On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Vitriol not valid or vital

Not worth losing sleep over: It is better to turn to family and friends, who are more likely to help immediately, instead of politicians who only turn up to see us once every five years.

THERE’S something toxic about politics in Malaysia that can throw logic and good grace out the window, as exemplified by the current heated general election campaign.

The point of having a general election in a democracy is to allow the people to exercise their rights in choosing their leaders from a pool of political parties.

So, if rural voters, especially those in the interiors of Sabah and Sarawak, with their own needs and concerns, wish to stick to the ruling Barisan Nasional, that doesn’t mean they are “easily bought over” or that “they are dumb.”

But that’s the kind of condescending attitude that many of us in big cities hear in dialogues about politics in these two states, which, put together, are larger than the entire peninsula.

It would be foolish to think that Sabahans and Sarawakians aren’t aware of this. In fact, they detest such displays of contempt and self-importance.

It doesn’t help that many of us are barely clued in to our fellow Malaysians, nor do we know the location of their villages in the sprawling landscape of the two states. Adding insult to injury, we are even dismissive of their political choices.

But worse things have been said about those who choose to campaign for the component parties of the Barisan Nasional, particularly the MCA, Gerakan and MIC.

The candidates and campaigners of these parties must have an unending well of patience and are thick-skinned enough to tolerate these harshest of insults hurled at them, especially those made in Chinese. There seems to be an overdrive of hatred, especially in social media.

To be called a “running dog” would be very mild by now, as some of the opposition supporters seem to be blinded by irrational sentiments.

Some of them are so sure of the outcome of the elections that they are already celebrating. They cannot fathom that there are many Chinese who believe it is much more realistic to work with Umno than to indulge in suicidal wishful thinking of overthrowing the party.

Some over-enthusiastic opposition leaders have openly talked about locking up national leaders and top civil servants, and of course, in the process, named a few Cabinet members, all before the start of polling even.

It seems to be forgotten that in a democracy, everyone is free to choose and express their political choices, and no one should be made to suffer verbally, or bullied, simply because their political allegiance is different.

If they opt to join the MCA or Gerakan, it is their democratic right, and they should not be humiliated for it.

Likewise, if a Malay chooses to support the DAP, it doesn’t mean he has betrayed Islam or the Malay community. But that’s what the Malay members of the Chinese-dominated party will tell you, because generally, that’s what has been indoctrinated in their community.

The DAP has been demonised for so long that the few Malays who joined the party must have endured intense pressure from family and friends.

Perhaps things have improved since former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who led the attacks against DAP in his day, has now made peace with the party. However, by and large, the suspicion, and even hatred, have lingered.

But that’s the danger when religion and politics get entangled – politicians end up masquerading as theologians and evoke God’s name to pursue their political ambitions.

If you travel to Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah, you will see billboards put up by PAS, suggesting that your pathway to heaven involves supporting PAS. Even their members have donned T-shirts suggesting that.

So, in these conservative villages, the pressure must be enormous for anyone who doesn’t subscribe to such political ideologies in the name of religion. For many, picking Umno over PAS can sometimes be a daunting decision.

It must be worse for Nik Omar – the son of the late PAS leader Datuk Seri Nik Aziz Nik Mat – who chose to contest under the Amanah banner. He is close to being ostracised by his loved ones and the people who saw him grow up in the PAS family. Try explaining the concept of democracy and the freedom of choice to the people.

In the PAS stronghold, the brickbats must have been worse for those who signed up with Amanah. They are probably no longer invited to private functions in these rural setups.

Given the backdrop of heightening political frenzy, the faithful, who visit places of worship, dread having to hear religious sermons degenerate into political talks, with some religious leaders blatantly canvassing for the political parties of their choice at the pulpit.

Most people go to places of worship because they want to spend time being close God, and for certain, not to be near politicians.

They want to seek solace for themselves and loved ones. They want to pray for the needy and sick, and for a peaceful nation. But they certainly don’t want a prayer skewed towards a party where the entire congregation is made to listen, with the pulpit monopolising their attention.

Civility seems to be a rare commodity now, with intolerance – due to differing political allegiances – escalating. This is unfortunate because politics in Malaysia has not matured enough, and for sure, few of us can manage a discourse on the merits and demerits of politics in a rational manner.

Instead of pointing out which parts of your arguments may be flawed, or if there could be better options, many prefer to engage in mudslinging when they are disagreed with. Many are just reluctant to be persuasive, preferring to be angry, instead.

Let us remind ourselves that in time of need, it is better to turn to family and friends, who are more likely to help immediately, instead of politicians who only turn up to see us every five years. Don’t lose sleep over politicians – they know the game and can take care of themselves.