POLITICALLY BLIND AND TONE DEAF
Author：TAN SIOK CHOO
(grand-daughter of Tun Tan Cheng Lock and daughter of Tan Siew Sin)
IRISH author of Gulliver’s Travels and the foremost political satirist of the early 18th century, Jonanthan Swift once wrote: "There’s none so blind as they that won’t see."
This quotation comes to mind when I read the flurry of statements commenting on Bukit Bendera Umno division chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail’s multiple claims – that his statement "the Chinese are immigrants" was taken out of context by newspaper journalists because he was referring to time when the community were squatters before being granted citizenship during independence; that he has received tremendous support from Malay-Muslim groups; and that he does not owe anyone an apology.
Regardless of the truth or otherwise of Ahmad’s multiple claims, there are several facts that should be noted by all politicians, regardless of ethnicity and political affiliation.
First, a basic rule in politics is subtlety and nuance. Take for example, the suggestion that Ahmad should apologise for his statement on the Chinese being squatters. As every politician in this country should know, there are two types of apologies.
A person can apologise for the statement made. Alternatively, he or she can express regret for the hurt caused by the statement. This means the person implicitly stands by what was said but apologises if the statement was regarded by some as hurtful or offensive. Provided the person trying to make amends is sufficiently contrite and is seen as sincere in trying to ameliorate ruffled feelings, this apology is usually accepted.
Second, borrowing from the credo of environmentalists, the mantra of a politician who hopes to be successful in a multi-racial country like Malaysia should be this: do no harm. Politicians may feel that so long as they have the unswerving support of their own community, the outraged feelings of those from other ethnic groups are irrelevant.
These politicians clearly suffer from political amnesia. They have forgotten the resounding message sent by voters during the March 2008 general election.
Fed up by the arrogance and uncaring attitude of Barisan Nasional (BN) representatives, a significant number of Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians voted for Malay candidates from Keadilan and PAS. Similarly, disgruntled Malays also voted for the DAP.
Some Penang Umno division leaders may take comfort from their success in retaining their seats at state level. This stance is myopic. Because PR is multi-racial and because two out of three leaders of opposition parties are Malays, no seat – whether Malay-majority or otherwise – is safe. Have they forgotten the roll call of Umno luminaries who lost in the March general election?
Reminding the Malaysian Chinese that they were once squatters – even if this is historically accurate – is gratuitously offensive. It is like tagging the words "college drop-out" whenever anyone refers to Bill Gates, the world’s richest man and founder of corporate giant, Microsoft.
And for some Malaysian Chinese like myself, to be called a "squatter" is an insult. My forefathers came to Malacca in 1771. Even in August 1957, my family had been living in Malacca for 186 years. How many other Malaysians can claim this long period of residence?
Third, less than two weeks ago, the whole country was celebrating Merdeka. What some politicians have conveniently forgotten is Independence was won by the leaders of Umno, MCA and MIC working together. Indeed, the British made this multi-racial cooperation an essential pre-requisite for granting Independence.
Fourth, an issue that should be about politeness and political sensibility has assumed an alarming racist overtone. Apart from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib and cabinet ministers like Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz and Datuk Shahrir Samad, few other Malay leaders – whether from the BN or opposition – have stepped forward to challenge Ahmad Ismail’s stance.
As PR leader, a politician from Penang, and a man who says he will abolish the New Economic Policy and by extension an economic policy based on racial requirements rather than need, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has yet to take a public stand on this issue. His silence is disappointing. It also suggests political analysts who laud PR as breaking the mould of racial politics are deluding themselves. What was heralded as a "new dawn" in Malaysian politics may well turn out to be a "false dawn".
Finally, this issue underscores the belief of some analysts who believe that political change in this country can be effected only by voting out of office politicians – whether from the government backbenches or from the Opposition – who stubbornly persist in being politically blind and tone deaf.