Quite a number of my friends, and my parents too, were surprised at my essay in the book "March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up". They were further shocked at the statements I was quoted saying (in Malaysiakini) at the book's launch last week.
I believe I was only just voicing out what everybody else was thinking about. That's all and I hope those who read my words do not think anything beyond it.
Every week, amongst my little group of friends, talking over 'teh tarik', a few of us keep saying that these are 'dangerous times'. This is what we do. We talk amongst ourselves, we over-analyse things, we speculate and we assume. This is the modern version of the kopitiam talk of kampung elders. Dangerous times? Sounds a lot like a bad Mel Gibson movie.
Anyway, is it anything wrong , for me, or for that matter, anyone else, to say what's on their minds? Being a former journalist and currently a writer for TV and films, it's normal for me to try and understand, and then write it our or say it out publicly or privately.
Yet, it seems now we cannot bring up many subjects. It is taboo or sensitive or threatens national security. Riiighhht.
Most of my friends know I'm apolitical. I'm not a member of any political party ever before or plan to. In fact, many of my friends believe that me not being an UMNO member actually screwed my chances of being FINAS's Director-General two years ago.
Well, if that was true, than that's just too bad.
Some of my friends also think that I am a bigot or a racist. If you read my essay in the book, you would most probably agree. But I'm not overly racist. In my younger days, I've dated non-Malays before. Heck, my brother married a Chinese. Many of my wife's relatives are also Chinese. We get along well.
I also love watching Chinese movies. Some of my favourite filmmakers are Chinese and Indian. So I guess I'm not a racist per se.
On the other hand, I also believe that there's a little 'bigot' in everyone. This 'little bigot' guy in you rears up its ugly head once in a while depending on situations.
I also believe that it is not possible for anyone to not want protect his own race or feel and be proud that his race is 'better' than others'. Then again being proud and protective on one's race need not necessarily constitute one being a racist.
We are after all human.
Throughout my life, I have many times, got into arguments over which is more important - race or religion. Sometimes, to make it more confusing and interesting, I put in another item - citizenship. Think about it.
If you believe religion is most important, than race is secondary. If you put it into the national context, as long as someone is Muslim, he or she can be elected into the highest office in the land. He could either be Indian, Chinese, Eurasian or Malay. Do you think PAS will allow a non-Malay Muslim to lead the country? But this is moot as our constitution mentions that only a Malay can be the Prime Minister (if I am wrong here please do correct me).
On the other hand, if race is more important, than one assumes religion is secondary - but who in his right mind wants to go around saying Islam is less important than being a Malay. No way. Never. That would be down right wrong. Religion is always numero uno. So I guess this creates a conundrum.
What about citizenship? Well, this is the least important item in the equation. Legally, one can be granted citizenship if you fulfill and meet a set of criteria (a difficult and lengthy process - but not impossible).
Now, factor all this and put it into our political context. Imagine someone who is by birth a Malay (from Indonesia or Ceylon or South Africa or the Philippines), a Muslim and is granted citizenship as a Malaysian. Aren't these are the three main criteria for you to be elected into the the highest post in the land? This is being simplistic, but by definition you can.
So we know the main criteria for being our country's leader. Is there anywhere in the constitution that states another item? An item that states you need to be an UMNo member.
From what I know, in the constitution, the word UMNO does not appear. You don't need to be an UMNO member, or for that matter, a PAS member or PKR member, to be the Prime Minister (once again, if I am wrong, please correct me).
No, don't get me wrong. I neither hate nor reject UMNO. It was after all THE party that led our country into independance (albeit pushing aside a few other political parties that had actually preceded them in the fight for Merdeka). But that's politics. There will always be winners and losers.
So, the original UMNO has my utmost respect.
However, over our 51 years of Merdeka, many things have happened. Some bad, mostly good. We have had many leaders, many good some not so. None were perfect.
We have had a guided democracy - a shaky one at times. And with it we have had good times and bad times. But that is the nature of our economy. Sometimes good, sometimes bad.
And through all of these, we have had many politicians who have forgotten what their jobs as elected members to the Parliament entail.
To me, being an elected official is simple. You work for the people. Not for anyone else. You may belong to a party, but you represent your constituents first. So if your constituents want you to disagree with an issue that the party proposes, you have to be bipartisan and put your constituents' point forward first. That is what an MP is supposed to do.
MPs need to have conscience - and their constitutents are their conscience. Without their constituents' votes they would not be there in the first place. They need to be able to think without being partisan. Their constituents' needs should be paramount ALL the time - not just during the campaigns prior to elections.
I gave up the notion of being a politician a long time ago when I realised that many people join political parties, not to help the people, but instead, to enrich themselves. They fight, they plot, they lie their way to the top in their quest to be in a position to win contracts to make a lot of money. This is not exclusive to UMNO. It is true to ALL political parties - including PKR, DAP, GERAKAN etc.
Being a successful politician is like getting a 'free pass jail Monopoly card'. As one, you or your relative or close friends can bid for (and secure) money making contracts. That's all there is to being a politician. It has got nothing to do with representing the needs of your constituents or helping your rakyat. It is all about power and money. And the best thing is you don't need to be educated.
I guess, that is why the rakyat cannot stomach it any longer. Everyone believe that they have been sitting on the sidelines, watching the country being raped by many of these politicians. Raped of the nation's riches. Look at some the telcos. the oil and gas companies, the timber concessionaires, the AP owners. All of them have and need political patronage.
Things need to stop or at the least, change for the better.
Unfortunately, I personally don't believe PKR or PAS is the answer. They, too, will bring the same type of personalities into the forefront. It is just like giving new politicians the keys to our riches.
You really think your life would improve if there is a change in leadership? I doubt it. Unless you're a politician in one of the driving seats, your lives will not change much. Your bank accounts will never fatten. Your future still the same. It has been the same under the past three leaders.
But if you're a politician (or know one), and if you are pally-pally with the people in power, your life will change immediately. You would become a millionaire overnight. If you're a millionaire already, you will treble or quadruple your wealth. Suddenly, you will also have many hangers on who wants to 'tompang' your success and become minor millionaires.
Meanwhile, we, the normal people, will still be driving our Myvi's. We will still tremble at the end of the month wondering if we can meet our credit card payments, if we can meet our hire purchase commitments.
It really doesn't matter if you are a honor graduate student, or if you are a talented executive in a successful firm. It doesn't matter. If you are not a politician or if you don't belong to the party in power or if you don't know anyone in power or related to one, even by marriage, you will always remain that - on the sidelines. Merit doesn't count much.
How many of you out there know for a fact that you are more educated, more talented, more professional and more honest than someone above you? Put up your hands. Yet, you know that the chances are (because you are a nobody and know no one in the various corridors of power or politics) and if you are not a card carrying member of the leading political party, your life will not change much if at all.
And the funny thing is, we, this group of apolitical citizens, make up more than 90 percent of the country's population. And yet, we are the ones left behind.
So, am I saying that we should be defeatists? Maybe. All I am saying is that we are mere pawns. Our only avenue is the voting ballots that come our way once every four or five years.
Yet, even our voting system is surprisingly skewered. You only actually vote for your MP. You don't vote for who becomes Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister is pre-selected by the 3,000 or so party members during their party's AGM, of which you have no say at all. You actually don't vote in the Prime Minister.
In fact, the Prime Minister can actually be replaced by the party anytime - all it needs is an EGM or an AGM and the members can vote in a new party President, who would then be the next Prime Minister of the country. It has got nothing to do with your votes. Your votes are all indirect.
Meanwhile, you and I, we just move on. We try to survive. We go to meet people that really matters. The civil servants. These 'little generals' of government departments who control some of the purse strings. If they don't like your face, that's it. Bye bye projects. Bye bye security.
You need to kowtow to them, lick their asses, take their abuse, act like beggars and hope that all is well.
Such is our life. This is what it means to be a rakyat.