Sugu: Spotlight on optimism
Spotlight on optimism
Sep 12, 05 1:10pm
There was a time when public fields saw political rallies during elections even as a communist insurgency raged.
That was when local government polls were taken for granted. Smug and superior, we laughed at the endemic corruption in neighbouring countries.
We were a third-world country then boasting only one university – the University Malaya which enjoyed autonomy. Politicians of all stripes, among others, were invited to debate issues of the day to be applauded or booed.
Academic staff and students dressed casually, symbolised students‚Äô coming of age, free of the regimented life of high school.
Unkempt hair, casual clothes were the order of the day where substance was accorded more importance than style. Their minds were being forged for adaptation and leadership in the outside world and to act as agents of change.
The student body was in fact the nation’s conscience and was allowed to express displeasure with government actions through demonstrations.
Two years shy of the nation‚Äôs 50th anniversary, that conscience has been snuffed out and is a distant memory. That loss is impacting now with thousands of graduates found unfit for employment, the lack of soft skills blamed for their plight.
That the government is bent on spending taxpayers’ money to retrain them is tacit admission of abject failure in meeting the basic requirement for nation building. Not a happy sign in a world spinning on the digital axle.
Most rivers are murky, drinking water has to be filtered; local governments are a power unto themselves, and patriotism is perceived and fostered as synonymous with loyalty to the leadership.
No more rallies in the padang (fields), which had brought the public and politicians together in a highly visible and exciting celebration of democracy.
None of the carefully orchestrated Pemimpin Mesra dengan Rakyat events can replace the spirit of free participation that flourished at such rallies. In fact, an open and free political education happening for all includes the youth.
It’s a sad irony that under extreme conditions, the Palestinians can organise rallies and local council polls while we, a country enjoying much vaunted peace and racial harmony, cannot.
As we celebrate Merdeka to mark the lifting of the colonial yoke, a thought intrudes – in the time that had flowed since then, another yoke had been fashioned upon our necks.
And so over the dark years maggots have waxed fat feeding on the corruption investing the body politic.
But all, it seems, is not lost as the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration continues its crackdown on corruption.
The Star, on Aug 23, during the haze scare, cleverly captured the new atmosphere in its front page, a series of mugshots of those found guilty of graft stacked up on the left. This was juxtaposed against a giant Jalur Gemilang with the Twin Towers piercing a clear blue sky in the background.
And the headline, Haze Clears, held a larger significance than carried by those two words in the context of current happenings. The treatment of the story would have brought the wrath of the authorities crashing down on the paper in double quick time.
Before that a senior minister forced to spend time dodging political bullets and the ministry raided by the Anti-corruption Agency (ACA) made for extraordinary food for political gossips, especially when the drama was played out in the full glare of publicity.
That yet-to-be-concluded saga has opened up a can of worms. An ill omen for those with vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Continued action has added strength to the feeling that the stables are being swept clean.
In his speech on Merdeka day, Abdullah pledged that the individual citizen will be accorded greater importance than before. This is a dramatic change from the past when the good of the majority was regularly invoked whenever something nasty was about to happen.
It can be taken as a signal or recognition that the good of the individual generally translates into the well being of society.
If that intention of Pak Lah is to materliase, high on the priority list should be dissolving the constraints binding the arts world, for the creative juices dammed up in the nation to burst forth. That would certainly add body to the oft repeated boast of “our rich culture”.
The country is desperately in need of satire to prick the pompous incompetents who impact so negatively on our daily lives.
Politicians and bureaucrats especially are in vital need of that particular mirror to chasten their ego and to drive home the point that their role is to serve the people, not lord it over them.
Satire has the power to educate and once more we may be able to laugh at ourselves as during P Ramlee’s time.
True, one could get carried away contemplating the eagerly awaited changes only to be disappointed.
However, observing the way the changes have been introduced, there is a palpable sense that Pak Lah is steadily resuscitating public institutions into fulfilling their duties by curtailing political interference.
If those bodies like the judiciary regain their former glory, surely every Malaysian heart will swell with pride.
Who knows? Local government elections may be reinstated and the ACA turned into an independent entity, answerable only to Parliament.
If those twin hopes are able to leave the realm of a pipe dream, then Pak Lah’s legacy would surely be treasured in history.
And there would be no necessity for the minister responsible for organising Merdeka celebrations to appear on television with a woebegone face, issuing a reminder that the flag belongs to all Malaysians.
note: K SUGU began his journalistic career in 1964 and has worked in the New Straits Times, The Star and The Sun. He became a Buddhist monk in 1981 and had his first taste of press freedom when he worked in Bangkok for The Nation. He is now retired and spends his time writing and trying to get a handle on the fleeting nature of life.
ricecooker note: Sugu is one of the rare Malaysian heroes of mine. When I joined The Star as a trainee reporter back in 1988, I was put under his supervision. He gave me an old portable radio and every morning at the office we would chat about what we heard on BBC World Service the night before, me with the new music I heard and he about the changing face of the world. I have always treasured this time of my life, where I learned so much but yet end up so confused, and he always lightened the load with jokes and tales and copious amount of books to read. One single thing about him which I will always remember and try to do is to keep it simple but yet loaded.