The Asian Voice

Keep 'low-class' squabbles out of Malaysian politics: The Star columnist

A view of Kuala Lumpur City Centre in Malaysia on Aug 15, 2017.
A view of Kuala Lumpur City Centre in Malaysia on Aug 15, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Some of our politicians seem to have a knack for sticking their foot in their mouth. They likely enjoy doing it with the belief that their bravado helps authenticate their manhood, but they unwittingly make us cringe with embarrassment instead.

It's obvious by now that some of our leaders don't put their grey matter to good use and it sure looks like these serial ill-mannered recalcitrants have little care for the implications of their recklessness which, as expected, has made headlines internationally.

No surprises then that our country has become a laughing stock yet again, thanks to these politicians who probably still think they are heroic alpha males. Their senseless outbursts have made us look like angry and ignorant Third World natives who are unable to articulate our thoughts reasonably and in a civil manner.

This is especially disturbing, given their position as ministers. We expect them to be above making deranged comments and name-calling, the norm on social media.

But like it or not, we have gone down the gutter and sadly, they barely display any remorse. They also don't think of the damage they cause to the nation.

Surely, they can do better than to pounce on an allegation made by a fugitive blogger and add more life to half-truths and fantasies?

It isn't about Robert Kuok being Malaysia's richest tycoon. It also isn't because he is ethnic Chinese.

The bottom line is that uncouth behaviour is unacceptable, irrespective of us being Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban or Kadazan. We all place great importance on reverence and respect for our elders, it's as simple as that.

If we disagree with them - after all, our elders are not always right - we offer our views, try to get them to appreciate our opinions and courteously rebut them if we see things differently. This is called having adat (tradition), sopan santun (well-spoken) and berbudi Bahasa (gracious)- a truly Malaysian way.

The same principles apply to Kuok. He is powerful and rich and he, of course, can be "corrected".

But surely, as ministers, our politicians can counter opinions in a mature, dignified and refined manner, unless they are telling us they are incapable of doing so.

Really, it boils down to one word - arrogance. The way Kuok was torn apart by Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz typifies that condescending attitude.

(Last week, blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin posted three articles on his website Malaysia Today, alleging that Kuok was funding various political parties to overthrow the Government. In response, Kuok refuted the allegations, saying he reserves the right to act against the portal.)

A couple of other ministers also took the same imperious stand, as if on cue, even when no clear evidence was forthcoming of Kuok's purported funding of an opposition party.

Like it or not, the multi-billionaire has deep connections in China. He can reach Chinese President Xi Jinping if he wants to. He offers great assistance to our leaders as an emissary, and simply as a helpful Malaysian, if we need the ears of the Chinese.

He is an asset, not only because he has donated to Umno and MCA or because he pours millions into Malaysian charities. Or because he was prepared to invest heavily in the sugar refinery trade and a shipping line with government aid, but mainly because he has remained a Malaysian.

A simple gesture by Kuok to have the Shangri-la Hotel at Melbourne's Sapphire By The Gardens Tower has added millions of ringgit in value to SP Setia, the Malaysian government linked company building the 57-storey residential tower there. And word that Chinese business magnate Jack Ma bought the penthouse there has made the address even more prestigious.

It's mind boggling that there were political operatives that would want to attack Kuok who has put Malaysia on the global business stage. Many countries would have willingly taken their place in the queue to offer him citizenship, yet here, we have people throwing eggs in his face.

But that isn't the sole issue that has riled many rational Malaysians.

Who would have thought that when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak shared he consumes quinoa, it would become an issue?

DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang claimed he had never heard of quinoa, "let alone of it being in existence". That is hard to believe because surely he knows that a large segment of Malaysians, especially those with diabetic concerns, have no choice but to turn to quinoa and brown rice as their staple food?

Quinoa is widely available at supermarkets but of course, we don't expect many of our politicians to visit any kind of market, except for making themselves available during election campaign time, when they shake hands with the public for photo opportunities.

For those of us who have been eating white rice our entire lives and are forced to cut down on carbohydrates and sugar, quinoa or brown rice will never taste as good. It is almost incomprehensible to add quinoa to nasi kandar. It is a mockery of this national dish - almost a sin, in fact. So, regardless of its price, quinoa makes up part of a diet most people with blood sugar issues would rather not have if they could get away with it.

Lim claimed that quinoa is 23 times more expensive than the standard white rice consumed by the average Malaysian.

Former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad waded into the debate too, saying he only ate white rice - and found himself reminded that eating quinoa was surely cheaper than having to feed his stable of purported 40 horses.

Soon, the argument degenerated to Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng being asked to reveal the amount of beer he drinks.

The childish mud-slinging continued with discussions on the use and availability of plastic bags.

Selangor Barisan Nasional declared that they would get rid of the Selangor government-mandated 20 sen surcharge for plastic bags if they won in GE14. Turning free plastic bags for the public into an election promise is incredulous, particularly in a day and age when we should be more environmentally conscious.

The joke continues with Pakatan Harapan Youth promising that English Premier League (EPL) football matches will be free again if it rules the nation. PKR Youth chief Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said they want EPL fans in Malaysia to enjoy the most popular football league in the world.

The free-to-air EPL suggestion is among 10 proposals the youth wing intends to use to attract young voters in the elections. Nik Nazmi said the broadcasting rights for major sports should be open to everyone and not just pay TV such as Astro.

Clearly, he has no idea what he's talking about or how he has made a fool of himself. Of course, the bid for the broadcasting rights of EPL is open to all TV stations - just cough up the dough. Astro pays over a billion ringgit for its coverage of sports events and the EPL makes up a big chunk of it. It would be interesting to know if Pakatan really would fork out a billion ringgit to provide free coverage for Malaysians.

Politics here is clearly in a sad state. We have had to listen to low-level quarrels over quinoa and rice, Argentinian horses and carrots, plastic bags and paid bags, and outrageous promises of free EPL broadcasts.

Not to forget politicians from either side of the divide acting as though they aren't receiving funding from businessmen, be it Malaysians, Chinese or Saudis.

Will our politicians next bicker over pitting wholemeal wheat bread against white bread, or organically grown vegetables against ordinary ones?

As Hafidz Baharom wrote, politics in this country has reached a pathetic crisis.

"No one is discussing what truly matters in this country, which are the solutions of everyday Malay­sians. Instead, they insist on taking potshots like kindergarteners arguing over a swing set," he wrote.

Yes, it's the silly season before the general election, but some politicians have simply become sillier than others.

The writer is The Star media group's managing director/chief executive officer and a regular columnist. The paper is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.