MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku



Sunday, October 30, 2022

What Britain can teach us about the heart of politics


Well, fancy that! Rishi Sunak is the prime minister of the United Kingdom.

A lot of firsts that go with that – first brown person (even if I think I’m browner than him if you ask me) to be Prime Minister of the UK, the richest by far, and the youngest in the past few hundred years.

At 42, he’s young enough to be my son. But if he were my son, I’d be very disappointed he became a politician. I’m already disappointed with him having been an investment banker (and with Goldman Sachs of all people). Now this.

There’s an old joke about a man ruefully talking about his two sons, one of whom was convicted of a crime, while the other became a politician. “One of my sons went to prison for robbery” he said, “while the other didn’t turn out any good either.”

It turns out you can end up being a politician and a convicted criminal, too. That’s really taking Malaysia Boleh to a whole new level, which is not a bad thing for once.

Half-baked drama queens

Western societies by and large see politicians as a necessary evil, tolerated but certainly not lauded or worshipped. Even the good ones get bruised and battered by the public and the media regularly.

In Malaysia, however, half-baked drama queens of questionable competence and integrity…

OK, let’s not go into that. It’s getting boring bitching about our half-past six politicians. Let’s not get into an extended analysis of all the challenges facing Rishi Sunak either, because that’s too much work. I’ll just focus on one easy aspect of it – his age.

We have too many old people in Malaysian politics (and to be fair, elsewhere too – think of Joe Biden and Donald Trump).

Revenge of the young

One of those among our countless ex-prime ministers said that young people lack the experience to be leaders, meaning they must bide their time, pay their dues and serve their apprenticeship.

The problem is that those who believe this didn’t quite believe it when they were young themselves, when they happily pushed aside old people to make way for their own ambitions.

Scary thought – perhaps all young politicians are destined to end up as old hypocrites?

But even if they did bide their time, paid their dues and served their apprenticeship, many still didn’t turn out very well. It’s certainly not a process guaranteed to produce competent, honest, intelligent political leaders.

Politicians and diapers

British political culture assumes politicians are always up to no good and have to be monitored closely, slapped around from time to time, and occasionally thrown out like smelly diapers and replaced with fresh ones.

This is one colonialist mindset I don’t mind having here in Malaysia! It took us over 60 years before we threw out a bunch of people who had long overstayed their welcome, and brought in a bunch of “new” ones, with a lot of hope and excitement.

But the “new” ones weren’t all that new. Many were recycled – perhaps downcycled is a better word – whose many stains and toxic spots were glossed over because the people were giddy with excitement.

Luxury hotels can be dangerous places for democracy too. Politicians love to get into their limousines and scoot to the nearest 5-star hotel to create a cabal of consensual cahooting to completely corrupt conscientious civil society!

Revenge of the Raj

But at least most British politicians seem to believe in something among the more respectable political beliefs such as capitalism (lower the taxes!) or socialism (raise the taxes!) or the environment (tax everything!).

Given that the British cabinet itself has a few filthy rich (and brown) people, rich even before they entered politics, and the country has a better-functioning system of governance, many don’t get richer after going into politics, unlike those in Malaysia.

Politics here has become a sport, one that pays well to the winners. It’s inhabited by people who couldn’t earn a living any other way, and who’d hold on to their political power as if their lives (and livelihoods) depend on it.

The UK has shown they’re also capable of putting incompetent ideologues in charge who’d try to ram through flawed policies to aid their favoured demographics. But as far as outright political thievery is concerned, they’re way behind many of their ex-colonies.

Much has also been made about Rishi Sunak being the revenge of India over the British Empire, given his Indian ancestry and Hindu faith. But if similar cases (Suella Braverman!) are to be believed, I’d say India shouldn’t expect much favours from him. He’s a British upper-class capitalist twit through and through.

An Indian PM in Putrajaya?

An even more interesting question is, can a Malaysian-born and bred ethnic Indian be a Malaysian prime minister? The formal answer is of course yes – nothing in our Constitution bars this from happening.

The actual answer is: Not for a long long while yet, Thambi.

Not as long as Malay politics still insist on scraping the bottom of every barrel, and not as long as politics is seen as a game to earn wealth for yourself, and often for your next seven generations too.

One thing we’re better than the British is that, after a period of instability, we’re finally going to the polls to ask the rakyat for a fresh mandate. While every dirty trick would be played, at least the people will have a say on who runs things for the next five or so years.

But we should learn from history and understand that to ensure true stability, ministers should never be allowed anywhere near a 5-star hotel. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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