Let me list down what I have heard so far from the Cameron Highlands by-election campaign trail.
1. The tussle was over the racial origins of the candidates – are they Malay, Orang Asli, Indian or others?
2. Did ministers go to Cameron Highlands using their official vehicles?
3. Did candidates make use of government machinery to help in their campaign?
4. Were the voters threatened or promised rewards in any way?
5. When money was dished out, was it for reimbursement of expenses or was it bribery?
6. There is no right or wrong. If a party was caught distributing RM20 to voters, we only need to know how much the other party was giving.
This is how pathetic we have become. I am both disappointed and disheartened. It is as if our politics has gone backwards and become even more trivial and insignificant.
Let’s face it: caring for the Orang Asli community in this country is a policy issue, hence an Orang Asli candidate would not make a difference. Neither could a Malay or Indian candidate do much for them unless the government of the day has set its mind on it.
If we had cared for the Orang Asli all these years, I don’t think they would have had to queue up for RM20 petrol reimbursement allowance or bribes, whatever we choose to call it.
Politicians from both sides of the divide should be ashamed if so many of our rural voters are still desperate for minor handouts. It shows that they are poor, destitute and ignorant. It shows that development has not reached them despite all the talk.
On the debate over the use of official cars for ministers to go to Cameron Highlands, my question is: why are we so pretentious? Are we not missing the forest for the trees? Official cars are chicken feed privileges for ministers. If they choose to be corrupt, there are a hundred and one ways available to them.
Official cars are a sunk cost for the government. Sometimes, focusing too much on no-brainers is just unproductive. It diverts our attention from the real issues of corruption and transparency confronting the country.
In a way, Cameron Highlands is unique. If we really care for this place and its people, let’s focus on the right issues.
What about a master development plan for Cameron Highlands, with concrete steps and a timeline for implementation? Surely many substantive issues – land tenure and ownership, roads and transportation, hillside development, farming and pesticide use, environment degradation, water catchment areas, the livelihood of the Orang Asli and their settlements, and eco-friendly tourism – need our urgent attention.
TK Chua is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.