What does arresting Sanusi accomplish?

19 Jul 2023 08:47pm
Sanusi (centre, dressed in white) escorted by the police out of the Selayang Court on Jan 18 after pleading not guilty to two charges of seditious remarks.
Sanusi (centre, dressed in white) escorted by the police out of the Selayang Court on Jan 18 after pleading not guilty to two charges of seditious remarks.

This article starts with a caveat: I think the Caretaker Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor is a racist, hatemongering supremacist who constantly spews vile, toxic nonsense.

I disagree with what he says, but I will defend his right to say it.

If I say that arresting Sanusi is likely to ‘backfire’ and push more votes towards Perikatan Nasional, this will likely upset Pakatan Harapan and their supporters. I’ll probably end up on some blacklist somewhere.

Regardless of who gets upset at who, the fact very likely remains.

Very simply put, Malaysians like underdogs.

I would guesstimate that over 50 per cent of the Malay electorate have at least mildly conservative tendencies.

Such voters are guaranteed to be uncomfortable with any government that has DAP in it, and are extremely susceptible to incitement.

When the usual suspects tell these voters that such a government has arrested one of PN’s most vociferous, outspoken leaders - a self-proclaimed champion of Malay-Muslims - how do you think that’s going to play?

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You can fall over yourself and use thousands of words to try and justify the arrest, but the only things people will hear and see over all the noise is: Chinese-influenced government arrested Malay-Muslim champion.

The rest isn’t going to matter.

This is one of the first things those of us who work in political communication try to learn: people only see the big picture, and only hear the big, most emotive message. The rest becomes white noise that no one pays attention to.

And when Malaysians see the big bad government picking on the political underdog, their votes become a form of ‘revenge’.

There were comparisons about Sanusi’s arrest at 3am and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s arrest during the reformasi days. I don’t know how similar they were, but I do remember how Malays voted in the 1999 general elections.

They voted for the underdogs. They voted for those who were persecuted. They voted against the establishment.

In 2004, everyone decided to give Tun Abdullah Badawi a chance, and to see what a post-Tun Mahathir Mohammad Barisan Nasional would look like.

But in every election since then, more and more votes swung towards the underdog.

BN under Datuk Seri Najib Razak continued to persecute the opposition, arrest civil society leaders, and press their enemies harder and harder.

Anyone remember what happened to them in the end?

Many of us have waited so long to see someone like Anwar become Prime Minister, because someone like him represented the change we all hungered so much for.

With an arrest like this, under the Sedition Act of all things, one might be tempted to think: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

This last phrase is an epigram by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Kerr. It is a theme I’ve been reflecting on a lot, for many months now, especially as relates to the role, power, and influence of the civil service.

The question that I am slowly becoming obsessed with is: does the government act the same, almost regardless of who is in power?

The expression I’ve used before is that the actors switch roles, but the script remains the same. In this case: Opposition leaders makes a lot of noise, government arrests opposition leaders for sedition.

And if we were to extrapolate, in the next act of the play or movie we see: Opposition becomes government.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What is the goal of arresting Sanusi?

Is it to intimidate him?

All Malaysians know, especially those in today’s Cabinet, that arresting someone doesn’t break their spirit - it emboldens them. None of the people in power today would be there if arresting Malaysians resulted in turning them into pliant, fearful cowards.

Is it to send a chill factor down the spines of other Malaysians who might say things the current government does not like?

Once again, history amply shows that Malaysians do not scare easily. They say whatever they feel, and you can arrest one, or ten, or a thousand - it doesn’t make much difference. You can imprison people; you cannot imprison ideas.

Is it to ‘defend’ the royal institution?

I daresay there are many in PH who have, openly or quietly, been equally critical of the monarchy. People tend to praise monarchs when they do things they like, and do the opposite when monarchs do things they don’t like.

So, what then is the endgame here? Is there an endgame?

Or are the instruments of government essentially moving of their own accord?

The more conspiracy minded might even go so far as to suspect sabotage.

I’m starting to suspect is that I will never be in government, so I tend to feel quite silly whenever I say things like “If I were in government”.

That said. If I were in government, I would not recommend that Sanusi be arrested.

If you really must investigate him, and take his statement, because you feel that is what the law demands, the go ahead I suppose.

But I would definitely not condone investigating him under the Sedition Act that has been used to persecute so very many individuals that are now walking the corridors of power. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now.

Either way, an arrest is unnecessary. Such an arrest is useful, if your goal is to push more voters towards PN. It’s possible I’m just too stupid or don’t know enough, but otherwise, I for one cannot tell what helpful goal it achieves.

If you disagree with what he says, then articulate your reasons why.

If you believe, as I do, that his vision of Malaysia is a terrible, twisted one, then show us your vision of what Malaysia should be.

Back in the day, when our friends kept getting arrested, we used to always say: throwing someone in jail because of what he or she says just means you’re not intelligent enough to come up with a good reply.

NATHANIEL TAN is strategic communications consultant. He can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.

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