The Value-Added Tok Mat Takes A Bow

The new information minister, Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob, has barred opposition parties from explaining their policies to the Malaysian electorate over Radio Television Malaysia.  "The government pays for RTM's employees and the equipment used", he said, adding, "So, whoever are in the government get to use RTM as their mouthpiece to air their manifesto and promises during a general election."  RTM, therefore, would refuse requests from opposition parties to discuss politics over its channels.  This is an interesting twist to what happens in practice. 

In previous general elections, air time on radio and television is parcelled out on the basis of seats contested:  the more seats a party contests, the more time it gets.  This privilege does not extend to non-electoral periods.  Opposition parties cannot ask for air time then to explain their views:  they have only the right to be criticsed by the government and, occasionally, when their views coincide with the government's, praised for their brilliant analyses of the situation.  "RTM is not interested," said Tan Sri Khalid, "to inviting any opposition party for interviews over its channels". 

To remove this confusion, he ought to make an unequivocal statement in Parliament next week about the government's information policy vis-a-vis the coming general elections and the Multimedia Super Corridor, and whether this means he would allow opposition parties their own newspapers and radio and television stations?  As it is, the government does not allow opposition parties to sell their news organs to other than members.  The case of the PAS organ, "Harakah", is often mentioned as a sign of the government's fair play;  that has nothing to do with it:  the government could not just ban "Harakah" and escape the flak this would bring about;  it therefore tries to find an accommodation which it would not allow the DAP,for instance, to distribute its "Rocket" publicly..

In previous elections, it was the elections commission which arranges for this.  If access to air time is not given, it becomes another impendiment to strengthen the guided democracy we now have, in the which the opposition is officially deemed to be the enemy of the people.  If Tan Sri Khalid and the government prevent the opposition air time based on his curious argument of the government paying for the facilities and staff, then he should not just stop there, and accept then that Malaysians who vote for the opposition should not be asked to pay income tax and other exactions from the government.  After all, then, why should an opposition voter fund the government to ensure he is not given an opportunity to back the opposition in a democratic election? 

Tan Sri Khalid forgets the underlying principle why he is there:  that he was elected by the people, that he represents the government of the people, by the people, for the people, that his existence is dependent on this support, that he is in power because the people prefer the National Front to any of the other parties, that this does not mean he or the National Front the right to insist that sidelining of opposition parties merely because they lost.  It is a fundamental, unarguable principle of participatory democracy we espouse that the opposition must be regarded as the alternate government.  That the Malaysian opposition has been overshadowed by the National Front banyan tree does not reduce the imperatives of what the government can or cannot do.  The government has no right to deny the accoutrements of democracy to the opposition parties. 

The National Front does.  And what we see is a dangerous division in our political midst in which people and organisations are characterised within the framework of a vendetta.  People are thrown out of UMNO for supporting a man who just a year ago was the prime minister-in-waiting.  The Prime Minister demanded that any who supported the man is an enemy.  Yesterday, the UMNO disciplinary panel expelled eight men, including a senator, for their involvement with Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim.  Tan Sri Khalid extends that principle to turn politics into an "us versus them"  contest to be fought to the death.  The government insists civil servants cannot be members of opposition parties.  But despite these orders, they continue to do so.  The UMNO disciplinary panel acts selectively. 

If it believes in what it says it believes in, there are at least 38 UMNO MPs and state assemblymen, including one or two in the government, whose loyalties are suspect.  In the states, at least one former deputy mentri besar does not believe UMNO is the party of the future.  Why is UMNO then keeping quiet about this?  But this is the confusion within UMNO:  many UMNO members are prepared to walk into the unknown with a political party formed by a man who the government has failed to destroy politically though not legally.  If one needs to look further about the confusion within the Malay community, one need to look no further than an UMNO divisional meeting -- if it can get a quorom; it has not been for a while.  Tan Sri Khalid, it now turns out, is a value-added Tok Mat.  We can expect more bloomers for which Tok Mat was famous for. 

M.G.G. Pillai