The strategy is to raise an honest corps of influencers at grassroots level

Islamic party PAS lied about receiving election funding from Umno but says it is ok because it was done to protect the party. In a video, PAS central committee member Nik Abduh Nik Aziz admitted that PAS received money from Umno but in a dramatic turnaround he later denied it.

He said that his denial was on the instructions of PAS president Hadi Awang as long as the money was used for the sake of Islam, which, in this case, meant ensuring PAS’ wins in the general elections.

So, according to PAS leaders it is all right to lie as long as it is done in the name of party, race and religion? I don’t know if this is what their religion teaches them but for the rest of us, it is plain lying, dishonesty. And, that’s human weakness, not a religious thing.

It is human nature when we are caught with the pants down and can’t face the truth about our failings, we resort to lies, deceit and cheating to escape consequences and we see no reason to assume responsibilities for our crimes. It is the same characteristics shown by former prime minister Najib Razak. Slapped with a slew of charges, and on bail, he walks around shamelessly as if he were the victim. In denial and delusional.

If religious leaders like Nik Abduh and Hadi say it is ok to lie sometimes in the name of God, for the sake of religion, is it surprising that the majority of PAS and Umno supporters see no wrong in accepting a bribe here and there so that they keep supporting these parties, under the guise that it is for the sake of religion?

Culturally ingrained with the kind of thinking that PAS leaders subscribe to, these rural voters believe that they are truly protecting their religion by voting for them even with a little dishonesty here and there.

That is the primary reason Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) has failed to win the majority of rural Malay support. He is up against this mentality.

PAS and Umno leaders have exploited the rural Malays by keeping them enslaved to this thinking with handouts. They get pittance while the leaders spend on mansions, superbikes and Porsche Caymans! The simple-minded voters think that is ok because they are led to believe it is all in the name of party, race and religion. In other words, these leaders are simply misleading their supporters.

These are the current realities and some may say they can’t be changed. But, I am ever hopeful that people can rise up to be better than who they are. But, how to change a long-ingrained mindset? Slowly but definitely with a focussed plan of action, like the one that proved successful in putting Barack Obama in the White House in 2008.

His volunteers, armed with a survey and well-versed with what Obama had to offer, went house to house through the farming communities in the swing states of the Midwest. The survey gave them feedback and the face-to-face encounters enabled the volunteers to talk with the grassroots about what they stood to gain by voting for Obama. The strategy apparently worked.

It is the same strategy that Invoke founder Rafizi Ramli used to win the marginal constituencies in the last general elections. Invoke volunteers called up the voters one by one or went house to house and asked first what the voters wanted before “selling” Pakatan Harapan (PH)’s manifesto. Again, the strategy worked because nearly all the marginal seats (mostly in urban areas) swung over to PH.

It’s the strategy of engagement that needs to be employed to reach the B40 group which are mainly the rural communities. If the government trains a corps of ground workers to interact with the rural communities through its aid agencies without the promise of money, they will succeed in breaking through the mentality of accepting aid if it comes with or in the form of money.

The ground workers need to first find out what the people want. Then, they need to clearly show how government aid can bring them tangible, practical benefits. As the people are engaged they will feel connected with the larger government endeavour to help them and be more open to hear of ways to uplift their lot. When government aid bears real benefits, the people will learn how to fish by themselves and become less dependant on cash handouts and more confident of their abilities to live a better life of their choosing.

In the process, they would learn the priceless virtue of honesty, that when they can live financially independent lives, they will less likely need to live by dishonest gains. In the process, they can also be taught to pay taxes and repay loans.

People are not stupid; they will recognize a good thing when they see one! When their lives improve through honest work, they will learn the virtues of honesty and it will become easier for them to decline a bribe, pay taxes and repay loans.

It is the ground-level influencers of change who hold the key to developing the rural community.

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