On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

A light rap will send the wrong message

On Thursday, Zakaria announced his decision to resign as a councillor of the local authority after the Umno supreme council ordered him to pull out from the swearing-in ceremony for the councillors on Wednesday. 

Despite the defiance put up by his supporters, the two-term elected representative must have got the message as he informed local reporters near midnight via SMS.  

He should be thankful. He is still keeping his other positions in the party and state government including the powerful Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Selangor land committee, which handles land matters in Selangor. 

Zakaria continues to head the Port Klang Umno division. He is elected to the post and no one can take it away from him. The former railway gatekeeper and waiter appears to enjoy the support of his division and the supreme council is correct in keeping the status quo. 

Well-connected and powerful, the Klang strongman has plenty of clout, which explains why even some senior Umno leaders are reluctant to comment on the controversy. One minister made a statement but called the reporter back quickly to retract it. 

That is the perception of the political and media circles, but over the past 48 hours, Zakaria has made serious efforts to change his tough guy image. He has depicted himself as a caring politician with a heart of gold for the villagers. 

He has listed to the reporters the charitable work he has done and has dismissed suggestions that he is rude and arrogant, saying the constituents did not even address him as a Datuk but only as Abang Zak. 

He has profusely sought forgiveness, saying he has made mistakes, like all human beings, and hoped that he would be given a chance to rectify them. That included submitting plans for his mansion, which is still under construction, and to pay his assessment for 12 years. 

The beleaguered politician has blamed the opposition, his architects and other jealous politicians for the furore that has gripped the nation for the last one week. 

When he finally met the press, the former office boy read from a prepared text and refused to take difficult questions relating to his mansion, the DZ Satay House built illegally on state land, and other issues. 

The controversy would surely fizzle out over the next two weeks as the media move on to other issues. Zakaria certainly hopes that all would be forgotten soon. Malaysians easily forget, anyway. 

The Umno general assembly begins on Nov 13 and national attention would definitely shift to the Putra World Trade Centre, where more pressing national issues would be discussed. 

But for many Malaysians, the Zakaria episode is an example of how some politicians can abuse their powers and are able to get away with it. There seems to be different rules for different classes of power. How many of us would be able to escape paying assessment fees for 12 years without facing some form of action from the council? 

The poor satay man had his extension demolished while Zakaria's restaurant continued standing following a telephone call from a purported Datuk to the council. How many of us have that privilege?  

It is more than just Zakaria not paying his assessment fees and ignoring the law; the abuse of power and the flaunting of his wealth have also disgusted many Malaysians. It is his seeming disrespect to Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah and Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Khir Toyo that has put off the public. 

But much more important is the question of credibility, integrity and accountability. Malaysians are dismayed that some of our politicians are unable to discern truth, and simply refuse to take responsibility.  

They call themselves the representatives of the people, claiming they want to serve the people, but humility seems to be a trait they do not know. Throwing crumbs to their constituents seems to be their notion of dedication to the people. 

The leadership risks sending the wrong message to the public with the light rap on the knuckle on Zakaria.  

No one disputes his divisional leadership qualities but the abuse of powers and disregard for the laws are surely serious enough for the leadership to ponder on, not forgetting the strong public sentiments on the issue. 

If there is anything to take comfort from the resistance put up by the councillors in refusing to step down from the MPK, it must be their passion to serve the ordinary people.  

Not many Malaysians would want to take up jobs that pay an allowance of only RM500 a month but politicians are fighting over each for other for these positions. We wonder why.