‘Politics of anger’, the Malaysian version

By Alex De Silva

A few days ago, Hishammuddin Hussein gave a press conference where he deplored what he called the “politics of anger” being practised by the newly formed Pakatan Harapan (PH) government. He went on to offer “advice”, seeing that he is eminently placed to do so as a leader of the biggest losing party in GE14, to the effect that the PH government should work towards delivering on its promises as opposed to practising the “politics of anger”. By “politics of anger”, he was presumably referring to the exposes made by the new finance minister on several lopsided contracts that our previous government saw fit for Malaysia to enter into.

I was rather perplexed. Firstly, that an ex-minister who condoned his cousin’s act of receiving billions of ringgit as a “donation” had the audacity to proffer advice; and secondly, by his use of the phrase “politics of anger”. My understanding of “politics of anger” from my reading was very different.

Exposing the corruption of the previous government of an enormity that is tantamount to grave violations of human decency did not seem to me to be “politics of anger”. It seemed more like exposing scandals and being transparent on what has been going on in that magical kingdom called Putrajaya, which the Malaysian public had no idea of. Putrajaya – where the sun shines brightly every day and where the pot of gold lies at the end of the rainbow. Right next to MO1’s office, where the leprechaun also resides.

I did a little research into “politics of anger”. One of the most apt descriptions I found was in The Huffington Post, which reads as follows:

“It seems that we have more than a few – well, let’s call them leaders – who are fanning the fires of hatred for one cause or another. Using tactics like yelling your message loudly – because if you’re loud, you must be right, or pointing a finger at a group of people and telling us (loudly) that they are the cause of trouble and we should put them in their place. Encouraging violence among crowds to settle disputes or to make a point is becoming the norm in our country.” – Dr Dustin Swagger, “The Politics of Hate”, The Huffington Post, 2016.

The politics of anger is where people who believe in a certain way of thinking or who belong to a certain group or political party take offence at and confront those who do not share their views and opinions. They are led by leaders who fuel their fires of discontent with negative rhetoric aimed at those who don’t buy into their philosophy. These leaders keep stoking the fires of discontent with anything that will keep the people angry with the other side. These leaders even feed the people half-truths or blatant lies to keep their anger burning.

This has been happening in the US for a while now and was plainly apparent in 2016 during the last presidential election. This is nothing short of a despicable practice and is something that commentators and pundits in the US have been complaining about for some time now.

But let us return to Malaysia. I am of the view that what the new finance minister and others in the PH government have been doing in exposing “alleged” scandals and “purported” siphoning of funds is nothing more than being accountable to the people and informing us of the amazing work done by the previous government in accumulating wealth. We now know that Malaysia is a very wealthy nation. Except that the wealth does not appear to be sitting in the right places or where it ought to be.

Speaking of “politics of anger” and of leaders who practise this brand of politics, I am reminded of a few incidents from the past:

1. The brandishing of a keris at the general assembly of a certain race-based party by one Hishammuddin Hussein, to propound the notion of racial supremacy and the party’s willingness to take up arms to protect its interests.

2. In 2009, members of the same race-based party held a protest over the proposed relocation of a Hindu temple in Shah Alam. The centrepiece of the protest was a cow head, which was stomped on and spat on by protesters, who were also party members. As the cow is regarded as a sacred animal by the Hindus, the use of a cow head was obviously racially charged and intended to incite anger among the Hindus.

3. One minister was reported in the media as defending the actions of his fellow party members. He is none other than Hishammuddin Hussein. One of the reasons he gave in defending the protest was that the protesters ought to be given space to voice their views (see “Holy Cow! Minister defends protesters”, Malaysiakini Sept 9, 2009).

4. To add insult to injury, this same clueless, race-based political party then fielded one of the protesters charged with illegal assembly in the 2009 cow head protest as its GE14 candidate in the parliamentary seat of none other than Shah Alam.

5. Another leader of this race-based party, Jamal Yunos, has achieved infamy and great success within the party by promoting a brand of politics that is fuelled by anger, fury and publicity. He has smashed boxes of beer in protest. He also appeared with his gang of “Red Shirt” members in provocative anti-Bersih protests during the last Bersih rally.

Jamal’s brand of politics, which is based on race and religion, is to provoke fear and anger among his people and intimidate those who do not share his sentiments. And, at the same time, to generate as much publicity as possible for himself. This fugitive, now on the run from the police for impending charges over the beer bottle-breaking incident, is now in the running to head the Youth wing of his party.

6. The late Karpal Singh was vocal in his opposition to the implementation of hudud laws. Two leaders from the same political party that Hishammuddin Hussein and Jamal Yunos belong to, thought it right and fit to insult Karpal when he died in a tragic car accident in April 2014. They made remarks to the effect that Karpal got what was coming to him for opposing hudud, which they wrongly perceived as an anti-Islam stand. Despite knowing full well that Karpal’s stand was premised on upholding the Federal Constitution, the leaders of this political party condoned the puerile insults made against Karpal who had just passed on.

It appears that if there is one political party that has been guilty of practising the “politics of anger” in Malaysia, that party has to be Umno. It has condoned racists and bigots in its party to satisfy what it perceives to be its base. Umno has sidelined moderates within the party in favour of firebrands and allowed characters like Jamal Yunos to be the face of Umno, all in the hope of garnering votes. This was seen as the winning formula.

Perhaps after GE14, Umno may rethink its strategy and attempt to be more inclusive as opposed to exclusionary. In a multiracial country, exclusionary policies simply will not work in the long run as its population matures. I cannot imagine my Malay-Muslim friends being impressed by the likes of Jamal Yunos and wanting people like him to lead this country.

Apart from the obvious concerns about their less than transparent leader, I believe one of the reasons Barisan Nasional lost big in the last election was that its biggest component party, Umno, was perceived as a purveyor of race and religion-based politics of fear.

In other words, “politics of anger”.

Finally, in his press conference, Hishammuddin made a statement to the effect that the actions of the new PH government in constantly exposing scandals was tantamount to saying that the previous government did not do any good while it was in power. This remark, I believe, would be ample material for Zunar in his next book, which could be titled, “The wonderful work of BN and its leaders”. It could well be a bestseller in La La Land.

Alex De Silva is an FMT reader.

The views expressed by the writer are not necessarily those of FMT.