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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

> Convenient Fall Guy

Free Speech, or an acceptable definition of its indulgence, is lashing out in massive palpitations in Malaysia, like a tectonic earthquake attacking, not emanating from, the epicentre - Prime Minister-in-waiting Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak. Prime example: the unprecedented and unremorseful hatchet jobs executed on Najib by his harshest critics. Blogs and websites dementedly antagonistic towards the idea of Najib as PM have gobbled up tidbits - foreign reports or local critiques - to thrash and steamroll the man, preferably to an unrecognisable pulp. 

The bashing is so relentless that it has shaped up into the classic feel of backyard bullies - chiefly Anwar Ibrahim’s and Lim Kit Siang’s blogs - picking up on the little, vulnerable guy. Imagine this: the PM-in-waiting, 10 days from being officially handed over power to the highest office in the land, is the UNDERDOG, electing to endure the blows and rakings with silent grace (eloquent silence?), and favouring to focus on the more difficult tasks at hand, like injecting comfort food into the hungry-as-hell economy demanding undulating financial stimulation.

The blows and slashes are so hard and so surgically precise, and fears of Najib transforming Malaysia with much-needed new energy so morbid, imaginable and perceived missteps by the Government are quickly blamed on Najib, like the precipitous suspension of Harakah and Suara Keadilan, political organs of Pas and Parti Keadilan Rakyat with the savage bites of untrained pitbulls. If you were to include the aftershocks, just wait for hillslopes to collapse or buildings to crumble and lo behold, Najib will be the one-size-fits-all fall guy to take the rap for all woes distressing the nation. And he’s not even the Prime Minister yet!

Political free speech, the ones spewing like chilli sauce and sold like hot dogs by Pas and PKR, is now encumbered with a distribution glitch after their mouthpieces were slapped with a three-month suspension. The arbiters of free speech, the Home Ministry, deemed that the two rags as a bad sale and stopped them from being public digested like a health warning. 

Alternately, it seemed to be a superfluous move. This is because the two websites repurposing the content of the print reports have been page-viewed and hit thrice as much. Whatever grounds the Home Ministry reasoned in stopping the distribution of the two rags - distorting facts, misleading information and attempting to instil hatred - are now inconsequential. The websites will unquestionably redouble efforts in doing a bang-up job berating what had been irrelevantly banned on paper. 

At the Parliament lobby, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung had the virtually impossible task of defending the suspensions, seeing that the Opposition parties are already charged up like Ben Johnson on triple dosages of steroids, and no amount of explanation, justification or elucidation could appease the hyperventilated reactions, that the suspensions were not politically motivated days before Najib is handed the keys to Putrajaya and the official hustings of the twin peaks and one river by-elections were to commence.

“Despite repeated warnings; the two publications breached publishing rules as stated in their permits,” Chor exhorted to the media. “This (suspension) is normal. There's nothing special about it.” That’s just it: Chor may well be telling the truth but to the purveyors of the two rags, he might as well be spinning his way out of a hopelessly insufferable political loop. Not after PAS youth chief Salahuddin Ayub (PAS-Kubang Kerian), Pas information chief Mahfuz Omar (PAS-Pokok Sena) and PKR information chief Tian Chua (PKR-Batu) mobbed the Deputy Minister at the lobby, like vultures descending on a corpse.

Mahfuz pressed for details of what conditions were breached while Salahuddin and Tian Chua demanded a meeting with Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar. But Chor remained steadfast with the official line as the Government might be thrown a little spanner in their unilateral decision in the mode of a court injunction to reverse the suspensions. Mahfuz contended that Harakah did not breach any publishing condition but frustrated at not getting a plausible response from Chor, he and Tian Chua claimed that the suspensions acknowledged their publications influence. "We believe this latest move will further boost people's support towards Pakatan Rakyat," said Mahfuz, indicating that an angry letter will be sent to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).

Capitalising on the suspensions, Kit was even more disingenuously explicit in his hyperbolic attacks on Najib: he crammed every sordid affair of past weeks into a little simplistic nutshell - Gobind Singh Deo’s one-year suspension as MP, Karpal Singh’s sedition charge, the Perak Menteri Besar mess, last night’s crowd dispersal tear gas dispersal of crowds at Anwar’s Bukit Selambau ceramah and the party organs’ suspensions - and spuriously blamed it all on Najib. “…the PM-in-waiting has confirmed the worst fears that his ascension as the sixth Prime Minister would see a return of Mahathirism and a Najib crackdown,” Kit bellowed in his website.

Kit’s rant and Anwar’s bacchanalian moves to tie Najib to all kinds of horrendous perpetrations could only mean one intolerable manifestation: Najib’s hugely potential energy will kick into high gear next week after his anointment to undo the indolence sapping the nation, win back lost Umno support and woo back the deserting electorate. And bang goes the Pakatan Rakyat’s one-year propaganda.

The elementary principle of allowing these two rags to spew their editorial venom and even selling it illegally to non-members had been to appease the larger demands of a freer political discourse, the good and the bad included. But as some good-thinking people alluded, perhaps banning the mouthpieces was not a good idea because it expediently played into Pas’ and PKR’s penchant for victimology, especially to bolster its highly radioactive leaders. 

While the two rags may sell like chilled beer at a U2 concert in July, the rags progression will soon be naturally stalled, just like mainstream newspapers, whose readers are dwindling by the year as readership moves over pugnaciously to the World Wide Web, being the gargantuan and insuperable communication matrix that it is. The web, ironically, is actually salvaging print’s pride, mainstream newspapers in present company, and it would have been a different proposition had the Home Ministry able to disengage the Harakah and Suara PKR’s websites from publishing what was essentially deleterious junk food.

Free speech, democratic and free association red-hot issues notwithstanding, stopping the websites would have been more of a pragmatic feat rather than suspending the party periodicals, which was welcomed fuel, fodder and sustenance for the brutal battles in the days and weeks ahead. 

But here’s the thing and here’s a heads-up to Kit and Anwar, if they are interested: If Najib surely had his way, the suspensions and other transgressions that he is getting the rap for would not even roost in any Government agenda. Being the dutiful deputy has not helped him one bit - NST.