Can Malaysia’s future leaders rise above the noise and get the messaging right for the rakyat?

IT’S 2023 and Malaysians are still dealing with strange issues that is more confusing than ever.

Perhaps we need to forget about old politicians who seem set in their cantankerous ways and instead look for future leaders.

The recent Parliamentary debate on the mid-term review of the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) was most embarrassing as we had to witness the lack of decorum and personal attacks by senior MPs, both the provoked and the instigator.

The unbecoming behaviour of Malaysian lawmakers was televised live and via social media, much to the dismay of the ordinary citizens who are already suffering from socio-economic stress brought about by the rising cost of living. We are not amused!

However, amid the noise came voices of two young MPs that caught my attention. One was the earnest MUDA MP for Muar Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (main pic. left) and the other is the DAP MP for Ipoh Timor Howard Lee Chuan How (main pic, right).

A matter of principle

It has to be said that Syed Saddiq’s insistence to interject on the discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) of Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi by the Attorney-General (AG) was commendable. To which Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (PMX) denied involvement.

MUDA president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman

Syed Saddiq later said Anwar has set a “clear precedent” when it comes to the dismissal of corruption cases in court. “If he can, so can future PMs. Time will tell,” he posted on his X account (formerly Twitter).

Since Syed Saddiq’s debut as the youngest minister in Malaysian history – appointed by then PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when Pakatan Harapan (PH) toppled the 60-year rule of Barisan Nasional (BN) – he has been more teen idol than minister.

But this time around, he is serious and his debating prowess is coming to the fore with people listening.

A media savvy politician, he is tapping the social media platforms to convey his political messaging and he is intense. In a recent interview with YouTube’s Mr Money TV channel – when asked about why he left government – he explained at length that he was concerned about the message being sent to young politicians.

“You are saying to young politicians that you effectively have a get-out-of-jail card as long as you wield political power and bargain with your political masters, you’re good?” quipped the Muar MP.

“My fear is that they are normalising corruption for good, not just in this government but in future government. Future generations will be taught that as long as I hold power I can steal as much as I want.”

When talking about the “green wave” phenomenon sweeping the polls, Syed Saddiq grimly said, “You know what feeds into this green wave? It’s because Malays are pissed off (with Zahid’s DNAA)!” And the ultimate price to be paid is concern that the nation would be deeply polarised.

Political intent

Another politician who made an impact in the same Parliamentary debate was DAP’s MP for Ipoh Timur Howard Lee Chuan How who – speaking in a Perak dialect – touched on the prickly topic of penunggang agama (using religion to control).

Howard Lee (second from left) at a recent media conference to clear the air over his citation of a Quranic verse in a TikTok post

However, Lee would cause a more heated debate because of a video posted on social media on July 11 when he quoted part of the Quranic verse (Surah An Nisaa 59) while discussing PAS leader Tan Sri Hadi Awang that touched on obedience to the ulil amri (leader).

It is puzzling why a police report against Lee by the Jalinan Bersatu Sahabat (Jabat), a local Perak NGO in Manjoi was made only after the televised debate in Parliament. (Lee didn’t mention names and specific verses in Parliament but was more specific in the video.)

Suffice it to say that the issue created a firestorm of controversy in both mainstream and social media – both for and against – while Lee was in New York to attend the 78th United Nations General Assembly with PMX’s entourage.

Upon his return and after giving his statement to the police, Lee held a media conference to issue an apology as suggested by UMNO secretary-general Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dasuki, but disagreed that he “interpreted” but rather said he only memetik (quoted) the Quranic verse.

A non-apology

Confusingly, an unbowed Lee apparently apologised on behalf of everybody who ever quoted the Quran saying that DAP vice-chairman Nga Kor Ming had done the same in 2009 when PAS – under the late Tan Sri Nik Aziz Nik Mat – was part of then Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

In fact, Nik Aziz even wrote a letter that praised Nga for wanting to learn more about Islam by reading the Quran that was posted by Anwar Ibrahim on his Facebook on April 10, 2009.

It is understandable why Lee is perplexed. As a non-Muslim himself, it seems obvious that he sees the Quran as a book from which he can cherry pick quotes for political expediency. Studying the Quran is not prohibited.

However, the Quran to a faithful Muslim is a revelation from God. The sanctity of Arabic as the language of the Quran is to be protected. There are strict rules on who is qualified to interpret.

Perhaps Lee should learn that humility is a virtue and a reflection of high moral standards. When an apology is used as an opportunity to dig into political opponents, it reflects badly on himself.

For a Muslim it is all about the intention. Is Lee using the Quran for political mileage? Is it that Lee’s more liberal approach has offended the deeply conservative segments of Muslim society who are not politically inclined?

Has he misread the mood of Malaysians in 2023 compared to 2009? Does everything have to be about politics? If only Lee could get his messaging right, he could indeed be a future leader to watch. – Sept 29, 2023

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