How progressive is Syed Saddiq?

Josh Hong

Former Bersatu youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman is in for a tough challenge, convincing voters he can emerge from Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s shadow. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 14, 2020.

THE news that Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman will be forming a new youth party with a view to rejuvenating Malaysian politics has captured the interest of many, also generating considerable buzz on the internet.

The former Bersatu youth chief has been widely seen as Mathahir Mohamad’s protégé and blue-eyed boy, which is why his decision to go his own way instead of joining Mahathir’s yet-to-be-approved Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) came as a surprise.

Should Syed Saddiq succeed in launching and leading the new party, I would be happy to consider it his political rite of passage; but whether his latest adventure will amount to anything is another matter.

To some extent, Syed Saddiq’s foray into politics could have been a rough ride if not because of Mahathir, who practically straightened his path.

He first made his name as Asia’s top debater with a huge following, especially among the youth, and was subsequently co-opted by the then Mahathir-led Bersatu.

His political rise became unstoppable with the unexpected win of the Pakatan Harapan in GE14, following which he was appointed minister of youth and sports.

This made him the youngest cabinet minister in Asia at the time, a fact in which he took pride and was quick to mention it whenever possible.

However, just like many a debater-turned-politician, Syed Saddiq has all the charisma but no substance.

As a cabinet minister for 22 months, he failed to articulate an overall vision for the youth, let alone a policy direction.

With regards to the burning issues of youth unemployment/underemployment, technical and vocational training, income and wealth inequality, and economic transformation, his views were either vacuous or superficial.

He, however, did excel at defending Mahathir, acutely aware that he must not bite the hand that fed him.

Lest we forget, it was the same Syed Saddiq who – in response to the statement by P. Waytha Moorthy that the police should be held responsible for the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple incident – facilitated the submission of a memorandum by Bersatu’s youth wing to the Prime Minister’s Office, demanding Waytha Moorthy’s resignation as unity minister.

Syed Saddiq’s act openly violated the principle of cabinet collective responsibility as he was then the minster for youth and sports.

You may argue it was Waytha Moorthy who had shot from the hip, and worsened the already chaotic and incendiary situation in the first place, but two wrongs do not make a right, all the more so when Syed Saddiq’s reaction was unbecoming of his position as a cabinet MP.

While Syed Saddiq has proven himself as an established debater, his track record as a minister has left experts wondering if he has the capacity to forge concrete national policies. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 14, 2020.

It was the same Syed Saddiq who as the Bersatu youth chief vowed to oppose the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination if it “weakens the constitutional rights of the Malays”.

I shall not repeat how Syed Saddiq first joined the calls for Zakir Naik to be deported back to India, only to make an about-turn under pressure and hosted the controversial Muslim preacher, telling others to “move on”.

I am revisiting Syed Saddiq’s questionable past not to dismiss him, but to remind him that, if he earnestly desires a new political culture in Malaysia, he must first and foremost own up to his own mistakes and lack of political maturity while in power.

Only then will he deserve another chance from those who had put their trust in him but were left utterly disappointed thereafter.

Given the disproportionate role that race and religion play in larger Malaysian society, resisting ethnic politicking is a litmus test of one’s political courage and conviction.

Can Syed Saddiq, who now pledges to unshackle the country from old politics, assure young Malaysians that he will not resort to ethno-nationalism even if forced to the wall, as he once did?

Having experienced betrayals on numerous occasions over the past few years, it is high time that Malaysians learn to refrain from offering uncritical support to politicians from both sides of the political divide.

A healthy dose of scepticism towards them – and those who relish in flowery language in particular – does not mean a lack of faith in democratic values; far from it.

Political scepticism actually motivates us to ask more critical questions, and challenge the ideas offered by politicians, government and opposition alike, reinforcing the culture of accountability in the process. It also helps us become an active citizen rather than a passive voter.

After all, Malaysians have witnessed painfully and tragically how Mahathir – Syed Saddiq’s mentor, no less – squandered the golden opportunity for reform and political renewal, part of the reason being many voters had allowed the former dictator to reinvent himself as “the saviour” without holding him accountable for his abuse of power and authoritarian rule in the past.

If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it, with politicians having the last laugh.

Last but not least, if Syed Saddiq truly aspires to be a leader of the Malaysian youth and instil in them a new spirit and political culture, he must stop seeing Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin as his father, for it is a feudalistic practice that is ill suited for modern politics, entailing anything but progressiveness. – September 14, 2020.

* Josh Hong is a keen watcher of domestic and international politics, who longs for the day when Malaysians master the art of self-mockery. He has spent the last 15 years trying to win his feline friends’ favour as he considers it an endeavour more worthwhile than trusting politicians, aspiring also to be a tea and coffee connoisseur.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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  • Let's all give our support to Syed and be decisive in giving up the old politics. We need new energy and new mindsets to move forward. In the past 30 to 40 years, the politic has produced nothing but more corruptions and more racial and religious bigotries. These have to go once and for all.

    Posted 3 years ago by Tanahair Ku · Reply

  • To his credit, he took over his cabinet colleague's role in an industrial dispute regarding food panda that has absolutely nothing to do with his ministry. We should look positively at his his initiative at putting his cabinet colleague to shame. He had also shown himself to be an excellent judge of character by naming someone

    Posted 3 years ago by Yoon Kok · Reply

    • As an unsung heroes

      Posted 3 years ago by Yoon Kok · Reply

    • As an unsung hero

      Posted 3 years ago by Yoon Kok · Reply