On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Silence isn’t always golden

THEY were once heralded as brave, articulate and outspoken leaders, always weighing in on issues concerning the people, but they seem to have gone mute, or just disappeared.

The public used to count on these MPs to speak up for the people against the government for its abuse, corruption, wastage and disregard for laws.

The people called them the voices of conscience, and even when these politicians weren’t solicited by the media for their views, they voluntarily sent out press statements.

That resulted in newsrooms collecting similar press statements from many different people from the same political parties, or their component partners.

But a year later, and the transformation is finally becoming apparent. Some of them have transformed into “mute” politicians, who seem more concerned with not offending their colleagues in federal and state governments.

They are more worried about the feelings of their Cabinet members and the state executive councillors than that of the people, whom they promised to represent.

But an expanded waistline, a deeper pocket, adulation and praises that are often heaped on these powerful politicians, have disconnected them from the everyday man.

Perhaps they’ve been consumed by their own glory? Whatever it is, many have lost their voices. We can’t be sure if they even care anymore.

The outcome of the recent Tanjung Piai by-election was a wake-up call for the Pakatan Harapan government, and although many PH leaders said they got the message loud and clear, there’s scepticism as to whether lessons have been learned.

It’s unlikely they have, probably buying into the logic that the next general election is three years away. But a week is a long time in politics.

Throw in a few religious and racial issues into the ravenous pit of fodder, and the people will start feuding and be distracted from the real issues affecting the country. What economy problems? All is well and fine – our economy is stable.

“Education concerns? No way, we intend to be a world class education hub.

“What coding, what robotic syllabus? AI? You mean Anwar Ibrahim? No? Don’t worry about artificial intelligence, as the government is currently studying the matter”.

In the wake of several contentious issues, some touching on race and religion, professional journalists would insist on verifying the authenticity of letters or statements that become viral on social media.

The media’s experience now is, it’s almost impossible to get reactions from most Cabinet members or their deputies, and yet, often, the media gets blamed for inaccurate reporting.

On a recent issue of a letter, said to be from the Ministry of Education, that went viral, no one chose to reply. Perhaps they were on holiday, or perhaps I am a nobody who warranted their time and reply. Guess it must get harder for the average, faceless Malaysian.

My business contacts, who have direct access to ministers, have also expressed similar sentiments, saying their texts were read but not replied. The blue ticks – which denote read texts – have now been re-set, so no indication is generated if messages have been read. Only received messages are acknowledged.

Well, these assuring agents of promise of a New Malaysia have certainly lost their voices.

As writer Clement Stanley aptly wrote in Free Malaysia Today recently: “They were the voices of hopes, dreams and promises of better days ahead if the opposition did the impossible and came to power.

These voices were eagerly waited upon as they bred new life into what was thought to be a forgone conclusion. These voices united a nation, hitting the very nerve of all Malaysians who voted for change. In such orators and fighters lay our trust.”

He added, “but now, like obedient little children at bedtime, they are content to listen to bedtime stories with a happy ending.

“Today, these people on whom we once pinned our hopes, have become mute, a pale shadow of their former selves, toeing the line rather than resisting it.”

Worse, some have even become arrogant by dismissing doubt and concern of the people, while responding confrontationally (as if in opposition mode) to silence differing views. And this isn’t even criticism or dissent.

There are also reform groups which used to busy themselves writing to editors with their lengthy views and speaking at forums, but they too, have disappeared.

A few have transformed into apologists and have attempted to defend some policies while others have taken up government positions, thus putting them in a spot.

“Bro, I hope you understand – I share your views, but I am sure I can’t speak openly now, so please carry out your moderation stand, because I am behind you.”

The challenge for 2020 and beyond is to hope for the emergence of fresh voices to challenge conformity and convention, and to take politicians’ promises with much more than a pinch of salt.

They’ll be busy jostling for positions among themselves even as they tell us, with a straight face, that they are fighting for us, the ordinary people.

When one is in power, it’s safer to play the role of the three monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil, as the saying goes.

It’s simply easier that way. After all, why rock the boat and lose it all, having waited so long to be in government?