The politics of open houses


Are you one of those who jump at the offer to attend an open house of a senior politician for Hari Raya? When our leaders say that open houses promote unity and national harmony, do you believe them? More likely than not, most people attend these events just for the free food. Perhaps, some also hope for a chance to have a selfie with the host.

In 2014, Gerakan President Mah Siew Keong claimed that his party’s Chinese New Year open house was attended by 5,000 people. He said the “harmonious and joyous gathering of Malaysians” proved that Malaysia was a united country. This is like saying that flying a Malaysian flag outside one’s home shows that one is patriotic.

Politicians also like to say that large turnouts prove that they or their parties enjoy strong support. However, one person who regularly attends these open houses said, “I am a taxpayer and I do not agree with politicians holding open houses. But going to open houses is the only way I can get something back from the government.”

Like Mah, the Gerakan National Unity Bureau chief, V Prabagaran, claimed that the high attendance at the party’s 2014 open house was indicative of a united Malaysia despite the people’s political differences. He said, “We’re moving towards developed status; so it’s time we practised mature politics.”

What was Prabagaran suggesting? Shouldn’t mature politics be practised regardless of the state of development of the nation?

The PPP Federal Territory chief, A Chandrakumanan, said that open houses allowed leaders to mix with the people and that such celebrations proved that the 1Malaysia unity concept was not mere rhetoric. That’s too simplistic and even crude. 1Malaysia should mean a bit more than that – like fairness, opportunity and equality.

We rarely discuss the hypocrisy and hype attached to the open house concept. Who pays for the open houses? You, the taxpayers, do.

Answering a question in Parliament, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim said that it cost RM1.715 million to feed between 80,000 to 90,000 people at the PM’s open house in 2009. DAP leader Lim Kit Siang disputed him, quoting the mainstream media’s figure of 50,000 to 60,000 people.

Going by Shahidan’s statement, the cost came to about RM20 per person. But if we take the figure given by the mainstream media, then the cost per person was around RM31.

Did it really cost that much to feed one person in 2009? Was the food extraordinarily good?

Four years later, the cost had escalated to almost RM3 million, for an increase of only 10,000 people. Such a steep rise. Have the catering companies done a bit of creative cooking of the books?

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist

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