THIS was perhaps Malaysia’s most eventful half week with the buildup to Saturday’s anti-ICERD Rally. In the middle of the week the prime Minister had despaired over pervasive corruption in the country. The Sultan of Perak, who is the acting King, lamented that while Islam had united and strengthened the character of Malays into forging a solid brotherhood they seem to be getting weaker now. The thrust of both messages was that character development was essential to develop a society based on trust, hard work, honesty, integrity and the right skills set.

Then we had rather unexpectedly the peaceful anti-ICERD rally.

I wish anti-ICERD had meant something else and Malaysians had gathered to protest against injustice and inequality; corruption and cronyism; extremism and excesses; racism and race-baiting; disparity and deception, or ICERD, for short.

Then I would have ventured out from my hovel to support the rally.

I believe all these weaknesses affect our country and we would be justified in gathering peacefully to register our grave concern about these weaknesses and protest about them. The small number of people responsible for some of these weaknesses could have been represented with colourful effigies.

Some understanding and sympathy for the sentiments behind the actual anti-ICERD Rally that took place on Saturday would however be in place. Following GE14 and the events of May 9, the euphoria over the change that the people generally sought to bring down a kleptocratic government has given way to apprehensions and unease over the new government. Such apprehensions arise from the variegated and eclectic electorate that brought about this change of government. While the people generally agreed on the need to rid the country of a blatantly corrupt, inept and generally kleptomaniac leadership the same people could not be as directly involved, integral to or participate in the selection of the new government. Democracy works that way, real power is vested in the small elected leadership.

There now seem to be some misgivings about the composition of the government, its conduct of state affairs and the content of some statements coming out of Putrajaya and Parliament.

Kleptomania Incorporated (KI), the members of which were the power and the power brokers up to May 8, has manoeuvred and used these undercurrents to seek not clarification or refinement of some policies and initiatives but something larger – a premature exit for the legitimately elected government which has done seven months in its five-year tenure. They ended their anti-ICERD Rally on that prayerful note. KI is now unrealistically upbeat about change!

It is appropriate for the leadership of the present government to take heed of some of these apprehensions but it must continue to pursue the higher principles of governance, accountability and transparency that they have introduced in the past six months. Government leaders must also focus on governance and leave political polemics to party apparatchiks. Today’s virtual live coverage of parliamentary proceedings portrays instantaneously what’s going on and it is not necessary to flog a dead horse on the floor of the House. Parliament has a responsibility to provide our law enforcement and regulatory bodies the necessary powers, funding and wherewithal for them to do their work without let or hindrance or fear.

It is common to hear from the detractors of the present government about the achievements of the last 200 days. The government should seek the patience and understanding of the people, inform them of the entanglements, especially financial and the need to bring the public service up to scratch, about our over-promoted civil servants in the highest grades, the cost to the government and the absence of laws or mechanisms to remove, retrain or re-educate them. It is a known fact that 10,000 is too large a number for a premier elitist service on the highest salaries and perks but there is little that the government can do in a short duration to reduce that number.

Some 67 years ago, in late August 1951, Tunku Abdul Rahman succeeded Dato Onn bin Jaafar as the president of Umno. It happened more than three years after the agreement creating the Federation of Malaya had been signed. The high minded Onn, the founder of Umno was concerned about Malayan unity, citizenship and independence but the pragmatists in Umno, especially after the Malayan Union debacle were more concerned about the pathetic state of Malay farmers, peasants and fisherfolk. The Tunku on assuming leadership spoke of how, owing to the help of Umno and the Malays the Federation of Malaya had replaced the Malayan Union but the federation had not done anything for the Malays. He said “the only people who benefited were a small and influential minority”.

Today we have a similar situation. After expose after expose of the shenanigans of 1MBD debacle we seem to have in our midst similar feelings of alienation and animus. The only difference is that we have done this without the British this time.

ICERD seems to be for a majority of people a rather elitist and exclusivist issue, one that is well articulated in Putrajaya and the drawing rooms of affluent homes in Damansara Heights and Kenny Hill. For the people who were at the anti-ICERD Rally, for a majority of them at least, it is not that well understood. The organisers of the rally, KI, of course used the rally for their own agenda to build a strong opposition to a fledgling government.

Given the scope to play up ICERD’s divisiveness in our society by KI it would be wise to regard it as a distant ideal than a pressing issue.

After all time is on the side of the PH Government. We must also not allow ICERD to overshadow 1MDB.

M. Santhananaban is a retired Malaysian Foreign Service officer. Comments: