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guan eng

Last week, the local twitter world was abuzz with rumours that Parti Amanah Negara had quietly agreed to the DAP’s Lim Guan Eng assuming the premiership in the event that the opposition wins the next elections.

We all know that these rumours are part of an intense propaganda campaign being waged by desperate and unscrupulous people to discredit the opposition and sow division within its ranks.

In this instance, the goal was to discredit Amanah by insinuating that it had sold out to the DAP [read Chinese] and that a vote for the opposition would put the Chinese in the ascendency to the detriment of the Malays.

Such outrageous racism has, unfortunately, become standard fare in Malaysia. It goes without saying that the DAP, which draws its support mainly from Chinese voters, is a convenient target.

Earlier this month, it was about the DAP being secretly funded by Israel in exchange for allowing the Jewish state to establish a military base in the country. This week it’s about the DAP scheming to take control of the country at the expense of the Malays. Who knows what will come next week.

Amanah, put on the defensive, felt obliged to deny that there were any plans to support a Chinese becoming PM. Amanah’s Khalid Samad called the whole idea madness, saying, “Only crazy people will believe such crazy lies.”

Instead of pandering to the racists and trying to appease them, however, we should consider a more germane question: what’s so wrong with Guan Eng becoming prime minister?

It is not hard to argue, for example, that Guan Eng has certainly passed the integrity test by holding fast to his commitment to justice, equality and good governance through all the harsh vicissitudes of opposition life in Malaysia, even suffering imprisonment for his principles. He never compromised or sold out as so many others have done.

Corruption? He is far cleaner than some of the so-called “Mr. Cleans” in the country. Certainly, he has not stuffed his private accounts with millions as others have done. You can be sure that if he had taken so much as a RM10 bribe, our ever vigilant anti-corruption crusaders would have pounced on him and nailed him to the wall.

Fiscal responsibility and economic management? With little or no help from the Federal Government, Penang’s finances are arguably the best in the country. Taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely and transparently for the benefit of all the citizens of the state and Penang today is more prosperous, better organized and more sleaze free than it has ever been. And it continues to attract foreign investment at an impressive rate.

In fact, based on his performance thus far as Chief Minister of Penang, a case can easily be made that he has performed far better than most of the former CMs/MBs who now hold senior positions in the federal government.

Islam? Far from being anti-Islamic, the record shows that the DAP-led state government has, in fact, done more to support Islam in the state than any other previous state government. It has been mindful and respectful of the official religion of the country while defending the rights of other faiths, as all our political parties ought to be doing.

It is, after all, simply smart politics to balance the rights and interests of all communities in a multiracial society.

Political diversity? Despite the ongoing diatribes against the DAP, the fact remains that the DAP, with its eclectic mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Iban MPs, is far more multiracial than any other political party in the country.

To be sure, the DAP is still largely Chinese based in terms of membership but two factors make it an outlier in Malaysian politics: it has consistently, genuinely and fearlessly championed respect for national unity and constitutional democracy, and, it has made serious efforts to be an inclusive political party where all are welcomed, where the rights and privileges of all are respected.

Can any of the other BN parties make the same claim?

Unfortunately no, because they are too stuck in the politics of extremism to even think about moving in that direction. The whole raison d’être for their existence is, in fact, premised upon the idea of keeping communities apart rather than bringing them together.

Of course, we are constantly bombarded with the message that ours is a system based on respect and tolerance for pluralism but any system that denies a citizen an opportunity to serve his country at the highest levels of government simply because of his race or religion has more in common with apartheid than anything else.

All things considered, therefore, Guan Eng might well make a far more credible PM that the one we now have. He is far from perfect of course, but surely he can’t be any worse.

Indeed, with Guan Eng as PM, we might actually end up having the best of both worlds: we would have someone with a proven track in Putrajaya and we would have the whole BN bunch in opposition keeping a close eye on him, watching for misdeeds, sifting through contracts for sleaze, challenging any abuse of power, opposing any attempts at whittling down our constitutional rights or undermining national unity in our country.

After all, who better qualified to keep an eye out for sleaze and misgovernance than BN?

And just in case you are wondering, no, I’m not a DAP supporter and my openness to the idea of Guan Eng becoming PM is not based on any starry-eyed evaluation of his performance or any intrinsic trust in his (or Pakatan’s) infallibility.

I happen to believe in the old dictum that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is a dangerous thing we do when we put a man in high office and put the power of the state at his disposal. Even the best of men can go bad especially if he stays in office long enough. The only way to keep our politicians honest, whoever they are, whatever their principles, is through a robust system of checks and balances and by constantly holding them accountable.

The present race-based political system is too intrinsically unjust, too morally wrong, too ossified, too corrupted, too far gone to be reformed; only a dramatic change, the kind of change that Guan Eng and Pakatan could possibly usher in, might save us and restore our democracy.

I daresay, as well, that the Malays and everyone else will be far better off for it. Better a government that is eager to demonstrate its commitment to the constitution and to the people than one that has consistently taken both for granted.

And, if Guan Eng can replicate at the national level what he has done at the state level, despite nothing but hostility and non-cooperation from the federal government, Malaysia will finally be on its way to achieving its destiny as a progressive, dynamic and just nation at peace with itself and at home in the 21st century.

We have, in fact, nothing to lose and much to gain; certainly something worth thinking about.

[Dennis Ignatius, Wednesday, January 20th 2016]