Friday, September 22, 2023

Madani and PN’s political persecution games

S Thayaparan
Published: Sep 21, 2023 8:55 AM

“When all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.”

- Hannah Arendt

COMMENT | What is more ludicrous than the rhetorical contortions political operatives make when addressing Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) are the lengths unity government supporters go to demonstrate how all is kosher in Madaniville.

Zahid must be smirking at how once-hardcore proponents of transparency and anti-corruption are bending over backwards on social media attempting to justify this DNAA and pushing the narrative that the prime minister has nothing to do with it.

The Madani government line, meanwhile, is that it also happened during Perikatan Nasional’s time in the hot seat, which supposedly justifies its application now.

Of course, when it happened during PN’s time, Pakatan Harapan political operatives and supporters were crying about executive interference and the narrative was that PN was a corrupt coalition that engaged in such practices.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi

In justifying the DNAA, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim advanced the narrative that this was partly a political persecution by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The fact that Zahid, former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak, and every other alleged kleptocrat say the same thing points to the narrative that is being shaped by the mainstream political establishment in this country to counter a populist political insurgency.

Keep in mind that the political persecution narrative is used by both sides of the political divide.

Everyone from Anwar to DAP chairperson Lim Guan Eng has sought refuge in this defence and it worked well for the base.

The political persecution defence is a good galvanising talking point for the faithful. The problem is that it is also a double-edged sword.

This particular narrative is only effective when you are the underdog and have a loyal base. Umno is not only unpopular but also “leaches” support from PKR.

Umno now has an effective strategy in dealing with other political operatives that have pending charges by the state.

Tommy Thomas the main target?

After all, if there was political persecution against one political operative, why not others? The main target is, of course, former attorney-general Tommy Thomas - who did himself no favours in writing his memoirs the way he did.

I have no doubt the royal commission of inquiry (RCI) is going to quote from the memoir and establish a prima facie case that the executive branch was extremely influential in getting charges brought against specific individuals.

If you read Thomas’ memoirs, he makes it very easy for the disingenuous to make a case against the system.

Furthermore, who was in government when the old maverick carried out these political persecutions? The answer, of course, is the very people who are running the show now, minus Bersatu.

The PN base is not going to look at Muhyiddin Yassin, former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, or even the old maverick for answers. Why? It is simple, they want the people in power to answer those questions.

Saying that PN did the same thing is not going to put their voters into your camp. Mind you, it may work if PN was currently in power but voters, especially PN supporters, want to see corruption being tackled from the top down.

Keep in mind that PN is a populist religious movement and when PN supporters see elites getting away with alleged corruption, they are not going to hold their leaders accountable - they are going to hold people with actual power accountable.

And the more you give life to the political persecution narrative, the more you feed into the victimhood narrative of certain PN political operatives.

Now when PN politicians are investigated by the state, they are going to whine that they are being politically persecuted.

They always say this but now it carries more weight because the base sees that the government will let off its friends but would persecute its adversaries.

Besides laying the blame at Mahathir’s doorstep, it just creates more drama, especially when he responds to these allegations.

When he does, I am sure Mahathir is going to throw many more people under the bus and all this will be used by PN propagandists to paint a picture of systemic malfeasances.

Honestly, at this point, the old maverick is a spent force and I truly believe the mandarins in PN just put his name forward as some sort of figurehead to troll Harapan.

Do not for one moment think that I believe political persecution is not an abuse by the state. I know far too many people who have been unjustly persecuted by the state.

But when both sides engage in “whataboutisms”, it becomes a political theatre.

This is exactly what happened in Parliament recently. This is what the PN base wants to see. They want to see their political operatives standing up to power.

They want to see their chosen ones attempting to highlight governmental abuse in Parliament. They do not care about details.

This is the problem with partisanship. Nobody cares about the little details. It is about winning the perception game.

What PN is successfully doing is portraying itself as the cleaner alternative to the decades of Umno’s corruption, which the then-opposition zealously highlighted but who are now kowtowing to because they want to deny PN power.

This is a powerful, yet simple narrative that is being used effectively by PN.

Think of it this way. The rakyat is going through economic difficulties. The Madani government may very well be introducing policies to mitigate the hardship but nobody can see it.

What they can see is how rich fat cat political operatives who allegedly misappropriated money (when they are already rich) are getting off the hook while they are struggling to make ends meet.

And all PN has to do is put on a good show.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum - “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

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