Politicians are just playing to the audience, so Malaysians deserve what they get

Malaysians deserve the politicians they get in office.

Watching parliamentary debates in more established democracies, and comparing them to what happens here, is like comparing Rikkie Valerie Kolle, to say, Vanessa Kirby, or Melanie Laurent. You’ll be left speechless with incredulity, and wonder if everyone has taken leave of their senses.

For the last three years at least, conversations about the spiralling cost of living, unbridled inflation, a depreciating ringgit, a sluggish stock market, a lack of investor confidence,  soaring prices of essential goods, food shortages, corruption, the ostentatious lifestyles of our public servants (and their wives) funded in no small part by our tax ringgit, abuse of power, political instability manifesting itself as infighting, backstabbing, closed-door, back-channel deals, and party-hopping, a lack of public accountability and transparency, stagnant wages, the excesses in government spending, and everything else in between, have seen an uptick, dominating public and private forums, mamak shops, and food trucks ‘bawah pokok’ (under trees), everywhere.

Every time fresh polls come around, those with aspirations for higher office will come out of the woodwork, and start expounding on their virtues and strengths, often while vilifying their opponents.

In the last round (GE15), a rather cherubic ‘ideas man’ dominated the campaign trail with reams of formulae to solve the nation’s numerous conundrums. Seems he had the solution to everything, with the exception of possibly irritable bowel syndrome. Now, nine months on and nestled comfortably in his gilded office, those formulae have been converted into excuses, ‘rationales’, and justifications on why “Oooh… it’s not that simple”.

But he is not the exception. His predecessor, a snazzy and sharp dresser whom I suspect was a class monitor at school, came in with impressive credentials. A professional, he was undoubtedly familiar with numbers, and the vagaries of world, and domestic economics. However, when the ringgit continued to flounder, and prices began showing an upward trend in October of 2021, he did nothing to allay or assuage the public’s deepening concerns. Nope, he had more important things to do – like jogging in New York, and strumming on his Fender.

While I am not a disciple of Paul Krugman, and I did not graduate from the London School of Economics (I barely got through secondary), there are some basic economic concepts that are quite easy to grasp, even for me. For instance, a depreciating ringgit would naturally mean an increase in the prices of goods, which will be passed on to consumers. That’s a given. The question is, how does the government plan to address this issue? It has been three years, and I am still waiting for an answer.

The problem with Malaysia is, hot-button issues remain just that – hot-button issues. They are to be used, re-used, and re-re-used again. Politicians use them to gain points and get traction. They ride them like an inebriated Lady Godiva on a runaway, equally inebriated, rabid bucking bronco.

But when the time comes to campaign and get the people to vote, these issues are put on the back-burner.

Instead, ceramah (public talks) are dominated by mud-slinging, diatribes against opponents, barbs, jibes, insults, anecdotes, uncorroborated stories, gossip, salacious dirt, allegations of impropriety, and other smutty tittle-tattle. It’s not unlike watching a bunch of six-year-olds fighting over a game of marbles, each calling the other a “dirty, no-good, rotten, good-for-nothing, useless, thieving, stinking liar”.

Why? Because it takes way too much work, way too much effort to come up with workable, tangible solutions to actually address the day-to-day, bread-and-butter concerns affecting the people.

Far more effective (and not to mention, easier) to work up the voters by stoking fear and creating a deep sense of distrust among the races than solving the bigger problems like the economy, and the high cost of living. It’s also far more entertaining, and takes the electorates’ minds off of the real issues affecting them. In a way, you can’t really blame the politicians. They’re just playing to the audience.

Sometime last week, I happened to ask a Member of Parliament – a man renowned for his affinity and perhaps ‘unnatural’ love of jargons, a man famous for his unconventional and unorthodox approach to the economy and fiscal policy, a man who had once disparaged the supporters of a political party but later found himself in a rather awkward position of contesting under the  banner of said party – a simple question.

I asked him about the economy, the ringgit, the lack of FDIs, et al, and what he and his party would do to solve these problems. It’s almost been a week, and he hasn’t responded.

However, when I asked him earlier about his comments regarding the opposing party he now calls his ‘friend’, he said that he had apologised to them, and that it was now all water under the bridge. How convenient.

It should be clear to anyone with a modicum of intelligence, a sliver of intellect, that many, if not all of our politicians, are simply unqualified to hold positions in government. Because the simple truth of the matter is, they don’t know how to solve our problems. No matter who is in office, they just don’t know.

I would not trust Rasool, a handyman at my condo, to do my taxes because I know, with a reasonable level of probability, that he is eminently unqualified. The problem is, if he was, but is blessed with a crafty little mind, he would most likely take me to the cleaners. Either way, I lose.

We demand professionalism from our doctors, lawyers, accountants, pilots, chefs, the tea lady. We demand that they know their jobs, so that we don’t end up a quadriplegic, bequeathing our fortunes to a so-called astronaut marooned on the International Space Station, owing the Inland Revenue Board RM1.3 billion in back taxes, landing in Bangor, Maine, when the boarding pass says Kota Kinabalu, or getting the runs because the prawns were a tad undercooked.

Politicians have an obligation to say what they mean, and mean what they say. If they win an election on the promise that they can solve Joe Regular’s problems, then they have the moral and ethical obligation to do so. Similarly, if you say you’re not going to do something – oh, I don’t know… let’s say hire a person tainted by corruption – then don’t do it. Because when you go back on your word, it shows a lack of integrity.

But if you do, you are no different from the bunch of “dirty, no-good, rotten, good-for-nothing, useless, thieving, stinking liars” at the local playground.

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