Who cares whether Najib is pardoned?

Malaysia is in dire need of social reforms, but we are embroiled in discussions about whether or not our former prime minister should be pardoned.

Shankar R. Santhiram, FMT

Nothing seems to galvanise Malaysians, especially the urban liberals, more than whispers about our former convicted prime minister getting pardoned. The rumour mill has been in overdrive this past week.

Aside from his sycophants who are praying for his release, “thinking” Malaysians are shaken by this potential “travesty” of justice. The man they claim was at the top of the world’s most audacious kleptocratic endeavour should stay locked up, with the key thrown away.

I understand their sentiments.

If you have watched the Netflix documentary Man on the Run, you would be shocked at how deeply our former prime minister was involved in this outlandish corruption scheme. Was he a James Bond-type villain like Ernst Stavro Blofeld, or as he claims, just a hapless fool who got played by everyone around him?

Either way, the country is hurting, and perhaps keeping him in prison is a way for Malaysia to heal.

But ultimately, whether our ex-prime minister remains in prison, has his sentence commuted, or is pardoned, it all seems like a side-show. I am beginning to think it’s just a “smoke and mirrors” three-ring circus. It doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to ordinary Malaysians. For us common folks, it is “business as usual” in the country.

Maybe we shouldn’t get distracted by “red herrings” like this. We have bigger and more pressing issues to deal with.

Malaysia still battles with corruption at the highest echelons of power, right down to the basic street cops. A video of popular bloggers UK Van Lifers went viral, when they posted a clip allegedly of a Malaysian policeman soliciting a bribe from them for apparently speeding. In just three days, the video got a quarter of a million world views.

Of course, corruption is not exclusive to Malaysia.

Even in squeaky clean Singapore, the ex-transport minister is being charged with corruption. But the irony with them is that their minister is being charged for accepting measly football and Formula 1 tickets as inducements. In our country, we have billions stolen from our national coffers, yet some people still think it’s “political persecution”.

In Malaysia, corruption is a “way of life”.

Aside from grandstanding statements about fighting corruption and going after octogenarians and nonagenarians for their accumulated largesse, how is this government fighting corruption at the grassroots? It is corruption at this level that directly affects the ordinary citizen.

Our education system is shambolic. Recently, research from a leading university in Malaysia was disputed internationally. And instead of reviewing the work of its researchers, the university issued statements to support its professors. The so-called study was more to do with narrow-minded nationalism, which sought to extol one community in the country, rather than a true academic endeavour.

That is the state of higher education in Malaysia.

Another report a few weeks ago claimed that a local university event organiser had served beef as the only protein at a multiracial event. When Hindu students questioned the organiser, the retort was simply “… we didn’t know Hindus don’t eat beef.”

You do not need to be a scholar in comparative religion to know what the “lowest hanging fruits” are in our multicultural Malaysia. Everyone knows that the Muslim community consumes halal food, and no pork whatsoever. If other communities have this truth drummed into them from birth, how can a university event organiser not know that some people in our country don’t consume beef?

This is the state of our education, even at its rudimentary level of understanding.

Reforms in our government and with our education system are perhaps the most talked about by everyone. Well, we talk a lot about it but to date, nothing has been forthcoming. Just like the economic plans for the country. No one really knows what the direction is.

But aren’t societal reforms the most pressing right now?

Malaysia is a fragmented country. The fissures and fractures in our society stem from racial and religious bigotry. The parochialism that our politicians have promoted and condoned for the past 40-odd years has turned our country into a “basket case” as far as multiracialism is concerned.

People spew platitudes by saying that it is only the politicians who divide us. Ordinary Malaysians are always together, and respectful of each other. But really, is this so?

Perhaps on a surgeon’s operating table, no one asks if the life-saving blood that they are going to receive comes from a Muslim, Christian or Hindu. But in all other circumstances, Malaysians wear their race and religion on their sleeves. How can we progress as a nation with this kind of indoctrinated insularity that we’ve been subjected to for decades?

We are in dire need of social reforms. But instead, we get embroiled in discussions about whether our former prime minister should be pardoned or not. Go figure!