For Umno, 'V' is for Vindictive

Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts... perhaps the fear of a loss of power. - John Steinbeck
When Dr Mahathir Mohamad is not worrying about the supposed ‘reforms' the administration of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak plans to carry out that will wreck havoc on the delicate social fabric of Malaysia, he's worrying about the ‘trumped-up charges' that will be his downfall if Pakatan Rakyat ever comes into power.

NONEI don't think that the former prime minister has anything to worry about with regard to the former, since the Najib regime has so far displayed no sincere commitment to reforming the electoral process or any interest in the slaying of Umno/Malay nationalist sacred cows.

If anything, his deafening silence when it comes to ‘Malay' rights pressure groups like Perkasa (which coincidently Mahathir is the patron of) or Perkida is evidence that the hawks in Umno are ruling the roost.

With regard to the latter, I'm sure anyone who has been in power for as long as this former strongman would be a tad anxious if the state apparatus he controlled for so long, and still has influence over, was in the control of another party.

It doesn't help that the contender to the Putrajaya throne, Anwar Ibrahim - his former apprentice turned bitter foe - has publically stated that he intends to aim his political guns on the Umno top brass.

I've always said that what Anwar intends to do is maintain the ground-level political machinery of Umno while cutting off the serpent's head.

This way, PKR not only can conjure up the grassroots level support of PAS but will have in its control the well-oiled machinery of Umno chieftains who no doubt will jump ship in the unlikely event of a Pakatan takeover of Putrajaya.

And in this way, or so the thinking goes by some PKR middle-grounders I've spoken to, PKR will not be beholden to the Islamic impulses of PAS in the long term.

NONELim Kit Siang's rather twee rejoinder to Mahathir that he should not be an impediment to buried financial skeletons being dug up aside, Mahathir should not be overly concerned. After all, isn't Karpal Singh on record as saying he would be willing to defend the former prime minister if the need arose?

And even though the system has been compromised by Umno, it has not reached a point where social order has broken down, the level of desperation in the public has not reached breaking point, the military has no direct influence and so, the fate of Mubarak or Gaddafi is not for Mahathir. And trust me when I say this is a good thing.

In a follow-up piece, I intend to address the good doctor's concerns about the vitriolic racial rhetoric that seems prevalent ever since he left office. Here however, I'd like to make the argument that it does no good for Pakatan, or for the rakyat, to go after the perpetrators of political or social malfeasances in Umno or anywhere else should they come into power.

No one is clean

Let me be very clear that I think the money trail should be diligently followed and all monies owed to the government retrieved. I have issues with the way how Pakatan is running Selangor but Khalid Ibrahim has been a shrewd operator in the way he has collected what is owed to the state government, even though he has run into federal-influenced interference in many instances.

Crony deals should be renegotiated and the culture of patronage should be abolished. Money politics, which like a cancer has infected every organ of the government, should be sanctioned by the law.

However, the culture of vindictiveness that Umno has promulgated should end if and when the party loses power. Ever since 2008, when Pakatan became a viable ruling alternative, BN has been in vindictive mode not seen since the early days of the Mahathir regime (or maybe his whole tenure).

NONEDon't like what the Bersih 3.0 protest says about the mood of the country? Then attack its main proponent using outsourced thugs. Don't approve of the criticisms levelled by the Bar Council on a host of issues? Publicly discuss plans to set up an alternative legal body.

Have a problem with a state for its opposition to the PTPTN scheme? Punish students in the recalcitrant state (and then retreat from said position, which makes it even worse). Losing the cyber propaganda war? Table an amendment to the Evidence Act!

Many people would say that if Pakatan comes to power, there will be nothing vindictive about going after "wrongdoers" who have profited from "leakages" (isn't this a term coined by the honourable gentleman from Rembau?) and instituted policies, economic and social that have led this country down a ruinous path. This is, they would argue, merely justice.

I sympathise with this view, but I would remind them that nobody, BN or Pakatan, comes to this with clean hands.

And if you are naïve enough to think that there would be no backroom deals between Pakatan and BN and convenient scapegoats offered to a bloodthirsty public, then I suggest that you lay off the Pakatan Kool-Aid.

Old grudges that have been lying dormant for so long in exiled BN members, now rehabilitated Pakatan diehards, would surface, diluting the concept of ‘justice'. The newly-inherited political machine has to be lubricated and ‘big fishes', although convenient targets, are not necessarily the only predators causing mischief in Malaysian waters.

Yes, we could spend the man hours and effort (not to mention financial resources) honing in on the decades-long governmental corruption that has plagued this country and unearth the nexus between present day political personalities or their proxies who were involved in scandals.

Yes, we could discover the hidden hands of big patronage businesses that to this very day have links to both BN and Pakatan. We could unearth the sordid financial scandals that leached public coffers and the greedy, stupid ‘cronycrats' that inhabit the halls of power and drag them out into the light of ‘justice'.

And all, this would be played out in a now ‘free' press that would no doubt satiate the desire of a certain segment of the voting public frustrated by decades of governmental malfeasances. No doubt, this would also soothe those who were at the mercy of the regime's security apparatus and whose lives were destroyed for voicing dissent.

Freak shows

And the tragedy is that all this would detract from the serious work of carrying out institutional reforms that this country desperately needs. I would argue that this freak shows would also give the new ruling regime the perfect opportunity to get conveniently sidetracked from the real work of making reforms that it pledged the voters.

I would much rather have some sort of general amnesty policy instituted, as far as financial corruption scandals are concerned, with an admission of guilt and a return of money as a ‘get out of jail' card.

It goes without saying that they and their proxies would never be able to do business with the government again. I have no doubt they would even be supplicants from Pakatan but if nobody steps up, then of course the full force of the law should be deployed.

What we (and by ‘we' I mean anybody interested in real reforms, not necessarily Pakatan partisans) are talking about, and I assume this is the ideological bedrock of Pakatan, is serious institutional reform that would take dedicated long-term commitment.

We are not only talking about changing the mindset in a variety of government bodies; we are talking about changing the mindset of a majority community suckling on the teat of political party benevolence in the guise of government service, for instance.

We are talking about transparency, professionalism and the re-creation of government bodies not beholden to their political masters.

Put it this way: I would rather have a newly-constituted, independent Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) watching the newly-elected regime like hawks for any sign of corruption than one that's mucking about with the former regime's malfeasances.

We are talking about changes that would affect the very fabric of the Malaysian polity, changes that would be terrifying to the current ruling regime. And these changes would have to be made in chaotic circumstances, where roles are being redefined, and no doubt where Pakatan in its supposed class-based approach would run into the realpolitik of race and Islamic preoccupations from its erstwhile component pact members.

But all this is wishful thinking. Like many others, I am sceptical of Pakatan claiming the Putrajaya throne. The numbers game is against them. And even if they do win, like the PKNS fiasco demonstrates, there's a strong whiff that maybe Pakatan is not as committed to the reform that it aspires to.

In the current political reality, something is better than nothing, I suppose, although I may have to dust off my own personal three-letter acronym, BAU or business as usual. This reflects the nebulous change that Pakatan offers, all the while cognisant of traditional BN values.

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