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Old 07-12-2009, 12:21 PM
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Slow death of a splendid country
Josh Hong

Dec 4, 09

A friend of mine runs a small eatery in Ipoh.When I visited him recently, he related a confrontation with the police.

"They wanted to take my undocumented worker away. I tried to intervene, saying that the guy from Myanmar was simply trying to eke out a living, having fled persecution at home.

"They refused to listen. One of them even said he had no time for sympathy as such, or all Malaysians would soon be out of job. I reminded him what he had just said was un-Islamic.

"That really raised his hackles and he wanted to hit me, only to be stopped by his colleagues," said my friend.

"What happened to the worker?" I asked.

"They abandoned him in the middle of nowhere after they failed to get any money from him. The poor chap walked all the way back to my shop the next morning."

"It was rather audacious of you to accuse the police of being un-Islamic!" said I.

"I had no choice. Umno and PAS have been competing to intensify religiosity in this country, so they'd better make sure all law enforcement officers live by their terribly high standards!"

For those unfamiliar with Malaysia, my friend's experience is not unique. In fact, it has become a norm.

Two years ago, another friend was forced to abort plans to open a nursery after local government officers hinted at "extra costs".

He toyed with the idea again when Pakatan Rakyat came to power in Perak, but hesitated long enough for the new government to be toppled last February.

Malaysian civil servants are largely failing the public. When massive floods hit southeastern Johor about three years ago, rescue workers refused to help unless they were paid.

Syed Hamid Albar, the MP for Kota Tinggi, was taken to task for this and thanks to the presence of the then PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the MP did not talk back, which was out of character.

Now that Najib Abdul Razak hopes to introduce more incentives and attractive initiatives to woo dwindling foreign investment, small and medium industries and local businesses continue to be plagued with bloated bureaucracy and corruption.

Without the support of domestic enterprises, foreigners will find it unsustainable to invest in Malaysia. But local industries have clearly lost their momentum and competitiveness in the last decade.

Politically, our civic culture remains in a sorry state despite the euphoria of the 12th General Election. And this is even more of a concern to me than anything else.

Ill mannered behaviour

Recently a group of BN youth leaders staged a protest outside the Penang legislative assembly, with an unidentified protestor stomping and torching a poster of Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

The latter was piqued and said: "I hope the police would exercise the same tolerance towards other demonstrations."

Since when did the notorious Malaysian police show tolerance towards any form of protest? What Lim stopped short of saying was that he would probably love to see the protestors dispersed, with teargas and water cannons if necessary.

Since taking over the Penang state government in March 2008, the DAP has boycotted Merdeka Review (a Chinese-language news portal) and Utusan Malaysia, while reneging on its promise to restore the Third Vote.

All these acts truly call into question the party's commitment to freedom of information and civil liberties. Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once famously wrote: 'Man is free, but not if he does not believe it.'

I detest the mainstream media for twisting news in subservience to the BN government, but I must conscientiously respect their right to report.

It is the public that has the ultimate authority to decide the contents and quality of reporting, not politicians of either side.

Worse, the DAP continues to behave like a populist party in the wilderness, rather than an effective government in waiting.

While Lim may have been genuinely hurt by the act of torching and stomping, he nevertheless conveniently forgot that party leaders in Perak had on the day before, placed a 'doormat' bearing the faces of the three defectors for others to step on.

Lim chose to jump over the banner, saying that he did not want to get his feet tainted with something "filthy". This mean-spiritedness is utterly uncalled for, and unbecoming of a politician aspiring to lead the nation one day.

Ngeh Koo Ham, the DAP Perak chief, gleefully "confessed" that he did step on the banner "at the request of the press".

As a staunch Christian, Ngeh really should have refrained from doing things that would not only tarnish the image of the Christian community, but betray the trust of the people also.

To create a more mature political culture, we need more rational debate and level-headed reflection on policy-making, rather than incessant name-calling and ill mannered behaviour.

Both sides of the political divide, as well as their respective supporters, should therefore learn to embrace peaceful assembly and freedom of thought, while rejecting hatred and malicious acts.

Down through human history, many nations have risen and fallen because of populism. A mature democracy ensures the right to express differently without humiliating one's humanity.

Koid Teng Guan, the Sungai Pinang assemblyperson, therefore showed acted in poor taste by sending out text messages cursing the MCA and Gerakan to hell.

Evil begets evil, and a distasteful stunt is the last thing that the Malaysian electorate deserves.

One may ask: What about BN representatives who had misbehaved? What about those like Azhar Ibrahim (left), who allegedly showed his butt during a state assembly sitting, and Bung Mokhtar, who is (in)famous for sexist remarks?

To be honest, I have given up on them long ago, and look forward to the new breed of politicians. The expectations are hence higher in regard to Pakatan because many are resigned to the fate that the BN is beyond rescue.

Yet it does not mean that Pakatan leaders can take our trust for granted and squander it!

Given the unruly law enforcement officers and cantankerous political leaders, I'm least surprised at the revelation by the government that the number of Malaysians migrating abroad has almost doubled since last year year.

The truth is, our country is becoming poorer by the day, otherwise the government would not be exhausting all measures to boost tax coffers.

Like a rich Chinese family in the olden times, we are eating high off the hog while the wealth is in fact fast depleting.

And it will only leave the future generations, who have neither the means nor capability to migrate, to suffer.

JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.
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