, but also the lack of – if not absence – of clear policies and programmes to improve people’s lives.
Instead, their plans seem limited to offering short-term benefits to the people, as seen in the last Budget. There are no clear coalition ideologies, nor is there a moral compass.
Even though Pas, as Clive Kessler argues, is the only Malay political party that “know[s] what it stands for and wants”, its goal is to realise an Islamic state based on “Sharia law”, which is the antithesis of the multi-ethnic, multi-religious nature of Malaysian society.
The historic 2018 general election resulted in regime change and the rise of alternative politics to counter the ethno-religious political dominance and gangster politics in the public sphere.
But with the rise of social media and freedom of speech, Malaysian politics is still mostly shaped by party politics at the national level.
Immense power remains with the executive arm of government. It seems like it is the cabinet, through the various ministries, that has the legitimacy and power to shape how the political system will run.
Alas, with the Sheraton move and the subsequent governments, national politics has fallen back into the hands of the political elites (both incumbent and opposition).
Their political agendas are simply about the grab for power. They are visionless in policy direction, making unkept promises, and practise poor governance.
Many ordinary people are caught in the maze of this elite-controlled political sandiwara (stageshow). And so, they seem lost and confused about the political direction of the nation.
Worse, we are now seeing the political elites aggressively replacing “the idea of good and bad with better or worse”. As the political theatre goes on, it is creating a dangerous discourse of confusion, which compromises our political principles and ethics.
For the people, bread-and-butter or nasi-and-lauk (rice-and-curry) issues are more important – these are their primary concern.
But we must reject the idea that we are mice in the maze, placed there just to struggle and find the cheese. As concerned people, we have learnt our lesson and learnt it well. We know what is good and bad and realise that we are stuck in a maze.
The upcoming general election offers us a compass and a chance for us to get out of this maze. Let’s not waste this opportunity.