Avoid popularity if you would have peace. – Abrahim Lincoln
The approval rating of the prime minister has gone up and down. It went up with the lower income group and down with the middle class segment. Why is the premier popular with the poor and downtrodden? It is simply because the premier gives them goodies to lessen the pangs of poverty.
These are ordinary folk who want food, shelter, decent wage to lead a simple life. Give them carrots and all is well with their health – and their votes. People who have to struggle daily to make ends meet are easily influenced by the sweet talk of smooth politicians. In their eyes, political leaders become god-like figures if they come visiting, loaded with cash and other promises. The adoring crowd can see no fault in ministers with bottomless pockets. A prime minister who waves the magic wand that makes money appear in their pockets can do no wrong. Politicians are crafty old devils when they want to capture power, and sinister characters when they want to keep power. When they campaign for public office, they put on their charm to woo, to plead, to cajole all classes of society. Once on the commanding heights, they lay out plans – to attack opponents and disillusioned citizens alike. As the years roll by, power corrupts them absolutely and they turn menacing in order to stay politically alive.
At this phase of their waning political career, they seek out the vulnerable group to forge a partnership. The prime minister of Malaysia is pursuing a similar course of action: he is building bridges with the lower income group who forms a sizeable portion of the electorate. Wherever he goes he throws out goodies to the settlers, the hard-pressed rural folk, the urban poor, the toiling workers. These are the people who little care or least understand the big issues rattling the country. Shady business deals, failed corporate ventures, environmental hazards, deep-seated corruption, abuse of power, dirty politics – all these unhealthy developments have little or no impact on the daily miserable life of the impoverished masses. Limping on crutches The prime minister only have to dole out some relief to this teeming poor to win hero status and soaring popularity. His last carrot is the national budget, the biggest basket from where he can liberally distribute more largesse to his hero-worshipping fans. He will propose more benefits but the distribution will hinge on what comes out from the ballot boxes.
More gifts for the less wealthy class means more votes for the elite class. It may be good strategy for the prime minister to exploit and manipulate the sentiments of the ignorant many but a bad tactical move to ignore the groundswell of dissent from the few. It is the minority that can decide the destiny of the country because they can ferret out the truth from the lies emanating from the mouth of the government. It was the vocal few that dug out the dirt and brought to light government-linked business ventures that went off tangent, defence contracts that stink, stock listing that only enriches the few, tainted electoral rolls that will put more votes into the pouches of the ruling party.
The prime minister did not like the insistent chant for reforms here and abroad because it was not music to his ears when the whole world now knows that democracy in Malaysia is limping on crutches. If not for the courageous stand of the minority – be they ordinary citizens or political opponents – the country would never have known the dark side of their leaders. The minority, mostly from the middle class, is never popular with the establishment for standing up to what is right and just. It has always been classified as enemies of the state bent on destroying the institutions of the state. But this strident criticism does not hold water because it is these very cherished institutions that the minority is defending against the might of the majority. It is the majority that often imposes its brutal will on the lesser numbers.
A good prime minister is one who serves all people. He cannot be riding high with just the majority while the minority is being pummelled into submission. In a democracy the will of the people – the majority as well as the minority – is what matters the most. Trying to split society into two antagonistic camps will not guarantee permanent peace. Playing the bigger side against the smaller one is a sure recipe to eternal enmity. It serves little purpose to be a popular prime minister with the majority when the minority unceasingly uncovers more sins of the government. Eventually, the majority will find common cause with the minority to send the prime minister into political oblivion.