MARCH 18 — The math does not work, does it? There is this obsolete, cruel and more importantly crude government, and despite its single-minded intention to self-destruct, it stays in power.
Malaysia is an anathema to all countries in our wealth, infrastructure and education group. We are close to being unexplainable. The government has tried to be more obsolete, crueller and cruder in the past two years, yet it is not met with any further rejection. Why?
The answer lies in the vote-base securing power for the Barisan Nasional (BN) — the immovable 10 per cent.
In the general, you have your traditional BN supporters, those who are immune to critique and sworn to the perpetuation of the present system, irrespective of its pending collapse. I have several family members and close friends in it, and they want to walk that path indefinitely.
At the other end, the non-BN guys. Those equally sworn to the end of BN rule and have stayed that course through all reincarnations of opposition — Independence of Malaysia Party, The Socialist Front, Gagasan Rakyat, Barisan Alternatif and now Pakatan Rakyat.
I’ve less family members and close friends in that side of the pitch. But in the last three years, the spike in support for them guarantees irrespective of how much longer BN stays in power it will always be confronted by a sizeable opponent, not a token one anymore. A true nemesis, not a kid with a wooden bat.
Which leads to the — equally divided between the ever-effervescent and extremely dull — undecided voters. The ones deciding whether BN wins by a landslide or if PAS or DAP rotate leadership of a bigger than small Opposition MP total in Parliament. In 2008 they turned their backs on BN.
However, that does not change the Federal government
You need the real king-makers, the immovable 10 per cent. Let me tell you about them.
The group has one characteristic, they vote BN even if they personally don’t have that much love for the ruling coalition. They vote BN because despite everything life in Malaysia is ok for them. That’s it. Life is ok. There are no sexy reasons, just an extremely cautious and cynical outlook to life. (Hey, blame it on our Asian genes.)
They keep BN in power, and help them stay there.
The number 10 is arbitrary, mostly guesswork — to show them being substantial, while being small enough to be an under-serviced group. The group is disparate and they don’t have an active effort to gather themselves under an umbrella. There is no “We really, really don’t care that much for the BN, but we vote for them all the time Club”.
It is important to know them, so that the arguments made to them apply to them, and have a chance to convince them.
What do they want? They want good. They want the good without having to endure any growing pains. This is where they falsely associate the BN government as the purveyor of reasonable good, because they have been in the power position infinitum.
They are willing to settle for good not coming through, as long as bad (for them) does not rise.
So much of what the BN decides, launches or offends does not irk them.
They’ll politely listen to you when you repeat your rehearsed lines about the mystery surrounding the death of a model or in a lock-up or at the bottom of a government building. They’ll nod away when you express your disdain with human rights openly abused and elections lacking the honesty one must surely wish for. They’ll buy you drinks when you admonish the nepotism, the xenophobia and the denigration of the human spirit. You’ll almost go blue exasperated about the brain drain, and they’ll comfort you with an arm over you while the other hand strokes the “green card” tucked inside their wallet.
Moral imperatives are not going to win their votes.
They are not interested in the process which the good prevails or develops from, they just want good.
Who are they? Some of the commentators in this website. The middle manager who needs his firm to be stable as he makes his career surge. The sub-contractor who hates the system, but has a life made from him compromising himself and the system. The school teacher who thinks all governments are inherently flawed which is a fair reason to back this one.
They are all around us. Your voting record (or lack thereof) will tell you if you are one of them.
My own personal favourite is my batch-mate — the good doctor in Putrajaya. He is cynical of everything, and builds his reputation on just being disagreeable and cocky about his intellect. You should see him justifying bad government, it is the closest as you will get to see a square peg being forcibly but successfully pressed into a round hole.
When you have made your mind, and possess a decent intellect you can always justify your world-view.
Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, Nicolae Ceausescu and Robert Mugabe are all frowned upon today, but in the heights of their power the very people who turned their backs on them were cheering them in stadiums and long parades.
The “immovable 10 per cent” will in a distant future disassociate their support for historically denounced characters. Which is why I try to commit to memory all my friends who are “Facebook fans” of a certain former prime minister.
So you see, now you can understand why the BN can and has made decisions that make your blood boil, but which do not ruffle them. They only care about appeasing their supporters, and keeping a portion of the undecided. The ‘immovable 10 per cent’ will find their own way to crossing the name of the BN candidate.
I’ll meet my quiz-mate in two hours, and he’ll run through for me all the nasty things the government is up to, mostly what was carried by The Malaysian Insider. As usual I’ll smile and tell him, the government does not care for him, since they can’t lose his vote twice in any given election.
I will tell him, as I tell my readers if you want the change you desire, identify those around you who are. If you bother to let listen and not moralise, they will share with you their misgivings about a life without BN. Listen and engage on their terms.
Don’t pour facts down their throats, you’ll only make them withdraw into their shells. Don’t force a responsibility they have never felt for others. Don’t insist they change, because it suits you.
You never win them in the conversation. You only have a chance if they consider the conversation long after it has ended.
That they realise as Edmund Burke put it: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
And maybe you can start by putting that as a bumper sticker on your car.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.
Praba Ganesan is a Hulu Langat boy with a penchant for durians and debate. He is part of balairakyat, an NGO promoting ideas exchange. More of him at prabaganesan.wordpress.com
The immovable 10pc