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Chandra Muzaffar – just an open note for you

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Choo Sing Chye wonders what happened to Dr Chandra Muzaffar’s idealism which inspired many.

Choo Sing Chye
Choo Sing Chye

Once your heart was filled with egalitarian ideals which copiously propagated into the pages of your books and Aliran Monthly.

I admired your courage to say these forbidden ideals which in the eyes of the Umno’s kingpins were seditious.

I believed that you had the passion then to offer solace for the poor without fear of offending the BN elites of the day.

You didn’t speak for the Opposition, nor the BN government, but you spoke up eloquently for the poor and against injustice.

In your heart, you felt the anguish, despair, misery and wretchedness of the poor.

But today I see a different you.

You have unmistakably been sucked up in the best tradition of the fifth century Greek sophist, Thrasymachus, who expounded his theory that “justice is simply whatever is to the interest to the stronger party” (‘An introduction to Political Philosophy’, A R M Murray, Cohen and West Ltd, London, 1953).

Today’s reality and challenges are the same as when you wrote this book in 1989, ‘Challenges and Choices in Malaysian Politics and Society’. Below are some of the quotes from your book which are still as relevant:

The instability within Barisan parties, the cliques and factions that have emerged in some of them, the fierce and ferocious competition for power among groups and individuals, the buying and selling of votes even in divisional and branch elections, and indeed the foul filth that oozes out of every pore of Barisan Nasional politics…

Perhaps most of all, it is the growing gap between word and deed, promise and performance that has disenchanted the people.

One talks all the while of trust and integrity and yet there is no determined, conerted endeavour to unravel the truth about the shameful, scandalous BMF affair.

One talks all the while of the danger of corruption and money politics and yet corruption through cronyism and the politics of money are allowed to flourish.

One talks all the while of clean, healthy business practices and yet small but powerful cliques and coteries have entrenched themselves in the world of commerce and industry.

One talks all the while of thrift and austerity and yet there is lavish spending on prestige projects, tourist complexes, exclusive clubs, expensive mansions, grand celebrations, extravagant ceremonies, and costly trips and travels abroad.

One talks all the while of how important national unity is and yet one does not cease to divide the people by racialising issues.

One talks all the while of how liberal the administration is and yet one imposes the severest curbs upon ceramahs and publications.

One talks all the while of hard work and yet whenever the apostle of hard work visits a state or district everyone stops working!

It is these blatant contradictions between what is said and what is done which has now led to a serious crisis of credibility. When a government’s credibility is at stake, it must know that it is in trouble. For the crisis of credibility is the stage that precedes the crisis of legitimacy. Once a government faces a crisis of legitimacy, it ceases to command any moral authority. It is a sure sign of its downfall. Needless to say, our government is still some distance away from that stage.

In this sort of situation, it is quite possible that unscrupulous elements among the ruling elites seeing that both their Malay and non-Malay bases of support have been weakened considerably may in desperation try to create ethnic tensions which may lead to ethnic conflicts. They may then use the resulting ethnic breakdown as an excuse to set aside democratic procedures and rule by decree in order to consolidate and expand their power.

If this happens, it would be a grave blow to the people’s power. It would be a betrayal of the will of the rakyat. This is why though we may never be able to prevent a formal authoritarian regime from establishing itself, we should not do anything that will make it easier for anyone to impose such rule…

I believe what you had written then was based on egalitarian idealism that was close to your heart and ours too.

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Gone are the days when you speak like an idealist, and today you speak like a BN politician and write like The Star’s columnists Joceline Tan and Baradan Kuppusamy.

Whatever you write now does not matter to us and the poor anymore. Perhaps to you now the “foul filth that oozes out of every pore of Barisan Nasional politics” smells like roses.

Choo Sing Chye, a former Perak state assembly member, served as politcal secretary to the late P Patto.

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