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It is said that history is always written by the victors. Perikatan Nasional parties, having grabbed power by chicanery, are now busily going about the business of rewriting history to whitewash their sordid past, upending the truth about their sorry record in office along the way.

Campaigning in the Slim constituency last week, the secretaries-general of BN, Bersatu, PAS, MCA and MIC stood on stage and quite literally hailed themselves as “saviours” of the nation. BN secretary-general Annuar Musa claimed that the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government was formed to “save” Malaysia from the damage caused by the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) government. Bersatu secretary-general Hamzah Zainuddin went further saying that those who abandoned PH should be treated “as saviours, not traitors” and that their “sacrifice” should be honoured.

Not to be outdone, a bunch of PKR defectors including Azmin Ali, the Brutus of Malaysian politics, also joined the fray badmouthing the government they were once part of for not having done much for the people because it was too busy politicking. Azmin even had the audacity to say that he was not after position but simply wanted to serve the people. Funny the way those who fight hardest to hold on to their positions often say they are not interested in positions.

Of course, politicians have been known to have a wildly inflated opinion of themselves but to claim saviour status is simply too much. And for people like Azmin Ali and Zuraida Kamaruddin – who did nothing of any significance during their 21 months in the PH government other than backstab both their prime minister (Mahathir Mohamad) and their party leader (Anwar Ibrahim) – to now complain about all the politicking that went on is simply duplicitous.

Zuraida also apparently didn’t even seem to know what was going on in her own ministry by the looks of it; she claimed she was not aware, for example, that certain contracts were signed through direct negotiations during her time as PH minister of Local Government and Housing.

All the talk about saviours and traitors, however, should serve as a reality check for voters. Did UMNO-BN save Malaysia from corruption and the abuse of power? Did it safeguard the public purse to ensure that public funds were honestly spent? Did it uphold standards of integrity, transparency and good governance during its long years in office? At GE14, Malaysians answered that question by rejecting UMNO-BN resoundingly.

Their rejection of one of the world’s longest ruling parties was not hard to understand. Under UMNO-BN rule, Malaysia emerged as the greatest kleptocracy in the world. With the connivance of senior politicians and officials, public funds were looted on a colossal scale. While the people languished – some villages in the Slim constituency still do not even have electricity and running water some six decades after independence – the elites and their cronies lived lifestyles of unimaginable indulgence and opulence. The last few decades under UMNO-BN can only be described as years of gross misgovernment, gross abuse of power and gross corruption on an unthinkable scale.

Recall as well that the UMNO-BN state paid billions for ships and helicopters that were never delivered. Things deteriorated so much under UMNO-BN that we had navy ships that were not fully operational, helicopters and fighter jets that had to be grounded and radar systems that didn’t work.  What it says is that we had a government that was not only thoroughly corrupt but thoroughly incompetent as well.

Corruption, in fact, tainted everything. 1MDB, FELDA, MARA and Tabung Haji, to name a few, lost billions through poor management, dubious investments and corruption.

Under the UMNO-BN state, our democracy was also severely degraded while our cherished national institutions were undermined.  Gerrymandering made a mockery of our electoral system. Repressive laws reduced our democratic space. For the first time in our history, enforced disappearances became part of our lexicon. The litany of abuses under the UMNO-BN state was as long as it was appalling.

And let’s not forget too that the UMNO-BN state nearly compromised our sovereignty and independence by borrowing billions of ringgit from China for massive infrastructure projects we didn’t need and couldn’t afford just so that they and their cronies could enrich themselves. Because of their reckless profligacy, the people of Malaysia are going to have to subsidize white elephant projects like the ECRL for decades to come.

In fact, the UMNO-BN state was so callous about our independence and sovereignty that they even allowed the MCA to use Chinese president Xi Jinping as a political prop to attract voters. Never in our history has any political party so shamelessly courted foreign support to win an election the way the MCA did in GE14.

So, who were the traitors? Who were the backstabbers and backbiters who undermined our national resilience from within, who destroyed our national institutions and perverted our justice system? Who allowed corruption to thrive? Who nearly mortgaged our independence to a foreign power?

If not for the change in government that was ushered in after GE14, there can be little doubt that Malaysia would have ended up a failed state. The PH government may not have fully lived up to the expectations of the people but they most certainly instrumental in saving Malaysia from decades of UMNO-BN misrule. Some of the reforms PH initiated and the appointments it made would have led to significant changes in governance but they are now lost because of betrayal and treachery.

Certainly, if not for the change of government, many of those high and mighty  politicians who are now facing charges of corruption, abuse of power and money laundering would never have been brought to justice. Indeed, for decades, they were above the law, a law unto themselves.

But they are so shameless and unrepentant that even now, after all their misdeeds have been made public, they refuse to apologise to the people or take responsibility for betraying the trust of the voters. And what does it say of the ethical and moral standards of UMNO-BN that it appoints a leader who was recently convicted of high crimes to be its star campaigner in a by-election campaign?

If ever a nation needed saving, it was Malaysia. And that is what the people of Malaysia, not the PN leaders who now strut around the Slim constituency, did when they voted out UMNO-BN in favour of Pakatan Harapan. It was the people – the ones who took to the streets in defiance of a corrupt and autocratic government, the ones who stood outside the gates of Parliament to protest gerrymandering and malapportionment, the ones who volunteered as polling monitors and the ones who went out of their way to vote – who are the real saviours of this nation.

PN leaders can try to dupe the gullible by masquerading as saviours but there’s no escaping the fact that they have no moral legitimacy. They are not in government today because they earned the right to lead; they are where they are because they misappropriated the mandate of the people through a backdoor manoeuvre.

In the end, the only takeaway from recent political developments is that many of our politicians are simply beyond redemption. They are hopelessly dishonest, without principle and bereft of integrity. Their treachery and deceit know no bounds. No wonder people are so utterly disillusioned; no wonder the yearning grows for a third force to liberate us from the clutches of such despicable leaders.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur  | 28th August 2020]