when they go lowDECEMBER 15 – I was disappointed to read that DAP’s women and youth wings had lodged a police report against Wanita Umno leader Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil for calling DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng a maharaja (emperor).

The DAP women and youth politicians accused Shahrizat of encouraging “hate speech and promoting bigotry.”

How can calling someone an emperor possibly be hate speech? It isn’t even racist. (I don’t believe in criminalising all racist comments either, only those that advocate physical harm.)

Pakatan Harapan (PH) frequently criticises the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) for clamping down on anti-government remarks and for violating our right to free speech. But the Opposition seems to behave just the same with their lodging of police reports against speech they find offensive.

The only difference is that they are not yet in power. Should PH form Malaysia’s first ever alternative government, will they retain the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act and waste police resources investigating offensive speech?

As it is, Opposition politicians are already diverting limited resources by lodging reports as the police are required to open a case upon receiving a complaint.

The police report against Shahrizat was especially disappointing since it came from women and youths, the very people I had hoped would introduce new politics that is radically different from the current stale vision perpetuated by old men who refuse to relinquish power.

Then there are racist insults hurled not only by low-rank PH politicians, but by their own chairman.

PH also fails to differentiate itself from the coalition it hopes to dislodge from power by refusing to inform voters, before the 14th general elections, who will be in their leadership line-up should they form the government.

Never mind that Pakatan has refused to form a Shadow Cabinet despite governing two states for two terms already.

PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar reportedly said PH is focused on winning GE14 first and would then deliberate on government leadership behind closed doors, based on the “wisdom” of her colleagues.

It is exactly this kind of condescending talk, the demand for voters to support them carte blanche without giving them the courtesy of knowing who will hold immense power as prime minister in a country with weak institutions, that turns some people away. And the irony is that it is PH themselves who frequently campaign on transparency.

Free speech and democratic practices like local council elections, decentralisation and encouraging lawmakers to truly represent their constituents rather than blindly toeing the party line, of course, are only one aspect of governance.

Human rights don’t feed people, after all.

But even in terms of the economy, instead of promoting a healthy and competitive business environment with fewer price regulations and less government involvement in business, PH is trying to be just as populist as BN by promising to reintroduce (targeted) fuel subsidies, eliminating the goods and services tax (with the vague plan of making up for revenue loss by cutting wastage and corruption) and providing free tertiary education (despite low income tax rates and a tiny individual tax base).

The government-in-waiting also plans to retain Bumiputera-centric economic policies that distort the market instead of abolishing those that have done nothing to help the poor.

It is fine to offer the same product as your competitor, of course, and to use the same racist, fearmongering and demagogic tactics.

PH can just tell people that things will remain exactly the same should they come into power (because humans generally dislike uncertainty) ― that race-based politics and racist policies in both the public and private sectors are here to stay, the government will continue monopolising business, religious officers will preach intolerance with impunity, private transport will be prioritised at the risk of climate change, people will be jailed for saying offensive things online, and power will remain concentrated in the hands of a few.

The only difference is that they will be a little more efficient and a little less corrupt than their predecessors.

That would be a simpler and more honest campaign than whatever it is PH is peddling now.

Because it is certainly not a case of “when they go low, we go high.”