What is the role of a politician? Ask any person on the street with a passing knowledge of Malaysian politics, and chances are good that you will get little more than a head shake and a resigned comment about how “it’s all rubbish anyway; these politicians only know how to argue.”
Of course, the stereotype isn’t fully justified. There are many good people in politics who work quietly behind the scenes, serving their constituencies with the minimum of noise and fuss.
However, public opinion is shaped by the loudest voices the people hear. And unless you’re a certain leader of a red-shirted parade, you generally don’t get much louder than PKR Secretary-General Rafizi Ramli.
Recently, following speculation that the 2017 budget would provide tax exemption for first-time car buyers, Rafizi accused Barisan Nasional of stealing a three-year-old Pakatan Rakyat proposal for cheaper car prices. In a fit of pique, he complained that he had campaigned since 2012 for excise taxes to be abolished.
“Not once did any Umno or BN minister admit that my call had merit,” he said in a statement. “Instead, they made accusations and attacked me with all kinds of names.”
He recalled that the opposition proposal was derided as a proposal to bankrupt the country. Nevertheless, he pointed out, Prime Minister Najib Razak copied the proposal with a 2013 election campaign promise to cut car prices by 30 per cent in stages.
MCA spokesperson Ti Lian Ker has since lashed back at Rafizi for his claim. He pointed out that Rafizi had made a similar allegation in 2013, one that was rubbished by the then deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, who said it was the opposition that had copied BN’s manifesto.
But who cares? Does it really matter at this juncture who ripped whom off? To belabour the point would be a destructive way to discuss a populist policy that Malaysians would welcome no matter its origin. A tax exemption for first-time car buyers would boost the economy, not to mention the spirits of millennial Malaysians complaining about rising prices.
Of course, Rafizi’s knee-jerk reaction is understandable. One would naturally feel slighted if one’s ideas were seemingly stolen by political opponents, especially years after those opponents had rubbished those very ideas.
One could argue that the idea isn’t really a novel one. Putting a personal stamp on an idea that can be easily summed up as “give people cheaper cars” would be an iffy proposition at best. And Ti and Rafizi’s debate over who stole what seems akin to arguing over the invention of a Samsung phone that doesn’t explode: it’s a good idea that someone would have thought of eventually.
However, the fact remains that the public would see Rafizi in a better light if he had taken an open-hearted and forgiving position on the matter instead of immediately lashing out over something that still remains speculation until proposals for the national budget are tabled in Parliament. Malaysians have had enough of pointless political arguments.