Saturday, 5 September 2009

Fatal Purity

The sacking of Dr Chua Soi Lek has rocked the MCA to its foundations. Only those directly involved will ever know the compelling reasons for the sacking of the party deputy president.At the same time, there is now a resistance movement brewing within the party to collect signatures to hold an emergency general meeting (EGM) to unseat Ong Tee Keat, the party president, who claims to be under-siege from all sides.

There was much hope when Ong first took over. Of all MCA leaders, Ong is considered honest, trustworthy and a "straight talker". His decision to open the Pandora's Box on the PKFZ scandal earned him even more kudos.It also seemed as though Chua had triumphed over the rampant hypocrisy that surrounded the DVD saga. Having admitted and taken responsibility by resigning from his ministerial position, he had demonstrated accountability. That, he was allowed to stand as a candidate for the party's deputy presidency and won, earned Chua the respect of many.

It was in the same party elections that Ong was elected president.Chua's victory was unexpected and Ong's disapproval about Chua's"adultery" was public knowledge. But, for a while, it seems both men were ready to set aside the past to concentrate on the future.There is little point in describing the step-by-step disintegration oftheir relationship. Suffice to say that both Ong and Chua have madethemselves larger than the party that they are supposed to lead. For Ong, on his "lonely" crusade to shine the light on corruption, nothing other than absolute loyalty is enough.

Not satisfied with wielding the new broom to sweep away the oldnetworks of politics and business interests, Ong now believes that his struggle is one that is "do or die". He even claims that his life andthe safety of his family are on the line.

Ong, a man on a mission

It seems the MCA president is a man on a mission. For him, the new MCA must be free from the "corruption" represented by the PKFZ scandal. With so many MCA appointees involved, it must have been galling for Ong when Chua suggested that he take on Kuala Dimensi CEO on his own.

That may have been the straw that broke the camel's back. As Ong soldiered on, despite pressures from within the party and powerful entrenched interests, Chua (left), his deputy, did not give him full support.

Ong's only bargaining chip was to present a united front: the new MCA was determined not only to disassociate itself from the PKFZ but was willing to let wrong-doers, even if they include party members, face the music.

If BN is ever to regain lost ground in the last general election, it will require the leadership of this new MCA. Ong's decision to inject a moral dimension into the making of a new MCA spooked many. Here, Chua was a real stumbling block. How can the MCA president talk about morality with Chua as his deputy?

Herein, lay the weakness of such a platform to revive MCA's fortunes. To be successful, Ong needs to open the MCA closet and stare into the hollow eyes of many skeletons. He can only hope that after all the rot has been removed, there is enough will left to re-brand the party.

To pursue such a policy Ong required the full support of his party, especially its leadership. With Chua Jui Meng having gone over to Pakatan Rakyat, Ong also knew that the noose around his own neck was drawing tighter. Jui Meng continues to criticize Chua and even casts aspersion on Umno's support for the latter to unseat Ong. Whether or not this is merely speculation or had Umno truly wanted to institute regime change within the MCA, we may never know.

Eliminate "possible challenge"

But, by dragging Umno into the picture the public image of the MCA drops further. Many remembered how the late Ghafar Baba had to intervene in a previous power-struggle in the MCA, solidly increasing Umno's dominant role in the BN. Today, the PM said he will not get involved unless invited to do so. Few will believe he does not have a hand in the current MCA crisis.

Thus, many now interpret rightly or wrongly, that Ong's decision to sack his deputy may be a pre-emptive strike - to eliminate any possible challenge or distraction from the PKFZ scandal.Here, Ong might benefit from hindsight by looking at what happened to another man who was known for being "incorruptible", whose biographer described, as suffering from fatal purity.

Maximilien Robespierre, who presided over the "Terror" during the French Revolution, was a man of utmost morals. He was abstemious and well-mannered, yet, he was so wedded to his principles that he lost sight of the original objectives of the revolution. Instead of giving birth to a new society, his dogmatic and pugnacious insistence that everyone bend to the "Public Will" led to a bloodbath.

Of course, nothing Ong does will lead to anything dramatic. It may not even be of national importance even if the MCA collapsed tomorrow or in 2013. But, this need to bring about a new MCA based on a moral crusade, one where the party's own deputy can be judged twice for the same crime, which may be expedient but will ultimately prove to be fatal.

Ultimately, the nation suffers as the second largest party in the BN continues to crumble.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Politicians & "Doublespeak"

The fight for Permatang Pasir is heating up to unprecedented levels. The heat may not be felt on the ground as much as in cyberspace. This is the new reality of Malaysian politics. For those in urban areas with good access to the Internet, technology has made every by-election a kind of general election.

It has also made whatever politicians say easy to record. This means politicians have to do something which they have never done before (and apparently can never do) - be consistent. On both sides of the political divide, this has resulted in tragic-comedy.

In Malaysia, the task of the politician is very difficult. He/she has to speak to different communities in the most sensational way possible. In Shah Alam, for example, some say that if a certain party comes to power, pork would be sold openly in the streets. They know that this may not be a credible statement but it will at least grab headlines, thus proving their credentials as champions of race and religion.

But when in Bangsar, the same politician can be most civil, drink coffee whilst being interviewed by magazines, chat shows and aspiring movie-makers. Words like accountability, transparency, good governance are used generously.

Those in the blogsphere should not be naïve and expect politicians to be guided by principles, ideology or morals. Politicians are not cynical but they are driven by pragmatism. Politics is about the aspiration to power.

Once in power, like Dr Mahathir Mohamad was for 22 years, then we can see the practical demonstration of beliefs. In the case of Mahathir, it was to push the country forward materially with little regard for institutions or contrary opinion.

For most politicians in Malaysia, the power to put ideas into reality is what drives them. At first, they may have a genuine wish to reform or improve the country, to make things better. But for some, especially those who have held public office for more than a decade, power becomes the end itself.

So, the question of morality or ethics no longer matters. Only their political survival matters, even if they have been president of a political party longer than a quarter of the nation!Ability to bury contradictory facts But like in any human society, there would be anomalies. Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat is one clear example of a man of convictions, preferring to live modestly and does not get turned on by material things.

But those who doubt that he is a politician will never be able to regain Kelantan for he is capable of doing whatever necessary to remain in power, so long as these acts do not contravene his beliefs.

What makes a convincing politician is the ability to believe in whatever he or she is saying at a particular time to a special group of people. The best way is to reduce very complex situations toeuphemisms, to concentrate on only one aspect and bury contradictory facts under as much bluster and bile as possible.

This was the case with the proposal against building a Hindu temple in Shah Alam. For those who continue to accuse Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad from PAS of being a traitor to race and religion, no Hindu temple should be built in any neighbourhood where Hindus are not in the majority.

Thankfully, we get a better picture of the whole issue when Khalid explained that it was not his decision alone to relocate the temple, that no new temple was being built and that the alternative site was in an industrial park, not suited for women and children. Moreover, the present site would serve three neighbourhoods with 1,000 Hindus.

Khalid's clear-minded explanation does not matter. The political point has been scored. He is betraying the religion because he wants a Hindu temple built in a Muslim-majority neighbourhood. Never mind that if that rule was followed, no temple or church can be built in Shah Alam; which clearly contravenes the Federal Constitution's guarantee of freedom to practice one's religion.

Nonetheless, these novice politicians are well on the way to becoming accomplished practitioners of political double-speak. The best examples of double-speak are often delivered with a grin and a smirk. They contain some grains of credibility, just enough paranoia and clear conviction in the “truth”, at least for the moment.

BN still telling Malays the same thing

At the centre of BN's campaign in cyberspace is the claim that the “Chinese are taking over the country”. This is perhaps the most ingenious way of distracting the Malays from what is actuallyhappening on the ground.

The tactic here relies on the power of memory and some 40 years of conditioning. In the 1960s, most Malays living in urban areas would have experienced the “great” wealth disparity between the middle-class Chinese and their “poor” conditions. Nobody can deny this when Malays collectively owned less than three percent of the national wealth.

In reality, what they were not told was that in the 1960s, owing to colonial policies, the Malays were left out of the commercial economy. This feeling of being "beggars in their own land" continues to be a powerful emotion especially for those above 60 years old. Of course, the electorate was not told that urban poverty was felt by all ethnic groups. If all the Chinese were rich, there would not be pauper hospitals or homes for the destitute.

Now, in 2009, after nearly 52 years of independence and some 40 years of “Ketuanan Melayu” (dating from 1969) plus 22 years of Mahathirism, the BN is still telling the Malays the same thing: “the Chinese are taking over the country”, "pork will be sold openly in the streets of Shah Alam", "Chinese can read Malay but we cannot read Chinese so all Chinese dailies should be translated into Malay", "PAS is a puppet of the DAP", "the Malay leaders of Pakatan are traitors to race and religion", "we are different because MCA, MIC and Gerakan, they know their place".

Unfortunately, time is the ultimate enemy of double-speak. What Malaysians experience on the ground is no longer the same as in the 1960s. As one Internet newspaper explained, for the man on the ground living in Permatang Pasir, the politicians “have forsaken” him.

Is it any wonder why Shahrizat Abdul Jalil is talking about broken drains? She also added that the voters know that the state government needs federal support for material progress.

The problem with such a statement is that it reinforces what people already know. Politicians only visit a place like Permatang Pasir when it suits them. Issue veiled threats and, at the same time, offer “opportunities” for progress. In a Malay-majority constituency, some politicians add racial bluster to get extra attention whilst others bring up heaven and hell for added measure.

One does not know how the voters of Permatang Pasir will vote but in cyberspace, all this double-speak provides some comic relief as we think about our collective future and ways to make sure we can make ends meet. Obviously, this bunch does not have the wherewithal to lead us anywhere.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Have we forgotten Malaysia?

With Merdeka Day round the corner, much preparation is being made for fireworks display, speeches being crafted exhorting unity and nice dresses tailored for those who will preside over the national day parade.But the feeling on the ground is, at best, hollow. Many feel Merdeka has less meaning than the politicians would like us to believe. They may exhort us to be '1Malaysia' but words are cheap.

At this time of recession, most Malaysians are worrying how to put food on the table, whilst the political landscape looks increasingly divisive with very little to celebrate.

Perhaps it might help us find our way again if we pondered on the words of Tunku Abdul Rahman.

On Malaysia day, the Tunku said: "We can feel proud indeed of the way we have created Malaysia through friendly argument and compromise. The spirit of co-operation and concord is living proof of the desire we share for a common destiny."

A common destiny is the cornerstone of membership in any country. Perhaps we take citizenship for granted because most of us are born Malaysians. But for those who are hoping to become citizens, membership of a common Malaysian destiny is their principal hope, and rightly so.

Why is inter-ethnic cooperation seen in such negative light in certain quarters? If PAS and DAP can cooperate and reach a satisfactory compromise, it proves the point. There is no need to sell out Islam, or traditional Chinese or Hindu cultures. Umno, MCA and MIC could do the same if they had the will. The old 'divide and rule' recipe.

For most Malaysians, to see political parties that were once at polar opposites sitting down and talking is a good thing. For the Tunku, friendly argument and compromise is "living proof of the desire we share for a common destiny."But for their political opponents, PAS and DAP talking at the same table seems to be anathema. Why do they feel threatened? Perhaps BN is pinning its hopes on that old colonial recipie of "divide and rule."

If Malaysia has evolved its own special political arrangement that involves two sets of inter-ethnic coalitions then Tunku's vision for Malaysia is a success.By now, claims in certain quarters that the Malays would lose power and that "pork would be sold openly in the streets of Shah Alam" is blatant scare-mongering.

In fact, if Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is correct, these are the cries of a party clutching at straws. Malays will always have a majority, however you divide the votes, especially in the vast rural reas, and their needs will always hold sway.

It is true that some Malaysians have yet to understand the sensitivities of each ethnic or religious group, but we will not get there if politicians refuse to address issues openly.Put nation before narrow interests.

If Umno and BN want to win back the electorate, they must exhibit the wisdom and magnanimity of the Merdeka generation. They must be bold enough to build consensus across the political divide. They must demonstrate a willingness to put nation before narrow sectarian interests.

The government has recently decided that Maths and Science will be taught in Bahasa Malaysia. It should go one step further and broker nationwide consensus on a single school system for the whole country. We cannot keep talking about national unity yet divide our children the moment they enter school.

On the economic front, the government has devised several stimulus packages to help Malaysians cope with the global downturn. In the West, all hopes of a quick recovery are fast evaporating. Will we be able to survive a prolonged recession? It is evident that even when the economy begins to pick up, it will be a long time before it is felt by ordinary people in the form of new jobs. Meanwhile much can be done for those made redundant, by government initiatives inskills-upgrading.

Turning to another deep concern for ordinary people, there seems little positive to say about the much-trumpeted MACC. It might be wise to look at how Hong Kong tackled the problem of systemic corruption, especially within their police force.

The ICAC there went through a baptism of fire when it began its work. We can only hope that the government here has the wisdom to put national interests ahead of party ones. When we see BN parliamentarians exposing themselves to obvious criticism, it is strange that the MACC remains so inactive.

Islam, with its core values of honesty, brotherhood, respect for humanity and custodianship over the environment, could not, and should not be used by anyone for divisive political gains. It is truly sad that one newspaper chose to accuse certain parties of "insulting" Islam, whilst publishing photographs of scantily-clad women on other pages. Such shallow hypocrisy is pathetic.

As we celebrate Merdeka this year, it might be opportune for politicians to think beyond the next general election. The Tunku had a long vision for Malaysia. Our country is to be a model of democracy and ethnic harmony. It was never meant to be a one-party state dominated by one ethnic group.

Rather, Malaysia should be where the "spirit of co-operation and concord is living proof of the desire we share for a common destiny".

MCA Fate Hangs in Balance

The Malaysian Chinese Association, its deputy president rightly points out, is swimming in treacherous waters. There is every danger that it might not survive beyond the next general election. Dissatisfied voters, rightly or wrongly, often take out their frustration during elections by voting for the opposition. The MCA has been at the receiving end and is now reduced to 15 parliamentarians.

Yet, despite this poor performance, the party's number of cabinet positions remained unchanged. Despite the tremendous power of patronage that accompanies ministerial positions, the MCA has found going forward very challenging. In recent party elections, members decided to retire many tired faces.

It also elected a woman vice president, a first in a BN component party. But that AGM did not solve the obvious cracks in the party and the party is still mired in internal squabbles. More critically, there is now a crisis of confidence in its president. In his attempt to cut the Gordian Knot and release the party from the PKFZ scandal, which is daily pulling the MCA into political oblivion, Ong Tee Keat (left) is putting his career on the line.

Rift continues to widen

Dr Chua Soi Lek's recent call for the party to distance itself from the fallout between Ong and Tiong, the Kuala Dimensi CEO, over the PKFZ scandal, is another clear sign that the rift between thepresident and his deputy is widening.Never one for toeing the party line, both Ong and Chua now appear to be larger in stature than the party they represent.

In short, the MCA's fate is now inextricably bound-up with the fates of both these men. Ong has now staked his political reputation on resolving the PKFZ scandal whilst Chua battles hypocrisy andmiddle-class morality over a video-tape scandal that refuses to go away.

To the general public, the PKFZ scandal demonstrates the cosy relationship politicians have with certain corporate figures. Several MCA ministers and party nominees have been implicated. Even if one was to be generous, the scandal puts brings into question the competence and accountability of BN politicians.

The continuing saga of Chua Soi Lek, with the added side-show of a party disciplinary hearing, reveals the toxic levels of skull-duggery in the party.

Allegations that Chua was set-up by party members opposed to him confirm for the public the unsavoury nature of the MCA.These negative perceptions strengthened at precise and almost methodical intervals of more salacious revelations will eventually come back to haunt the party.

Heads on a platter

The Malaysian public, particularly urban voters whom the MCA relies upon, are no longer willing to compromise particularly when public money is involved. Increasingly, in semi-rural areas, morality is also a major vote swinger.

The MCA's current branding as exemplified by its leaders, and, which may not be justified, is: "corrupt", "incompetent" and "immoral".

Now that the PKFZ scandal has grown to such monumental proportions, the public will not accept anything except heads on a platter.If the government is unwilling or unable to make a strong case against those who cheat, the opposition may be given the mandate to do so in the next general election.

The fact remains that the opposition has successfully implanted the idea that BN component parties like the MCA are mere appendages to Umno. Ong is attempting to change that perception by taking a stab at corruption over the PKFZ scandal, which is why his short-sighted decision to accept the use of private-jets whilst performing hisministerial duties have somewhat blunted his sword.

Meanwhile, his deputy Chua,(right )who wants the MCA to distance itself from the tribulations of the party president, has been given the Herculean task of turning the BN into a truly inter-party machine. This is an impossible task not so much because he has to operate in Pakatan-held states but because he will need Umno to treat the MCA and other component parties as equals.

It seems highly unlikely that a fractious MCA can regain the seats lost in the last general election if these internal issues and external challenges remained unsolved. With the MIC probably under the thumb of Samy Vellu till 2015 and Gerakan unable to decide what sort of ideological platform it is fighting for; there is little doubt that the BN is a fragile coalition. So long as the MCA is unable to bring with it a sizeable number of urban voters, its future as a viable political party remains in serious doubt.

For most Malaysians of Chinese descent, the MCA is no longer relevant. They share the common problems of urban life with Malaysians of all ethnic backgrounds.

If the MCA wants urban votes, it may eventually have to recognize the reality that whilst racism still has its appeal in rural areas, drawing votes based on blind faith in race-based parties in semi-urban and urban Malaysia is no longer a viable strategy.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

BN caught in a time-warp

The Prime Minister has outlined his cabinet's vision for a Malaysia that is to be more united and resilient. He hopes to achieve this by transforming Malaysia into a high income country by increasing productivity through innovation and specialised knowledge.

Thus far, he has yet to reveal how this can be achieved without widening the income gap between ethnic groups and within ethnic groups. To achieve these aims, the government now needs to win hearts and minds. This will not be easy as the BN is caught up in a time-warp.

The question is this: "Can a political arrangement that sprung up in the pre independence struggle still be relevant in 21st century Malaysia?" Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (left) shed light on the matter, explaining Umno's struggle embodied in Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak and Tun Ismail.

He believes that one can be a Malay and Malaysian nationalist at the same time. Tengku Razaleigh said that these men showed " it (the national cause) could be both Malay and Malaysian, nationalist and cosmopolitan, traditional and contemporary, at one and the same time."

Is this the essence of Malaysia? That we need not compromise our ethnic identities to be thoroughly committed to the national cause? Many politicians will find that hard to accept, and opportunists will dismiss it, sticking to simplistic solutions and blaming other ethnic groups for everything.

Tengku Razaleigh admits that what he is advocating for Umno and Malaysia is idealistic. In our current state of affairs we sorely need a confidence-booster. Morale is at a very low point, and we are in danger of losing our self-confidence as a people.

No confidence in the judiciary

Perhaps we cannot be united totally, but we must believe that we share common aims. That sense that we all belong to one nation is unravelling. Our economy is no longer so buoyant with substantial job losses in manufacturing.

The middle-class is saddled with huge housing loans and many are exposed to heavy credit card debt. Unskilled workers are still eking out their living by doing several jobs for very little financial return.

We look at our institutions and shudder. The recent Perak constitutional crisis does not inspire confidence in our judiciary. Judgements that even a layperson can see are full of holes, do not earn respect.

The brutish behaviour of law enforcement officers, the death of a witness after hours of interrogation over RM2,400 defies logic.

The cabinet decision to pull the plug on MACC's 'Selangor' investigations until the dust has settled over Teoh Beng Hock's (right) sudden death is a clear indication that the government is struggling with a mounting public backlash against it.

The great challenge for the BN is how to convince Malaysians to share some common vision. The first thing it has to do is to build up consensus. The days of imposing one's will onto others, even if one is the mighty Utusan, no longer works.

Nowadays even the staunchest Malay nationalist, if he/she thinks, will begin to have doubts. For example, why have a few privileged Malays become so rich, whilst the majority remain so poor?

Successive leaders blame corruption. In a country where most civil servants are paid such low wages, corruption is bound to be high. Any suggestion of giving them more pay tends to be met with bluster and outrage: Are we rewarding people who are corrupt?

Here, we are seeing only half the picture. For every bribe received, there is someone out there giving bribes, and in most cases this is, in truth, a comfortable symbiosis.

Malaysians had such high hopes for the MACC. It was supposed to be our version of the Hong Kong ICAC, which, if Hong Kong movies are to be believed, is fearless and incorruptible.

But the reality is that it was imposed from outside, and took years to build up its reputation. It took a lot of political will and a lot of pain.Unfortunately, political will is in short supply and the pain threshold is particularly low in Malaysia.

Institutional changes too little too late

What I fear most is that the BN actually does not have time. In fact, time has already run out. KPIs, judicial reforms, royal commission recommendations that are not implemented and other necessary institutional changes now all seem too little too late.

The government must realise that if BN is to ensure its political survival, and carry Malaysia forward, it can no longer entrust its future to "BTN-types". These are the people who will use wonderful slogans like "psy-war" to convince the PM that they can help BN to win the next general election.

They will recommend the breaking up of Pakatan in order to hold on to power. The reality is that they will only bring like-minded friends along with them. The majority of Malaysians will find their racist attitudes out-dated and destructive,
and to many Muslims, "un-Islamic".

If Malaysia is to work, we need to evolve a type of leadership that embodies wholesome, inclusive values as Tunku Abdul Rahman (left), Tun Razak and Tun Ismail did.

It remains to be seen if the current PM can be, like the late Tunku, "a prince with the common touch", a man of vision with the courage to stick to clear principles. These were the qualities that any Malaysians would admire.

Once again, Tengku Razaleigh has proved to be a wise statesmen, by providing constructive ideas at this critical juncture in our nation's life. Today, when we need idealism and purpose, and it does not seem to be coming from this government.

Malaysia seems to be in danger of moving down, as quickly as Indonesia is moving up. Should that happen, it would be Malaysians who are sending maids over to Indonesia!

A Royal Commission is now imperative

A young life has been lost. How Teoh Beng Hock plunged to his grizzly death from the same building that houses the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is still not known.

The MACC insisted that Teoh had been released at 3.45am on that fateful day. Why Teoh chose to remain in the lobby of the MACC and was seen sleeping on one of the sofas at 6am is also a mystery.

If Teoh was not going to be charged, why did he not go home when he had his car parked in the building? Why stayed in the MACC for many hours more?

Perhaps I am ignorant of police procedure but why was Teoh's body, which was discovered at 1.30pm, left in the same spot till 9pm?

Twice I have seen the quick action of the police and ambulance service where bodies of an accidental fall and suicide were removed efficiently within less than two hours.

The death of Teoh has cast a sinister shadow over the MACC. These questions need answers. The Royal Malaysian Police are now investigating Teoh's death. But there is much disquiet in the air.

BN's Khairy Jamalludin is correct when he joined the growing chorus urging the Malaysian government to set up a royal commission to investigate Teoh's death.

The Umno Youth leader said that this was the only way the MACC can clear its name. The Bar Council, opposition leaders and civil society leaders are also saying the same thing.

The MACC, to the layperson, is increasingly seen as a tool used to intimidate opposition politicians. In Teoh's case, it was to investigate the way the Sri Kembangan state assemblyman, his boss, managed his state allocation.

Why is the MACC not swooping into the office of the Port Klang Authority or the super-mansion of former Selangor MB that even Dr Mahathir Mahathir found extravagant and beyond the means of a civil servant, even if he was menteri besar?

Selective persecution

To the man on the street, the impression is that the MACC will zealously go after a sitting Pakatan menteri besar over the alleged donation of cows that were later slaughtered and given out as alms during Awal Muharam but not the former transport ministers who cannot remember or understand what conflict of interests mean!

Forget about the slippery slope, if the BN government does not act quickly to restore confidence in the country's institutions like the MACC, the police and the judiciary, we are definitely going on a downward spiral to a place Malaysians have never been before: becoming a failed state!

Yet, Malaysians must remain calm. For whatever one may say about the BN-led government, the murder of opposition politicians is not something they indulge in. It is not and should not be cast as a culture here.

There may be deaths in police custody. We already have the recommendations of the royal commission set up to investigate the Royal Malaysian Police. The home minister might wish to re-examine some of those recommendations and act on them, and restore public confidence in an institution that has seen us through the communist insurgency and protected Malaysian lives.

The good police officers, many of whom are overworked and risking their lives everyday, deserve better. Someone of the stature of former police chief Hanif Omar should be consulted regarding the restoration of public confidence in the Royal Malaysian Police.

MACC now in the docks

These are emotional times but in a country that believes in the rule of law, the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise is sacrosanct.

The MACC, although not a suspect in the normal legal sense, is now in the docks of the court of public opinion. Malaysian politicians from both sides must demonstrate maturity and give the same benefit of doubt to the MACC.

This is why a royal commission needs to be set up. Deputy Prime Minister Muhiyuddin Yassin should explain why the government does not wish to set it up.

A hardline attitude refusing to acknowledge the reality that public confidence in the MACC and the police are rock bottom will only hurt the government in the long run. Moreover, it will not stop the continuing speculation over Teoh, why he died after a long interrogation at the MACC.

A neutral body with wide-ranging investigative powers and made up of men acceptable to both sides of the political divide should be set up. This royal commission should report directly to the Agong without going through any politician. The report must then be released to the public without going through filters.

This may all sound unfair to the MACC, the police and the BN government but in the long run, it will improve their credibility. Treating this as just another case may satisfy a small group but it
will not quash the suspicions that ordinary Malaysians harbour in the heart.

Where is all this racism going?

If a political party admits to itself that it is on the wane, that it no longer enjoys control over the middle-ground, that there is solid support for the opposition; it is only logical for that party to find ways to claw back support.

Umno, by its own acknowledgment, the leader of the Barisan Nasional coalition, is now employing a simple strategy to win the support of Malays who are anxious about their future.

The party already enjoys the support of the largely Malay civil service, many of whom see the participation of non-Malays as a possible threat to their "rice-bowl". It must now win over anxious fence-sitters, many of whom feel insecure about 1Malaysia and the ultimate conclusion of such policies: a Malaysia of equal opportunities regardless of "race".

Permatang Pasir, which will be fought over during the holy month of Ramadan, will be held up as a clear indicator that support for the Opposition is on the wane.

The tide, Umno is currently arguing, turned at Manek Urai. It is almost a foregone conclusion that Umno will win the seat, owing to the might of government machinery. It simply has to win otherwise the BN is set on an irreversible course for the dust-bin of history.

BN's victory in Permatang Pasir will also be held up as the beginning of the recovery of the non-Malay parties, particularly the MCA and Gerakan. The Chinese voters have finally returned to the BN, the mainstream press will claim. It is not that they want to vote BN, another newspaper will scream but simply that the Pakatan Rakyat is untenable.

Selangor will then fall with Khir Toyo returning as MB and Malay power restored.

The above is the best-case scenario for the BN. But to achieve such an outcome, Umno knows that it must create a suitable situation to galvanise overwhelming Malay support based on a variety of platforms including religion, ethnic-equality and economic advancement.

It does not matter if the situation feeding Malay anxiety is of its own creation. What matters most in politics is impression, which is best "believed" if it is "felt". Nothing feels more real than fear.

Creating a group fear

Most Malaysians have nothing against one another. Individually human beings can be quite rational. But talk to them when they are in a group and a different voice is heard. By suggesting that the Malays are about to lose political power, anxiety is stimulated.

The next step is to publish a few stories through anonymous blogs. Repeat it often enough and rumours begin to "sound" real. This is because we have been programmed to believe in repeated slogans, especially after 30 years of being bombarded by daily doses of intense advertisements.

The current economic crisis also helps as most people are feeling insecure about their jobs. Put all these different and often unrelated issues together and "group fear" is created.

Legitimacy to "group fear" is added when senior politicians denounce anyone who disagrees as "traitors to the race". At the same time, ministers exhort the people to respect the constitution as though those opposed to them do not and are therefore unpatriotic.

Then say that you will strike at them with the full might of the state and exercise executive powers of arrest and harassment. Finally, blame these "traitors" for "destablising" the country by arguing that if they did not exist, we would not have to do what we are doing in the first place.

Umno and those in-charge of "psychological-warfare" understands how this strategy works because it is as old as the hills. They are adopting it because it always works.

One man, above all else, perfected it. He knew about the attraction of colourful costumes, knew that to get people to follow, one must first create an enemy.

Then to be really effective, one must not only beat but brutally kill any opposition including those manufactured ones. Group fear will do the rest as people take ownership of the killings in the name of "patriotism". Above all, one can take the opportunity to get rid of one's opponents by directing "group fear" against them.

This can happen in a dictatorship, in parliamentary democracy, and in any human society. Perhaps, it will be better to allow the man who perfected this strategy to describe it in his own words:

"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

But there are consequences to the strategies of Hermann Goering. For those who are unfamiliar with World War II, Goering was Commander of the German Air Force [and not the Minister of Propaganda for Nazi Germany as published in Malaysiakini]. The consequences for ethnic-based demonising are the same everywhere: human suffering, economic collapse and eventually, a failed state.

The call to arms issued by Umno and its continued insistence that Malay rights will be "protected" begs the question why the Malays need protecting after 52 years of Umno and BN administration.

Creating a smokescreen

This remains the question that it cannot answer without compromising the coalition.

By creating an enemy out of the Opposition, it hopes that the smokescreen of ethnic hate will be so confusing that it need not answer that fundamental question.

This naked appeal to group fear amongst the Malays may yield short term gains and may even win Permatang Pasir for Umno but once the "ethnic hate" genie is out of the bottle, it will be very hard to get it back in.

As Goering said, "the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

What he didn't say was that the fires of hate such a policy created not only led to the death of millions, it destroyed Germany and ultimately unleashed an equally strong reaction from those opposed to Nazi Germany's cause. German cities were bombed with as much unreason.

So win Permatang Pasir if it will restore some confidence in the BN but win it cleanly and on real issues. Otherwise, the seeds of hate sown by politicians will one day grow into demons that will consume us all.