The Muda president and its sole representative in parliament has declared that from now on, he will be sitting in the opposition bloc. And on his first day itself, he pulled no punches, and called the unity government “hypocritical” for rejecting the emergency motion filed to debate the conditional discharge that Ahmad Zahid Hamidi received in his corruption case.
Since his declaration of “independence,” Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman has variously been described as a “spoilt brat,” an ingrate, or worse, a secret agent of Dr Mahathir Mohamad and/or PN.
PH component party leaders and ministers have accused him of conveniently forgetting that he won his Muar seat on the back of support from the coalition. Some others have asked him to really be principled and resign his parliamentary seat. Umno leaders have accused him of trying to lobby for a bigger role in government, and his withdrawal and move to the opposition bloc is just part of his gamesmanship.
The prime minister has repeatedly taken the position that the government did not have a role in the discharge not amounting to an acquittal or DNAA for the corruption alleged deputy prime minister. But this decision is subject to intense debate and acrimony in the country.
I am yet undecided if Syed Saddiq actually has the moral ground to distance himself from the unity government. However, it is also clear that many people are lauding him for being the only person brave enough to question this unity government’s backtracking on institutional reforms.
We must credit this young 30-year politician who has “spoken truth to power.” Speaking truth to power is an expression for courageously confronting an authority, calling out injustice, and asking for change.
But Syed Saddiq has been receiving brickbats and vitriol, and it just demonstrates that in Malaysia, speaking truth to power is a terribly volatile and perilous thing to do. Activists and civil society leaders will tell you that when they unearth some misdemeanour, or call out the powerful, they get hauled up by the authorities.
Things tend to quickly escalate, and often the person highlighting an injustice perpetrated by someone in a position of authority will find themselves skating on thin ice and coming under scrutiny, instead.
For decades, Malaysians have been indoctrinated to not speak up. Most people in our country, even when they know the truth, will simply bury their heads in the sand, akin to an ostrich, and let things go.
Doesn’t this sound like a fairly accurate assessment of how things work here? The mess Malaysia finds itself in, is mainly due to the fact that the authorities have deployed race, religion, and other draconian ideas to quell and suppress the freedom of expression.
It did not only happen in the dark-ages when Mahathir was the iron-man of Malaysia. Even today, under this supposedly reform minded government, news portals are being shut down arbitrarily and government ministers are issuing veiled threats.
So, do we as Malaysians feel comfortable and safe enough to come out to give our honest feedback to those in power or to authority?
At school, at college, and early on in our careers, the philosophy of putting our head down, being deferential, and listening explicitly to our teachers, lecturers or bosses is hammered home, isn’t it?
How many times did you want to speak out against something, or bring something up with your boss, but thought it best to remain silent and not court trouble?
As people get older and bolder, many think that if they tacitly reject the rigid command-and-control leadership prevalent in Malaysia, and start looking for more empowering and collaborative jobs or vote for mature and inclusive politicians, things will get better.
We tried it in the 2018 general elections, and again in 2022. But we seem to be fed a steady diet of the “same old, same old.” Our politics is a zero-sum game. If you call out the present government, it is automatically assumed that you are against them.
When a person calls for good governance, for corruption to be dealt with courageously, for the economy to be driven with direction and vitality, and for the government to stop stoking the fires of race and religion, it does not mean that they oppose the unity government.
It means they want better performance!
But speaking truth to power does not fit into our Malaysian mindset yet. We need to break into this mindset if we do not want our country to fail. People in power must learn to appreciate the opinions of citizens.
Malaysians also need to stop being so risk averse, and dare to speak up. We cannot cower and tremble because we are afraid. If we continue to back off, the powerful will continue to abuse their positions of authority.
Regardless of whether you support, or empathise with Syed Saddiq’s politics, he is speaking truth to power. So, isn’t it high time for the rest of us to do the same?
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.