Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Nut Graph cured my political hangover

I'm recovering from a political hangover. The Bagan Pinang by-election was indeed a crucial watershed. The outcome would be a fair indication of how soon Raja Petra Kamarudin would be able to return to his beloved homeland as a free man.

Not so soon, I'm afraid, if Isa Abdul Samad's impressive win is anything to go by.

In the past couple of days I've been reading almost every analysis of Pakatan Rakyat's abysmal defeat at Bagan Pinang in an attempt to understand what's really going on at this juncture.

As usual, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah makes all the right noises. But why does he continue to sit on his lonely rock spouting Yoda-like aphorisms and hoping to see Umno redeem itself? And why should Umno even bother, so long as the Indian vote can be bought with just a packet of muruku flour, one kilo of Milo, and a glittering saree?

And what about the Chinese vote? Whip out the carrot of more ugly concrete structures, more contracts for contractors and developers; for good measure show them the stick of Islamic fanaticism à la Hasan Ali and PAS Youth, and they'll be weighing their fortunes on the dacing as they have done so for decades. At least with Barisan Najis you know you can buy your way out of anything, including murder.

My unfounded optimism about a PAS win at Bagan Pinang proves I'm not exactly savvy about the nitty-gritty of post-GE12 Malaysian politics. Admittedly, I've been buoyed up by a nostalgic yearning for the euphoria of 9 March 2008 when the sky seemed so much bluer and the sun shone upon the first green shoots of a bona fide Bangsa Malaysia - living in a genuine democracy, free from institutionalized prejudice and moral rot.

The Nut Graph is rarely my first option when browsing for local news. I know this alternative online journal run by former Star journo Jacqueline Ann Surin has worked hard over the past year or so to carve its own niche in the burgeoning online media scene. Just as it was reaching its goal, it ran out of funding and is now surviving on donations. I suppose I was initially put off by its highfalutin name and self-conscious political correctness. But over time I have found myself thoroughly impressed by The Nut Graph's accomplishments in terms of the generally high quality of writing and visual presentation.

This impression has been further reinforced by Shanon Shah's excellent coverage of the Bagan Pinang by-election which I had missed earlier, in the heat of the excitement. Here's an excerpt from an insightful story he filed on 7 October:

Zulkefly Omar’s dilemma
7 Oct 09 : 8.00AM

By Shanon Shah

The Nut Graph asks Zulkefly what his stand is on concert banning, as called for by central PAS Youth against both Danish soft-rock band Michael Learns to Rock and US R&B diva Beyonce Knowles. He declines comment. What is his stand on the open sale of alcohol? No comment. What is his position on the whipping sentence dropped on Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarnor? No comment. He says, "Ask me questions about the campaign, please."

But these are not curly questions. These are questions on issues of public policy. Yet, Zulkefly declines, albeit politely and sweetly. And when he addresses the multiracial crowd at the DAP operations centre in Batu 9 on 5 Oct, it is clear to see why Zulkefly is so cautious. "A vote for PAS is a vote for the PR and its vision," he says in earnest.

And so this must be Zulkefly's dilemma in Bagan Pinang. How will he sell himself to multiracial and multireligious voters while making sure PAS's Islamist skeletons do not come jumping out of his campaign closet?

And here's another superb piece by Shanon Shah filed on 11 October:

A bizarre week in Bagan Pinang (no excerpt - just click on the link and read it at source!)

I'm sure you'll agree that the sort of quality journalism The Nut Graph has achieved is worthy of our encouragement and support. When I feel a little more flush I'm going to send them some cash so they can keep going. I hope those of you in a better financial position will ensure that The Nut Graph survives. It gives us a glimpse of what the future promises.

All images courtesy of The Nut Graph