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Voting for morality in Hulu Selangor

Fri, 23 Apr 2010 02:40 By Gobind Rudra COMMENT If perception is everything in politics, as believed mostly by pundits, neither candidate in Hulu Selangor would stand a moral chance of victory in Sunday's by-election. On the one hand is a pudgy, successful older man of ideas and ability and substance. But they say he drinks. On the other hand the lanky youthful opponent, unproven but energetic, is eager to please, and all too eager to press the flesh. But they say he grovels, that he lied, that he has no ideas. Both now stand before the bar of public opinion posing moral questions. Did PKR's Zaid Ibrahim drink liquor as a young man? Should that matter? Is that reason enough to bar him from being a representative of these people, after having once held high office as MP, Senator and Minister? Did MIC's P Kamalanathan grovel before Umno as many believe his party continually does? Did he lie about his academic qualifications? Should that stop him from becoming a first-time MP and from a future in politics? Trivial by comparison to matters such as development of the district, land titles, education of Tamil children, and the human rights of Felda settlers and the Orang Asli. But they sum up the inherent tensions and conflicts of society, divided between tradition and modernity, between principle and expediency. It was no surprise that Umno's supporters seemed to have drawn first blood with a doctored photograph of Zaid seemingly with liquor bottle in hand to tear down perception of Zaid as a man of honour, who took on the cause of five unjustly sacked judges, who stepped down from office on principle, against high-handed use of the ISA. They needed to take him down, by feeding the public appetite for raw malicious gossip. Faking that Zaid photo just for laughs Who's been to the mountain top? The photo, soon debunked, was never the issue, its worth only to plant the idea of Zaid being unIslamic, of being a hypocrite, of being too well-heeled for the likes of Hulu Selangor. In dragging Zaid down, Umno's leaders opened themselves to the same questions, and on their supporters, the NEP generation of Thirty Percenters in flashy cars and flashy jewellery. Who among Umno's leaders, past and present, have never had a drink? Who among Umno's leaders speaks from the mountain top? Surely not Dr Mahathir, characteristically stooping to the gutter again last night in preference to standing tall. Morality is a dubious quest for those about whom there are more questions than answers: questions still unanswered about Altantuya Shaariibuu, A Kugan and Teoh Beng Hock, about billions in arms deals (and billions more spent at the arms show in the capital while the campaign carried on), about dubious contracts and cronies, and about the fiduciary relationship of the MIC and its leaders to its own Maica, Aimst, and MIED projects. Religious propriety is a dubious quest for those who profited from and have allies in the huge corporate empires built on the buck or two frittered away at the lottery parlours by those of all religions; or for those in administration that dithered out of expediency or turned a blind eye while families were rent asunder on religious grounds. The sin of injustice

Zaid Ibrahim's casual and candid admission of his youthful indiscretion and his repentance may not satisfy everyone, but who can satisfy those for whom venal sins are mortal, but injustice is unnoticed? It is enough for him and for many others that the Almighty is all-forgiving, even if political rivals are vindictive. Though the younger Kamalanathan took no high moral position, being presented as the Young Mr Clean opened him to questions of character. His youthful fresh looks, fluent Malay, relative innocence, energy, his eagerness to meet and greet, his willingness to look on the bright side...these were bound to have some appeal. But voters jaded by the same old, same old can also recognise that behind the youthful energy is much more of the same old, same old. Controversial act...but did he kiss that hand? That was apparent in the widelyposted photographs of him bending deeply over, obsequiously for some, in a handshake with a slightly befuddled Muhyiddin Yassin. The pictures do not show that he kissed Muhyiddin's hand, but it was enough that he appeared to do so. In a community brought up in plantation ways, the word mandore is never too far from mind. It was unsaid, but not unfelt. Did he lie in claiming to be a graduate of Edith Cowan University? Discrepancies abound in the explanations. Cleanliness and godliness The university states the communications degree must be taken on campus. It is not offered off-campus. The university computer throws up one record, just one, when "P Kamalanathan/P Panchanathan" is entered as a family name. Any other combination draws a blank. The degree parchment shows "P Kamalanathanlp. Panchanathan". The local college does not have its records of him. There is only the word of the academic director. After the dirt of the obviously faked Zaid photo, there is bound to be scepticism about Mr Clean. Questions on fundamental aspects of character stem from the characterless campaign run on his behalf by his party machine, relying on image, brute force and bending the rules. What is the BN stand on Felda settlers' grievances? What is the BN stand on Orang Asli rights? What is the BN stand on land titles? What is the BN stand on Tamil schools? What is the BN stand on jobs in the district? What is the BN stand on urban migration? What is the BN stand on abandoned townships? "After I'm elected," says Kamalanathan. "Right now, I have to meet 60,000 people before Sunday." But he's positively in favour of development, with the old bromide that only the BN can deliver. Left unanswered is why the MIC's deputy president couldn't, during his four terms up to 2008, and what three BN state assemblymen have delivered since 2008. Morality of the majority Behind the Young Mr Clean is a party machine wise in the ways of intimidation and fear, of dirty tricks. Can Hulu Selangor's voters rise above the dirt? For their own sakes, they must. In Zaid Ibrahim, they have a nationally-recognised personality whose integrity remains largely intact. He has heft, and a voice that will be heard in Parliament and elsewhere, articulating the concerns of those without voice. He can build bridges to his party comrades in the Selangor state government on land, forestry and municipal concerns. In Kamalanathan, they have a personable and eager do-gooder, familiar with the arts of image building but a lightweight novice likely to go unnoticed and unheard in Parliament, and yet untested against a federal bureaucracy used to bright stars rising and falling by the wayside.

It is a choice between paradoxes in Hulu Selangor. The older man is more of a youthful upstart in how he challenges convention and the establishment. The younger man is all energy and convention, long on image and short on substance, eagerly pushing the right buttons for the upward mobility and establishment acceptance that victory brings, seeing and speaking no evil. Almost ethereal, like an insubstantial feel-good projection from a dominating party machine. All that the people of Hulu Selangor need to do is to cut through the illusions and vote with a clear conscience. Then they will show that the real moral majority comes from a vote for true morality, not from passing snap moral judgments.