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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Falling into Umno-Baru's trap



Malaysia is going through mad times. We have two men, with the unmistakable Umno-Baru DNA genetic material coursing through their veins, fighting for pole position.
Intoxicated by the trappings of power, one uses the instruments of the state to maintain his grip on power, principally to escape prosecution, whilst the other is fighting the leadership contest, albeit by proxy, to preserve his decades old legacy.
The year is 2017, but it could so easily be 1987, when Team A and Team B, in the old Umno, was vying for control of the party. Control of the party meant control of one of the richest and most successful emerging Southeast Asian economies at the time.
Ironically, the more Najib Abdul Razak's apologists paint him in a good light, the end-result is that former PM, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, looks like an angel.
If ever we have learnt anything from the past, it is not to trust the Malaysian public. We easily lose sight of our objective, and lose the passion for fighting for what we believe in.
We were swept along by the tide of revelations about 1MDB, by the American Department of Justice (DOJ), Leonardo diCaprio returning his prized Oscar, which once belonged to Marlon Brando, and model Miranda Kerr reluctantly (?) parting with Jho Low's multi-million ringgit gems. These exposés shocked the nation. Their impact was even felt in the rural areas.
The most important thing to do was to capitalise on the momentum created by the DOJ, demand answers from the government, and not stop, until it gives way, or gives up.
This did not happen.
Instead, "religion", the "WD-40" of the Malaysian political world, came to Najib's rescue, once more.
For the non-DIY Malaysian public, "WD-40" is a powerful lubricant, which frees seized parts of machinery, to make them function like new, again.
Extravagant expenses
The DOJ exposés embarrassed Najib's administration. This was compounded by the report about Najib taking his family to the luxury St Regis Resort, in Bali, for a Raya break. During Hari Raya, Malaysians questioned the use of taxpayers' money, to feed 80,000 Malaysians for his Raya open house.
These extravagant expenses, against a backdrop of many budget cuts, in our ministries, were galling. We must tighten our belts, whilst Najib and his family live in the lap of luxury.
It is this contrast in lifestyles, which we should question, but Najib and his inner circle are well versed with the Malaysian psyche.
Malaysians are attracted to religion, like dung flies to cow manure.
A chance tweet by former law minister, Zaid Ibrahim, telling AirAsia pilots to keep their prayers to themselves went viral.
Zaid is right. Passengers, especially phobic flyers, will panic if the pilot suggests they start praying. Zaid did not say we could not pray, but the effect on the Malaysian public was immediate.
We forgot about the DOJ revelations, and attacked Zaid for his tweet. Even Muslims who agreed with Zaid were accused of being disbelievers.
A month ago, we saw the same religious distraction at work. At the start of Ramadhan, the photo of Muslims praying on The Star's, Saturday, May 27 headline, distracted us from the report, about the alarming presence of Malaysian IS terrorists in our midst.
Umno-Baru's tried and tested "religion trick" has been used to maximum effect, several times before.
In 2016, Good Star Limited, Jho Low's company, was accused of diverting millions of ringgits from 1MDB, into Najib's personal bank account.
Suddenly, Hadi Awang's Hudud Bill was fast-tracked to the top of the parliamentary Standing Order list, by Azalina Said Othman. We lost our focus on Good Star and instead thrashed out the implications of hudud in Malaysia.
In 2013, Malaysians were inundated with bad news. The collapse of a ceiling in the Serdang hospital, the structural defects in the KLIA2 complex, the proposed rise in road toll charges, the GST, the excessive spending by ministerial spouses, the increased cost of living, illicit outflows of money, a lousy Malaysian education rating, the Allah issue in Selangor.
These came to a head until, without warning, Mat Sabu was suddenly accused of being a closet Shiite. The religious distraction worked. Fascinated by this sideshow, we stopped questioning government failures.
Will Malaysians learn not to repeat their mistakes? Probably not! We are complacent. We lack confidence. We are easily distracted, by religion. We fall into Umno-Baru's trap, as easily as some politicians fall into a honey trap.
Will Malaysians keep religion out of the cockpit, and out of politics?
The same ulamas, who demand prayers before flights, conveniently omitted to comment on corruption and injustice. How many Malays noticed this?
 

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). BlogTwitter.- Mkini

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