No, I do not give my comment based on mere sentiment‏

This blog post is in response to Open Letter By Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng To Consumers Association of Penang(CAP) and other aligned organizations who oppose the Penang traffic decongestion projects of 3 highways and one under sea-bed tunnel.(en/bm/cn)

First of all, let me clarify by saying that I am not, in any way, affiliated with Consumers Association of Penang (CAP); nor do I represent it. I do have a few words of my own on why do we have concerns over the construction of new highways and tunnel.

Do you study history? If you receive your education in public school in Malaysia, you probably know very little about the history of different civilizations around the world. Say you came from Chinese Independent High School, bare-mentioned of various topics of history would leave you only some impression, with little understanding over what happened in the past. What makes the situation worse is that the emphasis over memorization, rather than critical thinking, make most history lessons forgetful; or those are only meaningful for public or school exams. Those are the sad reality of the education in Malaysia, or to a greater extent, pretty much many parts in the world.

Some political parties, such as Republican Party in the United States, actually thought emphasizing the critical thinking would threaten the existing authority of the parents. See Also http://atheism.about.com/b/2012/07/20/republicans-officially-opposed-to-critical-thinking.htm  Fortunately, United States is a very diverse nation, not a one-party nation that some would be in favor of. In Malaysia, most people, to say the least, are not comfortable with critical thinking as it would challenge the existing common sense from time to time. Yet, from time to time, it’s proven the seemingly counter-intuitive notions turned out to be truth. Some of the famous examples are Twin Paradox, Schrödinger’s cat, Spacetime, etc. In fact, to some Christians or Muslims, the underlying theories of Big Bang or Evolution, while are well-tested within the constraints of current technological limits, are uncomfortable or inconvenient truth they wish they can ignore.

The mainstream depiction of Emperor Yang of Sui is that he was one of the worst tyrants in the history of China. Yet, his influence over the civilization of imperial China lasted for thousands of years. Construction of roads, Grand Canal, palace, etc. cost millions of lives. He is the one who started the imperial examination, which lasted for over 1300 years. Imperial examination is perhaps one of the first public examinations in the human history. It disrupted the social order as it provided ladder of opportunity to the commoners to become an official in the government. I’m not claiming that I’m in favor of Emperor Yang of Sui, which I’m not. Like Qin Shi Huang before him, no one can dispute his contribution to the Chinese, or human civilization. Another striking similarity is that both dynasties are short-live, which are 15 years for Qin Dynasty and 13 years for Emperor Yang of Sui.

There are some people who genuinely believe that they will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, even when the cost is seemingly high. The interesting thing is, however, that there is more than one ways to achieve the goals. Would Qin Shi Huang actually want to lead the dynasty to downfall? He certainly did not; but why he did the things the way he did? When we do not keep our mind open, we end up in the bubbles we created ourselves, which we can’t see past the end of our own nose. We became blind to other possibilities; we fear the future as we do not know what will happen next.

Assuming that Emperor Yang of Sui has acquired technology to build roads, Grand Canal, palace, etc. with machine without the need to have slaves, he will probably be lauded for what he has done. Emperor Yang of Sui could choose a different path that is to put minimum burden on his people. But he wouldn’t be able to finish the construction within his lifetime. He would put his trust on the generations to come but in no way he would know if the generations after him would continue the efforts. Given the technological constraints, decades may be required for huge construction, which past his own life time, that is without costing millions of lives or putting heavy burdens on the people. There was always a possibility that the successors would simply give up, thinking that change is too hard, as we saw all too often in the history.

Yes, we all do not know what lies before us. But we can be optimistic for our future even if we know hard times will come from time to time. The resiliency during the hard time is rooted from the hope for the better for ourselves or generations to come. We may choose drastic measure when we are desperate, to kill others, to wage war, to suicide, etc. With those measure, we may achieve our goals but not without paying the high cost. The question is then, do we act out of desperation or optimism?

We need to ask ourselves. Does revolution always lead to a better future? We want revolution or reformation? In a way of speaking, reformation is always a compromise made at a time temporarily. The reformers are optimistic and leave unfinished jobs to the next generations. Both People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Republic of China (ROC) celebrates Xin Hai Revolution. But we all know the better days only come not after the downfall of Qing Dynasty but until Deng Xiao Ping’s political and economic reforms, beginning at the end of 1970s, which is over half a century later. We saw civil war and countless political fights in decades, yes, and also World War II.

Do we resort to desperate measure when we have a do-nothing federal government? The simple idea of democracy is that we vote out those who are not helping the people. Why should we wait? I guess that Emperor Sui of Yang would say the same. As a matter of fact, enlightenment of the people is more important than roads and bridges. Only well-informed and wise people can choose a better government. Many politicians would not want to alienate the voters by saying the uncomfortable truth, which some people may call it hypocrisy. We respect the choice the people made and must bear the consequences. But the long-term solution is to lay out what is right to people and make us realize it. It may take decades to change cultures but only with the right cultures the nation may eventually prosper.

Sure, you can pass a legislation to ban discrimination in the workplace. But that wouldn’t change long-time habits overnight; it may not even be effective; worse, such legislation may be counter-productive. Some of the discrimination may be rooted in fear, misunderstanding, or ignorance, which cannot be banned without taking care of the real reasons behind the discrimination.

The right thing to do is obvious yet may not be realized immediately. We want a federal government to take its responsibility. We want to raise awareness among the people of Malaysia that we can hold the elected representatives in local, state or federal accountable to the people. The role of the monarch is to balance the power in competing political parties in the parliament and a last resort to prevent the tyranny of the government. The government is accountable to the monarch and the parliament while the parliament is accountable to the people.

Put simply, the campaign to do the right thing is perhaps more effective and less disruptive to the people over the long term, more importantly, serve the interest of the people and nation better. With regards to “One Man, One Vote”, let’s not forget that we are a nation of federation. While the power of the government in its current form is highly centralized in the federal government or more specifically the Prime Minister, many aspects of the social problems are highly localized; while some problems are indeed national. Parliamentary and federal system is supposed to guarantee equal footing among different communities regardless of size, wealth, or background. The constituency should be based on economic and cultural community, not political interest or the distribution of population; that also means no “One Man, One Vote”. Yes, I admit that gerrymandering does exist today. “One Man, One Vote can only exist when we have equal distribution of people all across the country. Different community has different need. For example, those who live near the coast have different need than those who live in the big city, yet the population may be denser in the city.  To move forward, we need to redefine what role should the federal or state government should play, eventually resulted in the change in constitution. Let’s face it. It won’t be easy. I do not fear healthy debate over the issues. What I really fear is that most people choose to be silent over some of the most important issues of our nation.

Changing the heart or mindset of people takes a long time but only that will guarantee the future of our nation. We raise our concerns because as convenient as vehicles are they also make our earth less livable with all the pollution we got. We do have a need to control how we use our transport or how we work. Prime Minister does not dissolve the parliament. The king does. Because His Majesty is above the government and above the politics. We should stop treating the Prime Minister the way he does not deserve. Let’s face it. Partisan politics will always exist even with the same political party. We need a King who will, as the last resort, make the government re-elected. The Prime Minister, as the party leader, does not play the role to unite the people. But the king does. The separation of head of state and head of government is meaningful, more than just ceremony. The king represents the nation and holds his government accountable to himself and the parliament; while the ministers are chosen among the elected representatives; the parliament is ultimately accountable to the people. We are far from what a modern constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy should be. But I hope at least Chief Minister Lim should realize what it should be.

There are times when people cannot agree to do the right things. We may see a piece of legislation, no matter how sensible it is, does not pass in the parliament for decades. Yet, no matter how imperfect the current law is, we have to abide by it; that is the spirit of the rule of law. Generations after generations, campaigns after campaigns, we may slowly see the change of heart from the people, thus changing the political landscape. LBGT is treated as they are psychologically ill in this nation, which some may call it discrimination. (Note: I’m not a member of LBGT) Different believes do exist but a deeply-conservative nation like ours have a hard time to accept the diversity. Religious freedom and open-mindedness will not happen just because what is written in laws, but will only happen when people are changing their perception. Perhaps that would explain why Galileo Galilei, the father of modern science, would receive a life-sentence for telling the scientific truth. As we celebrate the modern science and technology, let’s not forget what has happened in the past. Eventually the world comes to realize the awe of modern science, even though some still have a hard time accept theories like Relativity, Quantum Field Theory, Standard Model, Evolution, etc.

See Also Is Building New Roads in the Best Interest of the People of Penang?

The content of this blog post is sent to Chief Minister Lim via email to limguaneng@penang.gov.my.

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