Political ignorance

April 23, 2013

We often say that rural areas are the heartland of the Umno vote, where the majority have no access to the Internet and glean their information about the world from the mainstream media – Utusan Malaysia or RTM.

We denigrate the rural people because of their lack of knowledge, and excuse their ignorance because of their location. We tar them with the label of being less politically savvy than their cousins in the cities.

Two widows, Amira and Zaharah, live 320km apart, and live on their husbands’ pension, of about RM800 per month. Both are uncertain of their future and struggle to make ends meet. Both were asked for their opinions about GE13.

Amira, who is 66, lives alone in her own home.

Will you vote in GE13?

Amira: I don’t know, yet. It depends if I can get transport to the polling station, but I am more worried about leaving my house unattended. Crime is rampant and even shoes left on the porch go missing.

Nowadays, you can’t trust anyone. There are several foreigners around and the police are too busy to come and investigate. The papers say that crime is down. I don’t know who to believe.

Which party might you vote for, if you do vote?

azlanMy parents and all my relatives have always been Umno supporters. Look at the money the government is giving to the community. They are so generous, the BR1M is a godsend.

Are you aware that this money is funded by you, the rakyat?

I always thought the money came from Umno but then I never gave it much thought. So am I handing money over to the government, for them to give away? I don’t earn enough to pay tax, so that cannot be true.

People who earn enough and pay tax, contribute towards this payment. Some pensioners and low-income earners will be paying tax in other ways. When you buy rice, electricity or petrol, you are paying tax. Would you consider voting for the opposition if they are more responsible in managing your money?

I would never allow the Chinese to overrun and rule this country. They will turn us into another Singapore. If possible, we should send the Chinese packing.

The Chinese are also Malaysians. If your car broke down tomorrow, who would fix it? You once said that you trust only your Chinese mechanic to repair your car.

Perhaps, some Chinese should stay.

Why do you fear the Chinese?

When I meet friends at my weekly religious classes at the mosque, we are told that the Chinese will take over Malaysia and make it a Christian country.

Malaysia cannot become a Christian nation because it is stated in the constitution. Moreover, the Christians only make up 9 percent of the population. You went to a mission school, so did they convert you to Catholicism?

I spent some of my best years in the Convent, together with other Malay girls. None of us became Christians despite going to chapel, attending services, celebrating Christmas at friends’ homes and singing carols.

Do you think the Malays of today are less religious?

azlanI see more people going to religious classes and wearing tudung. There are more halal restaurants. Malays today are possibly more religious but in my time, we were more relaxed and I hardly read things like baby dumping or people dying while escaping the moral police.

Do your clothes define your religious conviction? What about some of our grandmothers who did not wear the tudung?

My mother and her grandmother were very religious people despite not wearing the tudung, but I worry about the behaviour of some Malays today. Some tend to go on the umrah after committing bad deeds. I thought Shahrizat Abdul Jalil was remarkable to go three times in two months, until someone said she had been involved in some scandal.

Do you think the Malays of today are better off than in the 1940s, 50s or 60s?

Yes, I think so. The twin towers are proof that the Malays are successful. More Malays are at university. Look at the Malay involvement in building Putrajaya.

NONEThe twin towers and Putrajaya may be symbols of modernity but they are also symbols of corruption because much money has been siphoned off into politicians’ pockets. Did you know about this?

No, I didn’t know that, but I remember Imam Hoslan Hussein talking about corruption in the mosques. I can’t understand why he was jailed for a year.

Government projects are not always put to open tender. In some cases, a company will have won a closed tender, because they have bribed an official involved in awarding the contract. Usually, the cost of the building spirals out of control. Are you aware that cost-cutting, the use of inferior materials and poor workmanship contribute towards defects that have led to buildings and bridges collapsing?

Is that what happened to the Terengganu stadium? When my son’s tender for a small building contract was unsuccessful, he said that someone else “paid” to get the contract. Now I know why.

Do you think that Malays are better educated than in your schooldays?

I attended school up to the equivalent of Form Five but I think I speak better English than many graduates. There are more Malays with degrees now but they have not used their education properly.

My husband, a civil servant, used to complain that some Malays lack confidence, and hide their insecurities behind a veil of arrogance. I think perhaps, they are lulled into thinking they are excellent, when in truth they could do better by being more humble.

Similar questions were put to the other widow, 74 year-old Zaharah, who lives in a village in central Perak. She was forced to move, because her land was compulsorily purchased for a mining development.

She now lives in a clearing on the outskirts of her former kampong. She has no emotional attachment to this area. She has seen kampong life being strangled and has not noticed any improvements for pensioners.

Zaharah is scornful of attempts to help the young while ignoring the elderly, and so has tried to keep abreast of political developments, with the help of family and friends who visit from the city, or by attending the occasional ceramah. She knows which party to vote for GE13.

Back in Petaling Jaya, Amira is thankful that she and her husband had purchased their semi-detached home 40 years ago.

She copes with retired life in the city because two of her children help with the finances, but her complacency means that she has not bothered to find out why prices are rising, or considered that she and the other taxpayers will eventually have to pay for the largesse of the BN government.

It is clear that it is not just the location or the availability of the Internet or alternative media, that makes a person, politically ignorant.

Amira said: “My son says that Umno Baru is not the Umno that I knew. I must say that I have seen many improvements in PJ in the last five years. So maybe, I should vote for the opposition, this time.”

(Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak’, this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.


Who is legally responsible?

April 18, 2013

It is interesting that these past weeks The Star, Loyar Burok and the Election Commission have expressed their views on caretaker governance. The NGO Aliran also raised the same issue before the 1999 general election.

The Election Commission most recently spoke on caretaker governance, but not to answer the issues raised.

The primary concern raised in each of these articles was about “legal authority and responsibility” for new administrative initiatives carried out during the absence of an elected government.

This is especially so when the legal or legitimate appointments are non-existent because of the period of transition with the general election being called.

Allow me to repeat some of the legal views and arguments on this subject and then raise my real concerns.

The Star reported:

Constitutional law expert Datuk Dr Cyrus Das said a caretaker government should not make any new policy or enter significant government contracts that can bind any future government.”

Loyar Burok wrote: “So how should a BN caretaker government act in practical terms?

  1. The affairs of the state are still in the hands of the prime minister and his cabinet.
  2. Implementation of executive decisions and the day-to-day administration of government are, in any event, carried out by the one million strong civil service, which is supposed to be independent and neutral with regard to party politics. In that sense, government is run by the bureaucrats who continue to manage, regardless of which political party is temporarily in power.
  3. Foreign affairs and defence matters are managed as if there is no change. Thus, the defence forces should be entrusted to deal with the invasion of Lahad Datu, Sabah. Operational matters come within their discretion.

What the BN caretaker government should not do is to take policy decisions of a long term nature or which would bind the next government.

Likewise, it should not enter into contracts involving taxpayers’ money and the public purse. A new government is perfectly entitled to review such contracts and terminate them if they are not in the public interest.

Finally, a caretaker government certainly cannot give away monies like the BR1M payments from taxpayers’ fund.”

International practices within Commonwealth

Both Australia and New Zealand have their conventions based on the Westminster tradition of governance.

“In Australian political and constitutional terminology, a caretaker government is a government of Australia during a period that starts when the Parliament is dissolved by the Governor-General prior to a general election, and continues for a period after the election, until the next government is appointed.

A caretaker government is expected to conduct itself in accordance with a series of well-defined conventions that are administered by theDepartment of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, although there is no law compelling the caretaker government to do so.”

In New Zealand the Cabinet Manual has some explicit guidelines for compliance:

6.16 On occasion, it may be necessary for a government to remain in office for some period, on an interim basis, when it has lost the confidence of the House, or (after an election) until a government is sworn in following the government formation process. During such periods, the incumbent government is still the lawful executive authority, with all the powers and responsibilities that go with executive office. However, governments in this situation have traditionally constrained their actions until the political situation is resolved, in accordance with what is known as the convention on caretaker government.

6.17 There are two circumstances in which the government would see itself bound by the caretaker convention:

  1. After a general election, one of the two arms of the caretaker convention applies until a new administration is sworn in.
  2. If the government has clearly lost the confidence of the House, the caretaker convention guides the government’s actions until a new administration takes office, following either negotiations between the parties represented in the current Parliament or a general election.
  3. In both situations the government is likely to state explicitly that it is to operate as a caretaker government until the political situation is resolved.”

Whither Malaysia?

While pundits make their predictions about the future governance of Malaysia, my greater concern is: Will what happened in the Selangor and Penang state secretariats after the 12th general election happen in the federal government offices of Putrajaya?

The files and documents in both Selangor and Penang were cleared out and destroyed by perpetrators and this was allowed by the police And other security forces? Why? How did this happen?

If, in the unlikely probability, the federal government is changed by the rakyat, whom do we “hold responsible” if there is no caretaker stewardship of this democratic process of the transfer of power towards forming a new government?

What is the role of the cabinet secretary or the chief secretary to the government, who is the only ex-officio member of the cabinet today? In fact, he is the only cabinet member, and therefore is legally the only executive authority in Malaysia during the caretaker government period.

What then is the role and responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in all of this? The Agong has discretion of authority in the appointment of the prime minister, as already clarified by Tommy Thomas in hisarticle. But the Agong has no executive authority like the chief secretary.

Are the other many national “enforcement” institutions like the police, Attorney-General’s Chambers, Armed Forces, Auditor-General and all others given legal and jurisdictional authority to handle the transition of governments really ready for such a possibility?

Who do we hold as the right people responsible if all the files and records in Putrajaya are carted away, stolen and shredded into oblivion?

May God help us get all the national institutions of democracy ready for all possibilities and permutations.

KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with.