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What Maria did not understand

Translated by DOMINIC LOH

The by-election in Tenang reminds me of Maria.

I was not talking about Maria Cordero the renowned actress in Hong Kong, nor the Maria in my house.

I met this Maria in a dinner several years ago. She had very sharp features, with large eyes and thick eyebrows, a petite body, brownish hair, that kind of typical Latin woman.

"My name is Maria. I'm from Argentina," she sort of dispelled the doubts I had of her identity.

We exchanged our business cards. Oh no! The Argentine ambassador to Malaysia!

I should have addressed her Your Excellency!

She told me she was new here, and found something she couldn't quite fathom out about Malaysia.

It appeared to me that as a journalist, I could offer her some enlightenment.

"I've discovered that there are so many by-elections in this country, and each of them is a hive of activity with the newspapers carrying page after page of in-depth reports and issues popping up one after another. I don't understand why so much money has been spent on all this."

I told her grabbing for seats had become such an important agenda in the country's political ecosystem after the March 2008 general elections.

"But these are just by-elections which are unlikely to shake up the big picture!"

Well, I explained that these by-elections involved not only seats but also morale, and no sides could afford to lose any of the battles. So they played up the by-elections.

"I think I can understand how they think, but you should also be aware that these by-elections involve only some of the people, and why should others get so tensed up as well?"

I had to make a lot of effort to explain to her the impact by-elections would have on the Malaysian politics, or their influences on people in the street.

"But I still don't quite understand. A by-election should still be a by-election anyway..."

I had to raise a white flag to Her Excellency Maria: "Indeed, the by-elections might not be really that important, but given the somewhat dull undertone in Malaysia, there seems to be nothing else that can draw our attention save for one or two by-elections."

She said victoriously, "By-elections will not raise a brow in Argentina, for they are local events. No big deal!"

"If elections are not important, then what is important to the Argentinians?" my turn to throw out a question.

"Soccer!" she hardly took 0.1 second to come up with the answer.

"Soccer is only a kind of game. Is it really that important?"

"Most definitely. All that Argentinians care about is football. What else can they care about if not football?"

"You've got the point then. Malaysians see by-elections the way you see football. The by-elections are like the matches on the football field!"

Football or by-elections, they are all people dividers, separating the spectators into two fiercely opposing camps.

Those in the games give themselves some additional values while enjoying the excitement of power chase.

As for the majority of people who are not directly involved in the game, including the spectators who watch the shows, the games are kind of a national pastime that offers some solace to a throng of dulled people.

I have never met Maria again since that brief encounter. I'm wondering whether the few by-elections after that have managed to develop in Her Excellency an excitement of unveiling the thrills of Malaysia's by-elections.

I forgot to tell Maria that I enjoyed watching Argentine football as much as she did, and hoped she would also enjoy Malaysia's by-elections as much as I did. Adios!

Sin Chew Daily

MySinchew 2011.01.26


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