Hornbill Unleashed

February 22, 2010

Politics bottom up or top down?

By Sim Kwang Yang @ MalaysiaKini

Internet writers like me have a cushy job. We stare into the blank wall, try to imagine the audience out there in cyberspace, and bang out a string of connected ideas at break-neck speed to beat the deadline.

Writing is a lonely business. Thank God, I do get some feedback from readers sent to my email address every week. Otherwise, I would have stopped writing out of boredom. I try to answer them all.

The messages accumulated over the six or seven years of my service with Malaysiakini amount to a huge pile. Most are friendly, but there are a few that are very critical. Of course, one has learned long ago the art of agreeing to disagree with mutual respect.

Then, there are readers and bloggers who cut and paste my articles all over the Internet. I am not sticky on the issue of intellectual property rights, so that is okay too. Any idea of mine, once it is out there, for better or for worse, is public property.

While googling my own name one day, I came across a self-proclaimed ‘Al Muslimin NGO’ blog commenting on my writing.

The following is what the blogger has to say about a piece of mine on Merdeka:

“Sometimes I wondered, why it is always some Malaysia Chinese with hairy hand who dares to stir up the emotion of everybody in many issue arrogantly and they don’t have much to back up their argument intellectually.

“The latest is a statement from a famous writer from anti-social Chinese clan, Mr Sim in Malaysiakini. He is a Chinese who migrated to Sarawak to find a living and he don’t want to endorse the independent date Malaysia to be 31 August 1957.”

I was more amused than angered by his portrayal of my person. (His bad English grates my teeth though, but at least he has the courtesy of addressing me as “Mr Sim”)

It is no use to tell him that I was born in Kuching, Sarawak, in 1948.I would forever remain as an immigrant to him. I merely resent mildly his racial profiling, because he denied me my individuality, and therefore diminished my humanity.

Whenever racial profiling visits upon my person, I would be reminded of those immortal lines from TS Eliot in his poem entitled The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock:

And I have known the eyes already, known them all –

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

To spit out the butt-ends of my days and ways?

And how should I presume?”

A joke about the Dayak

Racial stereotyping is indeed tinged with racial prejudices, and in this race-crazed country, nobody is really innocent of this sin totally I suppose. The best thing we can do is to laugh at ourselves with healthy racial jokes.

With so much conversation going on about the Batang Ai by-election, I am reminded of a joke which was told by the columnist Paul Sir of the Borneo Post (the largest English newspaper in Sarawak and Sabah) in his article published on May 7, 2005:

“There is a standing joke which never fails to tickle me. One version of it goes, “put three Chinese together in a lift, and they will come up with a plan for a bank heist; put four Malay guys there and they will emerge giggling among themselves about marrying for the fourth time; put five Dayaks in the lift and they will form five political parties by the time they reach the fifth floor.”

I think the three Chinese in the joke would more likely form a partnership and start a new business rather than robbing banks. If I give them a chance, my Chinese businessmen friends would go on for hours talking about nothing but business. They seem always to be looking for the next good deal. But then, that could be my prejudice.

But that bit about the Dayaks’ propensity for forming new political parties does tickle any blue-blooded Sarawakians. From the early period of independence, the Dayak political parties have always been prone to division from within, resulting in many splinter groups thereafter.

Even the great RBDS, which was the vehicle for Dayakism rallying for Dayak unity state-wide did not escape the curse of internal schism, and was deregistered a few years ago.

Today, you find many Dayak politicians and members in almost all the parties in Sarawak, pitting their horns in battles to the death.

The Batang Ai by-election is a showcase of such a battle. The only difference this time is that the Dayaks are trying to use a multi-racial party the PKR as a new vehicle. That is both promising and refreshing.

Unfortunately, even within the Sarawak PKR, there are different Dayak factions jostling for their man to be the party candidate in the by-election. I just hope that they will close rank and fight as a united front after the official announcement of the party candidate in Batang Ai. That would a first in Dayak politics!

Washing PKR dirty linens

As a rule, with rare exceptions here and there, I cringe away from criticising my fellow Sarawak politicians openly, during my active political life, and now in my retired writing days.

We all know one another, more or less. We are all Anak Sarawak, and share the cultural bond that is unique to our beloved Land of the Hornbill. We have gone to the same schools, been members of the same social clubs, and some of them are our drinking buddies.To attack friends like that seems so discomforting. It is just not the Sarawak way.

Therefore, I cringed when I read Harrison Ngau’s stinging analysis of the Sarawak PKR. I would have said more or less the same thing, but in a radically different manner.

Unfortunately, what was said by Harrison has to be said. He has just brought into the open what has been going on behind the scene for some time past.

You could fault him for washing PKR dirty linens in public, at this critical juncture.Most other parties would frown on this practice. Some would sack such party members outright. You could also credit him for being the brave voice of conscience within the Sarawak PKR.

The Harrison I know is a mild-mannered and soft-spoken man.Apparently, his pen is sharper than his tongue. When he won as an independent, in a vast poor rural constituency in northern Sarawak, I was surprised beyond words. I was also overjoyed! He was contesting as an independent I think, and with his limited resources, he had no reason to win.

But he had been an ally in our fight against logging and the infringement into native NCR for many years before his foray into politics. Having worked as a grassroots NGO activist, he must have been involved with the training of community leaders.

Therefore, he struck a resonant chord with me when he proposed that PKR should recruit those thousands of Dayak para-legal trainees who have been churned out by dedicated grassroots NGOs in Sarawak.

I too had worked alongside many of these community organisers in the past, and so I concur with Harrison. There is where the future of PKR in Sarawak lies. That would be politics from the ground up.

Ibrahim Ali – king of party hoppers

That brings us back to the fondness for forming new parties and for party hopping among Dayak politicians. I do not think that those two trends are ingrained in the Dayak genes, no matter what racists would say.

Unlike the Al Muslimin blogger mentioned at the beginning of this essay, I do not subscribe to the tenet that a person’s moral character or social behaviour is linked to his race. That is only the fermented leftover of European and American racism. Besides, this theory has never been proven scientifically.

Party hopping also happens among all the ethnic groups in Malaysia. At one time, DAP was particularly vulnerable to party hopping involving their elected reps.Among all Malaysian politicians, Ibrahim Ali (current Pasir Mas MP) has to be rated as the king of party hoppers!

No, the reason lies elsewhere, in political practices, and in the reason why people go into politics in the first place.

Traditionally, politics in Sarawak has always been conducted from the top down, and not from the ground up. Even Snap and PBDS have fallen into this trap for many years, and that is partly the reason why they have diminished in influence.

Who finances the running of the party, and how the party finance is used, especially in an election campaign, determine the destiny of the party.

If PKR is going to have a bright future, they do well to heed Harrison’s words. They may win or lose the Batang Ai by-election.There would be many future elections and by-elections in Sarawak.How are they going to avoid the pitfall of many parties in Sarawak by establishing new political practices based on good core values?Winning cannot be everything in the politics of change.

That is the real question.



  1. Thanks for this blog share with us and informative blog for all.

    Comment by appsbazar30 — January 6, 2017 @ 8:29 PM | Reply

  2. That’s a difficult question, sir. If by the English point of view, it should be politics from top to bottom. Politics is normally the concern of the aristocracy at the time of Thomas Hobbes. By a series of writings, he managed to discover an epistemology of politics that is followed to this day. If Hobbes have not been employed by the Cavendish, no philosophy of politics would have been drawn. Truly, Hobbes’ politics is considered radical in that era, where only King and God rules. Today, we shall consider his writings as conservative; devoid of Populism and Socialism, trapped in the minds of the Scottish kings. In our country, we can see the politics of Her Majesty’s Colonies and only recently, the politics of the Commons and the Patriots. If that be the correct interpretation, then the maturity in politics lies in bottom to top with it’s inception at top to bottom.

    Comment by Fabian Ngui — February 22, 2010 @ 11:38 AM | Reply

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