As the election draws near, the mainstream media continues to work overtime as a Barisan propaganda machine, putting out articles which demean the Pakatan Rakyat coalition, while at the same time trying to portray the Barisan Nasional coalition positively. While credibly singing Barisan's praises for their good track record seems beyond even the capabilities of the chained and puppet-strung pens of our political analysts, one message they send is often repeated. It is often used and repeated mainly because it is a promise of the future, rather than a justification of the past, and as with all things in the future, we cannot discount the possibility entirely no matter how much the past seems to indicate that it is all wishful thinking. I'm speaking of the message of "transformation" (since "change" is probably a taboo word for Barisan these days), and how despite a pedigree of 55 years in power (of which the last 25 or so are the main cause of discontent) the ruling government believes that things will get better if given another 5 years in power. It's like the Ming Dynasty's Wanli Emperor, who presided over 28 years of growth followed by 20 years of complete debauchery and corruption - if Emperors sought mandate from the people the way public servants do, I wonder if the people of China would have believed him if he had asked for another 5 years on the throne.
I personally cannot claim to predict accurately as to whether Barisan Nasional will change for the better, or even if it did, whether it would perform better than a new Pakatan Rakyat government. I can, however, share why I take Barisan's promises with a pinch of salt, and why I really feel that this government must not be allowed to continue in power, at least for the next term.
I am not a man of many needs and wants. I do not expect my government to hand out goodies like cash handouts, smartphone subsidies or (let's be honest and look both sides here) free wi-fi for the public. They might be nice to have (at least for the moment - the long term implications of some of these goodies may yet come back to haunt us later) but they are not what define my perception of acceptable leadership in my country. It would be nice if the stock market kept going up when I held shares, or the traffic congestion was reduced, or if we had better roads, or if we had zero corruption, and so on, but these are all secondary to the main things I want as a Malaysian voter. I would like to share with you the three most important things to me right now, how I feel about the government's performance in these areas, and what hope I see that our government will make improvements in these areas.
I want to live in a country where my family can walk along the streets without constantly being in fear of snatch thieves, where my blood wouldn't run cold if I lost sight of my child for a couple of seconds when in a shopping centre, where our families and friends could live freely without needing to invest in all kinds of security devices, alarms etc. The security of our people has never been worse than in recent years - I think almost everyone I know knows someone who has been a victim of some form of street crime. My wife has had her handbag snatched, my cousin has been robbed at his workplace and another friend has been robbed by a mob of motorcyclists at a petrol station - thankfully all are physically unharmed, which is more than can be said for so many other Malaysians. People are living in fear every day, and hoping that the situation will be tackled by our government.
Let us ignore for a moment the possibility that all this has happened due to our government's deliberate action rather than in spite of their best efforts. Let us ignore that apparently only 8% of our police force budget allocation is spent on fighting crime. Let us ignore that 10 policemen were sent to arrest the peaceful ex-mufti of Perlis, and are frequently deployed in great numbers to arrest Opposition politicians. If our government had expressed outrage at the crimes, promised to clamp down hard on the criminals, pledged to increase policemen on the streets and asked our forgiveness for letting it happen in the first place, I would still be upset with them, but I might have been persuaded to let them do their best and try to resolve the issue. Instead, what did we get? Our Home Minister (under whose purview the police force falls) declared that Malaysia is the safest country in South-East Asia. He claims that it is perception of crime, rather than crime, which is upsetting everyone. Crime statistics are manipulated through classification of crimes into "index crimes" and "non-index crimes" in order to show us that crime is at an all-time low. Another Barisan MP declares that when citizens have to pay extra money to employ private security to protect their homes and families, that these gated communities are for "exclusivity" and to prevent salesmen and gasmen from getting in. If our leaders refuse to even see the problem (for now, we set aside the possibility that they may have actually deliberately caused it), what hope do I have that the situation will ever improve under this government?
I want to live in a country where my children can go to school and get a good, well-rounded education. I want them to graduate as employable individuals who can join a productive workforce, settle into secure careers and provide for their families. I want my kids to learn about all things bright and beautiful (and those less so) in school, to be exposed to all the rich aspects of our lives, and to be able to think intelligently, respond rationally and, as Louis Armstrong beautifully put it, "learn much more than I'll ever know". Tragically, our education system has, over the past years, degraded further and further into, and well past, mediocrity. Today we have tens of thousands of graduates searching vainly for employment - this might not sound curious were it not for the fact that we also have countless under-staffed employers desperately searching for suitable employees as well. Our current graduates are just not employable, primarily due to an abysmal command of English taught at school. Most graduates are unable to communicate, having spent their formative years in institutions which train them to study, memorise and regurgitate. Having lost English-medium schools in 1970, our country also runs three separate education systems in Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and Tamil, narrowing even further the potential of our children in seeking employment outside the ethnic boundaries in which they have lived in all their formative years. Parents can only watch helplessly, and attempt to ameliorate the situation by sending our children for additional classes whenever we can afford it, hoping that the situation will be tackled by our government.
Let us ignore for a moment the possibility that all this has happened due to our government's deliberate action rather than in spite of their best efforts. Let us ignore that the government has resisted tooth and nail the reimplementation of English-medium schools, or has yet to even make English a compulsory-pass subject. Let us ignore that our Ministers send their children to private schools, international schools, and even overseas, to secure an education that they will not give to the children of the common man. Let us ignore the possibility that they might do so purely to keep the general population less educated than their own children. Let us also ignore that it is infinitely easier to divide and conquer a nation of three distinctly separate major ethnic communities to whom they can selectively communicate news which is not for the ears of other groups, and let us ignore that a nation of English-fluent people will force them to deal with all of us as a single people, forcing them to abandon racial and religious politics upon which they might have depended on all these years. If the government expressed outrage at our education system, increased the budget for training of teachers, made efforts to bring back English as a medium of instruction, came up with plans to revamp the entire teaching profession and ensure that all teachers were properly equipped to teach their subjects, increased their pay so that they wouldn't need to resort to teaching tuition to make ends meet, and then asked our forgiveness for letting it happen in the first place, I would still be upset with them, but I might have been persuaded to let them do their best and try to resolve the issue. Instead, what did we get? Our Education Minister boasts that our education system is better than that of the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. Academic results are manipulated through ludicrous marking systems in order to show that the number of As scored every year are on the increase, while passing marks have apparently been lowered to as low as 14% in order to artificially boost pass rates. Science and Mathematics, both of which were in the midst of migrating (albeit in a very ill-planned manner) back to English medium of instruction, have reverted to Bahasa Malaysia despite public outcry, and the soft landing which was supposed to be in place (and even that came through pressure from parents groups) hasn't been practised by the teachers in the schools, as if teaching in English for a minute longer was totally unacceptable to this government. If our leaders refuse to even see the problem (for now, we set aside the possibility that they may have actually deliberately caused it), what hope do I have that the situation will ever improve under this government?
I want to live in a country where all races can come together without prejudice of each other, where Malays, Indians and Chinese can be best friends, and even become family. I want us all to get along like we did during my father's time - his best friend is a Malay, and even now he would visit us with his family during Christmas and have dinner together. A country where the stereotyping of races with negative traits will be a thing of the past, where my son can grow up with Malay friends and Indian friends, learning their culture and sharing his culture with them. When Malays can order food and swear in Cantonese, Chinese can count in Tamil, and we can all go for Malay weddings and enjoy the wonderful food, all sharing the best that we have with each other. Sadly, in recently years, racial polarization has been on the rise. Go to any college campus and you see the Malays, Chinese and Indians all in their own little groups (a by-product of our education system). Malay-rights group Perkasa makes ill-advised comments on other ethnic groups publicly without fear of reprisal, we still have racial quotas in academic institutions as well as in the public sector, Chinese employers insist on only hiring Chinese employees for work which anyone can do, the story of May 13's racial riots is constantly brought up to remind us not to speak up on injustices, and so on. Some are constantly reminded that they are descendants of immigrants, while others choose to use race and religion to justify hypocrisy and discrimination. Even when the people themselves have started to look beyond racial boundaries, the mainstream media continues to attempt to stoke racial tensions by playing races against each other.
Let us ignore for a moment the possibility that all this has happened due to our government's deliberate action rather than in spite of their best efforts. Let us ignore the fact that when the country's three racial groups are divided, it continues to keep the Barisan Nasional model and its three race-based parties relevant. Let us ignore that some Barisan Nasional members cannot stop referring to non-Malays as pendatang. If the government expressed outrage at racism, took affirmative action against Perkasa, ensured that Malaysians of all ethnic groups were accorded the same respect as each other, made efforts to eliminate the perception that we were all different, and were all Malaysian, and then asked our forgiveness for letting it happen in the first place, I would still be upset with them, but I might have been persuaded to let them do their best and try to resolve the issue. Instead, what did we get? Our Deputy Prime Minister claims that his Malay heritage is more important than his Malaysian identity. Our Prime Minister waxes lyrical about what a wonderful multi-racial country we are and what an example we are to other countries. Our government actively gives private screenings of Tanda Putera, a racial tension-stoking movie about the May 13 racial riots in an effort to remind the Malays of the grudges they should have against the Chinese, and our Minister in the Prime Minister's Department supposedly in charge of ethnic unity defends the private screenings to selected ethnic groups. Our government continues to play race against race, religion against religion. To the Malays they say that by voting Opposition, Malays will lose power, all the Malay rights will be abolished and Malaysia will be a Christian nation, while to the Chinese the story turns 180° and becomes about how the Opposition will bring in Islamic law, and that the Chinese will lose all their freedom. The racial and religious cards are played with impunity by a government desperate to create unrest, and if our leaders do not see it as a problem (and in this case, it is difficult to set aside the possibility that they have actually deliberately caused it), what hope do I have that the situation will ever improve under this government?
There's a trend there, isn't there? These are not isolated cases of negligence (or malicious sabotage, depending on what you choose to believe), but the inherent way Barisan Nasional approaches issues which should be given priority. If they had genuinely offered to do better, wanted to change, or at the very least taken full responsibility for the mess that has piled up under their watch, I would most likely have been inclined to take a less radical option, for who really enjoys the thought of major change outside our normal comfort zones?
There was a time when I, like many other Malaysians, believed that with the retirement of Tun Dr Mahathir, we would see improvement, and hopefully an end to corruption and money politics. That the corrupt administration inherited by Tun Abdullah Badawi frustrated him so much that, in my opinion, he gave up trying to push reforms halfway into his term, only reminded us that the stench of corruption has permeated far deeper into Barisan Nasional than we had initially expected, and that not even a reform-minded Prime Minister (and I believe Pak Lah was sincere in the initial stages) could save Barisan Nasional. In the same way that the corrupt Ming Dynasty government inherited by the Chongzhen Emperor could not be saved despite his best efforts, we have to accept that even if Najib was totally sincere in his push for reform (and his actions have so far not suggested anything of the sort) Barisan Nasional has, in my opinion, lost its mandate to serve the people. Only through change of government, followed by change within Barisan Nasional as they start to face reality, can bring about the changes we want to see in this country - a government which recognises that it is elected to serve the people, and needs to be accountable (both to the rakyat and to the strong Opposition) for everything it says and does. A government which does everything for the good of all the people regardless of race, colour or creed, and not for their own personal gain. A government which can unite the people of all ethnic backgrounds and push this country forward as one united people, one nation, for our future and the future of our children. That cross may yet one day be borne again by Barisan Nasional leaders, but for now, it must lie with other people.