During the Khazanah Nasional's "hari raya open house" last year, I chanced upon a Senator from UMNO. We sat at the same table. Talks of the then impending general election was going around the table. The Bar Council's call for a reform of the judiciary was a hot topic at that time. Everybody at our table was talking about those issues.
The Senator was in a very confident mood. It was his opinion that the BN would win the general election comfortably if the general election was held "any time soon". Sipping his drink, he turned to me and asked my opinion. I told him I wasn't so sure about that. In my opinion, the people were not happy about a lot of things. There were too many issues which were not resolved. The undercurrent was then against the BN government. Allegations of corruptions, cronyism and inefficiency were too rife, I said. And I don't see the leadership's willingness to engage the people on all these issues, let alone try to solve those issues.
The senator smiled. He said he disagreed with me. He told me to go to Suria KLCC. People are happy there. They are purchasing things and that means they are doing well financially. Look at the business section of our newspaper, he said. Companies are reporting good numbers, which means good profit. The economy is doing well, he further stated his case. When the economy is doing well, it means the people have money and that would translate into a state of general happiness. That is why the shopping complexes are full of people, he said. When the people are happy, the current BN government will win the election, he opined.
He said only "intellectuals" like me who are not happy. The "normal" people are happy. He then asked me to tell him what was it that I wanted the most. I told him that highest on my list is an independent judiciary. He smiled again. He said independence is subjective. He repeated that the people are all happy because they are doing well financially and that is what that matters the most. "You feed them well, and they will vote for you", said him.
Everybody at the table smiled in tacit agreement. I looked at him and asked, "YB, have you heard of Maslow's pyramid of needs"? He said, "of course".
"You see YB, we, Malaysians, have crossed the first 3 steps of the pyramid. We are now not just looking for food, shelter, education, employment and property anymore YB. We are now crossing those first 3 steps. We are now looking for self esteem, achievements, emancipation and freedom. These are the final 2 steps of the pyramid of needs. We now seek self-actualisation and esteem", I replied.
"That is your intellect talking. The reality is, the people are just concerned about money", the good Senator rebutted.
We then moved on to different topics. He was kind enough to entertain me and all the others at the table. And I must say he did it with refinement, not with the kind of responses we all are accustomed to expect from the Parliament. After we parted, I text him to thank him for the nice conversation we had. He replied to say that it was his pleasure.
After that event, I could not help but conclude that the BN government had lost the plot. The leaders were too mired in their belief that the people were only concerned with financial stability. They theorised that if the people were making money, they would be thankful to "us" and would then vote for "us" again. In the meantime, we can all forget about freedom of religion; freedom of speech; judicial independence; an honourable police force, anti-corruption agency and attorney general chambers. Forget about racial discriminations; controlled news and mass media; inefficiency in the government; corruption; abuse of power; cronyism; and all things which do not have anything to do with money. Because in their minds, the people were just concerned about money, and nothing else.
What Abdullah Ahmad, his band of ministers and minders have failed to note was Malaysia in 2007 and 2008 was not the same Malaysia of the 1960's, 70's or even the 80's. I suppose none in Abdullah Ahmad's cocoon of political blissfulness had ever thought of Maslow's theory. It is human nature to first seek for the basic needs. The very basic needs, like food and water; air to breathe; places to excrete and even sex would be foremost in our minds. When we get those things, we would then be thinking of owning a house for shelter; employment; a family and probably even education. Next on the agenda would be sexual intimacy and friendship or anything which has to do with love and sense of belonging. It is naive, and even downright ignorant, for Abdullah Ahmad and his advisers to think that in 2007 and 2008, Malaysians were all still just craving for these things. I suppose, only the politicians are still seeking for these very basic needs.
The truth is Malaysians have passed all those basic lines. We have taken the first 3 steps of Maslow's pyramid and have progressed far far away from the clutches of basic needs. We are now seeking self esteem; mutual respect of and from each others and achievements. Malaysians in 2007 and 2008 are also talking about morality; creativity and the banishment of any kind of prejudice or discrimination.When we talk about seeking "morality", we are of course expecting the government to take a holistic approach towards preventing corruptions and the provision of transparency in all public dealings. We of course demand accountability and tied to this is a fully responsible government, whose various agencies would not pass the buck around every time something bad had happened. Included in the "morality" category is also an independent judiciary, an essential arm of the administration of the country. Banishment of prejudices and discriminations of course entail the finding of solutions for equal rights for every citizen regardless of their race or religion.
What this government is not accustomed to and what it has failed to provide the Malaysians is intellectual engagement with the people on issues closed to their heart. When faced with difficult issues, this government would choose to be on the offensive. The SOP, in such situations would be:
- firstly, deny the existence of the issue - the Senator was a prime example. He denied the people were concerned about various issues.
- secondly, if the first step fails, brand the issue as a political one and ask the people not to "politicise" the issue. This is forgetting the fact that almost everything which we do as human beings involves, and is in fact, politics (as politics, by its widest definition, involves act or acts of persuading others to agree with us)!
- thirdly, brand the people or body of people who raise the issue as "the opposition party" or "behaving like the opposition". Nazri Aziz did this when the Bar organised the walk for justice to demand an independent judiciary.
- fourthly, assume the issue as a "challenge" to democracy or the Malay rights and deem it 'sensitive". The recent forum on the problems faced by some of the people arising out of conversion of their spouse to Islam is a prime example. Another example is whenever the non-Malays raise the issue of equal opportunities for admission into public universities or higher institutions of learning (the UiTM issue yesterday is an example).
- fifthly, threaten to use the ISA.
- sixthly, ignore the issue altogether and pretend it is not there. Nazri Aziz again, is a prime example of this when he said at a seminar organised by the Bar Coucil last year that he saw absolutely no reason for the establishment of a judicial appointment committee because among others, there was absolutely no problem with the current system.
This failure - and inability - to engage is the most irritatingly frustrating aspect of this government. Abdullah Ahmad had promised in his maiden speech as the President of UMNO to lend an ear to all Malaysians. He had even asked all Malaysians to "work with me and not for me". Lending an ear to Malaysians does not mean he can hear but choose not to listen, and respond, to Malaysians. He failed miserably to listen and respond. Malaysians are ever ready and willing to work with him for the betterment of Malaysia. However, he and his government don't seem to be interested to reciprocate.
What the good Senator said to me last year is reflective of the shallow mindedness of this administration. To think that Malaysians are still struggling at the first 2 steps of the pyramid of needs is insulting to Malaysians and is a sad reflection of the present administration's ability to analise the needs and desire of the people.
If the BN government needs any proof that I was right, just take a look at the result of this year's general election. And if this government continues to ignore the people's wishes and dismiss the people's views - as recent events would show - I am afraid I have to say that the end is nigh.