Commentary Politics

Politicians think they are special because people make them feel so

Judge for yourselves... part from having a crowd against the rules of the MCO, is there sufficient distancing?

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Written by Aziz Hassan

April 21, 2020.

Recollections & Reflections

WHEN Deputy Health Minister Dr. Noor Azmi Ghazali was shown having a meal with about 30 others at a religious school in Lenggong recently, he wasn’t the first Malaysian politician to do this despite the movement control order (MCO) due to the Covid-19 outbreak, which simply means that he had committed an offence for which possibly over a thousand others had been fined RM1,000. Some of the earliest offenders were sent to jail for a few months.

One high profile case also involving a politician that broke the rules of the MCO happened way back on March 30 not at one but two venues. Apart from news content on fire trucks spraying disinfectant all over the place, more newsworthy perhaps was the attention-grabbing costume of Housing and Local Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin who looked like she was ready to be sent into space any time you were ready. The long arm of the law didn’t reach her although if it had been anyone else the police would have moved in to make an arrest, as was the case with the many MCO violators before her.

There have been other similar incidents, again due to the presence of politicians, like the recent one in Terengganu in which Mentri Besar Dr. Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar and former MB Ahmad Said were photographed with several others.

But what is it that makes it seem so difficult, impossible almost, for Malaysian politicians to abide by the most basic of rules, when they in fact should be the ones to lead by example? Why did Noor Azmi do it despite the bad press that followed Zuraida’s antics?

Photos of Noor Azmi at the event clearly showed that there was hardly any physical distancing despite the risks posed by Covid-19

There were several photos on social media on Noor Azmi’s event. Apart from having a meal with the group, Noor Azmi also handed goodie bags to residents and while he wore a mask, those pictured with him did not and there certainly was no distancing when the bags were being presented.

What was more surprising was to hear Perak police chief Razarudin Husain trying to justify why no immediate action was taken against Noor Azmi or whoever organised the event. Razarudin was to say that Noor Azmi practised distancing when the photos showed otherwise and that the event was not a scheduled one for the deputy minister.

Clearly Razarudin missed a point that was not lost on people who slayed him on social media because the MCO is not just about distancing. It’s also about not being out in the open in a crowd – or in many cases where lay Malaysians were hauled up, it could be just about being out in the open not for something essential. This was why the lone jogger in a park or the footballer who decided to have his exercise also in a park or the two poor villagers out angling and hoping to catch some fish to feed their families were arrested and taken to court.  

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob said he would leave it to the police to act. Another who commented on this was Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Takiyuddin Hassan and former prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. Takiyuddin mentioned the oft heard remark that no one is immune under the law. Granted that we all agree on this but this is only good when the law acts, which in the cases involving the politicians listed above, it didn’t, not immediately that is.

But what is it that makes it seem so difficult, impossible almost, for Malaysian politicians to abide by the most basic of rules, when they in fact should be the ones to lead by example? Why did Noor Azmi do it despite the bad press that followed Zuraida’s antics?

Everyone shares the blame for putting politicians on a pedestal

You don’t need to be a genius twice over to know why – and the people, us lay Malaysians, are also to be blamed for putting these politicians on a pedestal. An event is never good enough if not officiated by a politician, even if he turns up an hour late. This and the fact that people do not find it abhorring even when a politician puts himself on a pedestal!

Those who follow politics closely will surely recall moments when ministers boastfully reminded people that they were members of the country’s highest decision-making body. A couple of ministers who didn’t know I was a journalist but were there with us because they knew my friends openly bragged about how they were going to make life difficult for this and that person for daring to say something different.

Civil servants who would not do their bidding found themselves transferred or being ticked off.

I am reminded of a problem faced by a department head in the 80s whose no-nonsense attitude won praises all over, including from politicians, only to be told in no uncertain terms in private that his actions were costing this minister support from one community.

Malaysian politicians appear untouchable because the system makes them so powerful, especially when they hold public office, whether in the states or with the central government.

Remember how many years ago a Member of Parliament was not amused that Kuala Lumpur City Hall should issue him a ticket for parking indiscriminately on busy Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman?

And there was this one in Malacca in 2006 when Jasin MP Md. Said Yusop asked Customs to close one eye and not act against his client. Said was duly dropped from Umno’s list of candidates for the 2008 general elections, but not before he was summoned to face a panel chaired by his party leader/prime minister.

The bottomline though is that this is about the rule of law and it starts with the enforcement agencies, particularly with the police. It has everything to do with respect and credibility but until they truly act without fear or favour, no one amongst lay Malaysians is going to buy the story that everyone is equal before the law.

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About the author

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Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.