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Public figure of speech and action in Kedah

Public figures should learn to live with criticisms and caricatures in a democracy

What will the Kedah menteri besar do next?

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It looks like Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor is still not used to the idea of being a public figure, even though he is quite adept at using the powers at his disposal.

As a public figure, and especially one that occupies the top post in the state, Sanusi is situated in a public domain where he is subjected to public scrutiny, irrespective of whether he likes it.

What he does and says in public carries weight in various ways and is likely to be reported by the media and become fodder for cartoonists, particularly Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque, more popularly known as Zunar.

This explains how Zunar’s caricature was caught in Sanusi’s crosshairs recently, sparking anxiety and even anger from the Menteri Besar and his party’s youth wing.

Pas youth leader Nurul Amin Hamid even called on the authorities to slap the controversial Sedition Act on the irrepressible cartoonist for what he considers a slander on the Kedah leader.

Nurul Amin’s action, and by extension, Sanusi’s, indicates an inability to appreciate the fact that criticisms – and this one takes the form of a caricature – in a democracy should be taken in stride.

Controversial public figures – and Sanusi fits the bill – are bound to catch the creative imagination of cartoonists and stand-up comics, who will highlight and exaggerate the actions of these figures whom the comics consider worthy of public attention.

Sanusi’s recent controversial actions such as his cancelling of Thaipusam as a public holiday in the state and his attempt to charge water that flows to Penang along the Muda River earned the wrath of many people, including Hindus, opposition politicians, critics and concerned citizens.

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It is, therefore, conceivable that Zunar – known for his wit and grit, expressed on his canvas over the years – finds the character called Sanusi as a person that cannot escape his curious and artistic attention. As he rightly said, he caricatures public figures as part of his right to freedom of expression in a democracy.

You could even argue that Zunar is one of the few Malaysians who would test the limits of freedom of expression in Malaysia from time to time. This explains why he had brushes with the law in the past, particularly during the Najib Razak administration, which brooked no dissent. Zunar fought nine sedition charges, of which if convicted, he would have been in the slammer for 43 years.

The thing about certain controversial figures is that – even if for one moment cartoonists, critics and comedians in the land are completely muzzled – they can still make a fool of themselves in public on their own without the help of anyone else.

Former US president Donald Trump comes to mind here. He made ridiculous comments about opponents and certain countries and tweeted in a language that many of his predecessors would find unpalatable, so that he became an overnight sensation for critics, cartoonists and comedians – with enough material to last them a lifetime. Trump is obviously an extreme example of a mock-able figure, whom no local political leaders worth their salt should strive to emulate.

It also goes to show that there is a decorum to be observed and, of course, required intelligence to guide a public figure to tread on a path less controversial and funny, especially knowing that every step he or she takes is within the view of critics or cartoonists.

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                      – The Malaysian Insight

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