It will be just another fact-fogging contest.
Some observers are looking forward to the MCA-DAP debate scheduled for July 8, but others expect it to be just a platform for the protagonists to play out their fantasies of being celebrities or to demonstrate who is better at fogging facts.
The term “fog fact” was introduced by Larry Beinhart in his novel “American Hero”, which was adapted for the political parody film “Wag the Dog” starring Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman.
Fog facts are important things that nobody in the public seems able to focus on. A fog fact, according to Beinhart, is the “sort of thing that journalists and political junkies know but somehow the ‘world’ (or members of the larger public) does not”.
He cited the hypothetical example of an American president who loved to have his picture taken among the troops and aboard military naval vessels but had evaded service, say, in Vietnam. The public would not have believed that he was a draft evader.
Indeed, a politician could deliberately and easily fog the facts to his advantage, especially in this information age, when there is so much information that sorting them out and giving appropriate weight to anything has become difficult.
In the coming debate, each side will no doubt claim that its policies are better for the nation, be they directed at bread and butter issues, education, healthcare, national unity or poverty alleviation and so forth.
For sure, MCA will again make the oft-repeated claim that it has contributed immensely to the development of Chinese education. DAP, which has never had the opportunity to make national policies, will not be able to say it has done better.
Although the public knows that MCA has been playing second fiddle to Umno, many fair-minded people would be willing to give it credit for the establishment of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) and perhaps even admire its apparent tenacity in the face of BN’s discriminative policy on education.
But what is the story behind this so-called success?
Betrayal on education issues
On May 6, 1979, in a seminar paper addressed to MCA leaders, veteran journalist H’ng Hung Yong said: “When a political party reaches such a state of paralysis, as I think MCA has, then it is no more a question of what it can do to solve the community’s problems.
“Rather, the question then becomes: what can it do to solve its own problems. To put it another way, we should now be asking questions such as how relevant is the MCA today? What is the justification for continued existence in its present form?”
In 1979, the restriction of non-Malay students from local universities under the quota system had caused serious frustration among the Chinese. To make matters worse, MCA had sided with Umno in rejecting the establishment of the proposed Merdeka University.
Matters came to a head when the MCA leadership wrote a letter dated June 21, 1979, to the then prime minister, Hussein Onn, complaining that the 55:45 university intake formula agreed upon had been breached. Statistics showed that the actual quota was 64% in favour of Bumiputera students.
Not many young Malaysians know that this discriminative policy haunted MCA right into the 1990s. That’s a fog fact.
Before his retirement in 2003, then party president Dr Ling Liong Sik related to the presidential council how he had sped up the approval of UTAR by inviting the then education minister for a game of golf, with a free dinner thrown.
On July 8, 2001, the Cabinet finally approved the setting up of UTAR. Thus, it took 33 years for MCA, a senior member of the ruling coalition, to provide that much needed educational opportunity for non-Bumiputeras. That’s another fog fact.
UTAR was established in 2002, with Ling still the chairman of the board.
Nevertheless, MCA under Dr Chua Soi Lek continues to be haunted by education issues and is struggling to see eye-to-eye with the Chinese educationist movement, Dong Zong. As far as Dong Zong is concerned, MCA has betrayed the Chinese community on Chinese education.
It is only since its electoral losses in 2008 that the BN government has taken notice of the importance of Chinese education to the Chinese, and it is hoping that millions of ringgit in government allocations will draw back the community’s support for the coming general election.
These facts will not be made known during the upcoming debate.
Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Prof Ahmad Athony recently complained about the decline of youth involvement in politics. He told the press: “This is because some irresponsible parties have turned politics into an arena of debates, full of lies and empty promises, resulting in a decline in the integrity of political institutions.”
So, unless the protagonists promise to provide a catalogue of fog facts during the upcoming debate, should we waste our time tuning in to it?
Stanley Koh is the former head of MCA’s think tank. He is now a FMT columnist.