Malaysians must learn to differentiate between truth and lies if the nation is not to degenerate to become a failed state in the next few decades

Activist Haris Ibrahim hit the nail on the head when he said that a nation cannot be built on lies.

It is not that there were no lies and fake news in the public square in the early years of Malaysia, but the advent of the social media with billions of humans plugged in one instant 24/7 global information stream has created an unprecedented crisis of trust in human history.

Previously, citizens across the political spectrum tended to operate using a shared set of facts but today we occupy entirely different media realities, fed directly into our phones.

It has made us more prone to what psychologists call confirmation bias, the tendency to select facts and opinions that reinforce our pre-existing worldview and filter out those that don’t.

I had been the most demonized politician for more than five decades.

I was accused of being a communist, an evangelical Christian leader (nobody stopped to ask how a person could be a communist and an evangelical Christian leader at the same time, or how such label could be possible when I was never a Christian); responsible for the May 13, 1969 riots, leading the street demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur uttering anti-Malay and anti-Islam epithets although I was never in Kuala Lumpur after the May 10, 1969 General Election; painted as quite a devil, a puaka, even a jembalang; that I am anti-Malay, anti-Islam, a stooge of foreign powers and a secret agent of CIA, KGB, MI6 and Australian Secret Service; that I dominated Pakatan Harapan and made other leaders like Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as my stooges and puppets.

It is most remarkable that after more than five decades of such lies, fake news and false information, not an iota of evidence had been produced to show that I was anti-Malay, anti-Islam, a communist, an evangelical Christian, a foreign agent or a manipulator of Malay political leaders!

Yet the demonization goes on! Now, I am even accused of betraying the rights and interests of the Chinese and non-Malays in Malaysia.

In four days, when Filipino voters go to the polls for the Philippines Presidential election, there will be a major test in South East Asia as to whether lies, fake news, false information and conspiracy theories can triumph over truth and facts.

Television talk shows on the Philippines presidential election feature the questions:

  1. Is democracy at stake? Polls for presidential race show son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the lead.
  2. How will the disinformation campaign on social media affect the upcoming presidential election in the Philippines?

The Philippines presidential election has turned into a rematch between Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr, son the late dictator and current Vice President Leni Robredo.

Robredo narrowly defeated Marcos in the 2016 vice presidential race. Marcos claimed election fraud and later launched a protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. A partial recount showed Robredo’s votes increased and after four years of legal drama, the case was dismissed.

Six years after that failed campaign, Marcos, whose father was ousted for massive corruption and human rights abuses in a people’s revolution in 1986, is the presidential front-runner in the May 9 election.

Marcos’ popularity is based on the nostalgia of alleged prosperity and the “golden age” of Filipino society during his father’s dictatorship in the 1980s. Political observers and disinformation researchers say his campaign is buoyed by a massive disinformation and propaganda network.

A study of news outlet VERA Files, a Facebook fact-checking partner in the Philippines, showed Marcos gained from “misleading” posts on social media while Robredo is the biggest disinformation victim.

The Philippines government has recovered $3.3 billion of the estimated $10 billion that the Marcoses are accused of stealing, but the $2.4 billion in assets are still under litigation, with various groups tussling over them. Should Marcos win the presidency, many fear those proceedings, along with the $3.9 billion in estate taxes, will be swept away, cementing the false idea that the Marcoses are innocent.

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Filipino journalist Maria Ressa has said, quoting author Milan Kundera, when describing the Philippines presidential election as a “microcosm of a global battle for facts”.

Will Malaysia be the next venue in South East Asia to be a “microcosm of a global battle for facts”? What will be the outcome?

This will depend on whether Haris Ibrahim’s statement that a nation cannot be built on lies has reached Malaysians and whether he will become an inspiration for Malaysians despondent and disillusioned by the 22-month Pakatan Harapan Government and the Sheraton Move betrayal to find new hope for a better Malaysia – whether he will become a role model to make Malaysians to become “Malaysian First”.

Malaysians must learn to differentiate between truth and lies if the nation is not to degenerate to become a failed state in the next few decades.

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri