Thursday, December 28, 2023

My top five newsmakers of 2023

S Thayaparan

"Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy.”

- F Scott Fitzgerald

COMMENT | Everyone has who they think are the top five newsmakers of the year.

As usual, I present my top five, with the Fitzgerald quote as a reminder that there are no heroes, only tragedies or tragedies in the making.

In no particular order, here is my list of the top five newsmakers.

Teoh Beng Hock

“He mourned and shed tears in front of the funeral hall, all because an innocent person lost his life in connection with the MACC,” said Teoh Beng Hock’s sister Teoh Lee Lan, but the prime minister either forgot or was too busy with the Palestinian cause to meet the family of a fallen comrade.

As a member of the DAP during the times Pakatan Harapan was scrambling against the Umno hegemon, Teoh was a comrade in every sense of the word.

It must be a spit on the face for the Teoh family when political operatives find it easier to don a keffiyeh than stand with them in getting justice for him. And the worst of it is that these same politicians are adored by partisans.

How can a family find any sort of closure when the death of a child becomes a symbol of everything wrong with the promise of change?

The tragedy is that Beng Hock is a martyr for a stillborn Malaysia Madani.

P Ramasamy

I have no idea if Ramasamy is a trenchant Tamilian or a politician on the verge of extinction. Who knows, maybe both, and while his critics say that he is not of the people, he surely does speak for the people.

Of course, the people he speaks for are not those that mainstream political operatives and their sycophants have much use for, at least until elections come around. Willing emissaries from the state are always happy to present narratives to maintain the establishment. Any establishment.

Ramasamy’s rabble-rousing polemics are the panacea to the political bromides of this unity government attempting to hoodwink the most disenfranchised of the Malaysian family regardless of their race and religion.

The fact that he chose to remind everyone that the emperor had no clothes when he was in the establishment and burnt bridges when he was out, points to his mercurial nature but also that nobody can tame the beast which is the system.

While I disagree with the course of action Ramamsamy has chosen to take, I sincerely hope he succeeds or at least creates a platform for the segment of society that he chooses to represent.

M Indira Gandhi

This hard-fighting mother is usually on my top five list nearly every year. The fact that she continues to fight and is an inspiration for mothers in similar situations demonstrates that there is something extremely malicious about the system that feeds into the baser natures of the religious class.

The fact that Indira continues to fight and remain a symbol for a class of stolen children perfectly encapsulates the seedy religious underbelly of various governments and their non-Malay enablers.

Indira’s case involves numerous branches of human rights violations, not to mention systemic dysfunction of the state security apparatus and successive governments have done nothing for her.

Even Harapan chose not to get involved, even though various political operatives were standing by her side demanding that the government act and return the kidnapped child.

I look forward to the day when her child is returned and there is no need for her name to be on my list or indeed any parent whose child is a victim of religious kidnapping.

Haris Ibrahim

Activists these days seem divorced from the issues they claim to advocate and it has become a circle jerk of mutual admiration and fundraising.

Haris though harkened back to an earlier form of political and social activism; a complicated endeavour populated by flawed people scrambling to make a difference.

Haris was always for the people and when he stumbled and made wrong choices, he was never shy to admit it publicly.

His passing affected me deeply. His passing is epochal in the sense that the language and symbols we use as a shorthand for dissent, like ABU (anything but Umno) for instance, sprung from his ingenuity when dealing with a hegemon with vast propaganda organs.

Here is a snippet of a conversation (“conversation, commander, not interview”, he reminded me) we had some time ago.

“Almost all of us have racist tendencies to varying degrees which, wittingly or otherwise, we picked up from our elders and we, in turn, pass down to the next generation. A race relations act which criminalises acts seen as 'racist' will help to, in time, weed these tendencies out from our society.

“An example might help. We still see coffee shops with signage announcing, 'Please do not spit', even in this day and age. A law to criminalise spitting in any public place, and effectively policed and enforced through prosecution through our courts, may one day see those signage become redundant.

“Similarly, if it was the law that if a child below say, age 15, was heard uttering ‘keling’, ‘malai quai’, or ‘cina babi’, the parent would be charged with an offence, and this law was effectively policed and enforced, I dare say we would hear less and less of these utterances from future generations.

“So, yes, we need a race relations act.”


My final pick is not a person but an organisation, which I suppose means a group of people.

Over the past year, PSM has demonstrated that it cannot win elections, is mocked by mainstream political supporters, and its political operatives get detained by the state security apparatus in the prime minister’s backyard.

A PSM operative once told me that it does not matter if Harapan supporters vilify them online because what is important are the issues PSM raises. The issues PSM raises, unfortunately, do not gain any traction with urban voters who right now are being terrified by their leaders with the green wave.

I have made the case as to why a grassroots-level outfit like PSM would be an asset not only to the oppositional forces in this country, it could be the conduit to the marginalised Malay underclass and the brewing class dialectic in the greater Malay polity.

Relying on the religiosity of Amanah and the old-school racial demagoguery of Umno/PKR is not going to create the environment that sustains the kind of change the anti-theocratic forces in this country claim they want for Malaysia.

S Arutchelvan never fails to remind Harapan of its broken promises and has a knack for cutting through the horse manure with his folksy public statements.

PSM remains the fly in the ointment of the mainstream political class and by doing so, reminds us that pretty words and hollow slogans are merely the means for establishment parties to gaslight the base.

But it doesn't matter. The reality is that PSM will continue fighting the right fight and even though their successes may be small and go unreported in the mainstream press, I for one am glad that people all over the country are being helped by a party that does not win elections but carries on working for the good of people who more often than not, do not vote or a mainstream who rejects them.

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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