Christmas Greetings by Charles Santiago in Klang on Wednesday, 24th December 2008:

Christmas Greetings 

Charles Dickens, the famous English author wrote the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story's message is hinged on the importance of charity and good will towards all mankind, irrespective of race, religion and colour of the skin.

Similarly, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, a series of cute stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. The short stories feature a squire who invited peasants into his home for the holiday.

It is important to note that Irving's sketches were written against the backdrop of a class struggle which often deteriorated into conflict, turmoil and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes in 19th century America.

But in Irving's stories, the squire and his peasant buddies mingled effortlessly. In the writer's mind Christmas should be a holiday which bands people together across lines of social status, income, race, religion or wealth.

We should emulate Irving's principles in Malaysia. All it needs is concerted political will from UMNO leaders. The start could come from totally abandoning the appalling idea of privatising the Institute Jantung Negara to Sime Darby.

The government should instead strive harder to make medical facilities affordable for the poor and marginalised groups in the country. Privatisation is all about making profits and therefore the government's rhetoric about the needs of the poor being taken care of despite the back-door deal is nonsensical.

It is clear Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's government has put their plans on hold fearing a backlash at the early January by-election in Kuala Terengganu. This indicates there is no guarantee the government would not pursue the sale of the heart institute after the by-election.

It is also evident that the government had been wheeling and dealing with Sime Darby over the proposed sale of IJN, while we were kept in the dark. We must stand united to vehemently condemn and oppose such audacious behaviour of the ruling government and its prerogative of lucrative deals over the welfare of the people.

Christmas has been a secular festival celebrated all over the world, although it traditionally marks the birth of Jesus Christ. He was born in absolute poverty and simplicity but embraced everyone including the poor who went to see him with dirty hands and patched clothes.

Christmas is a celebration of love for mankind and this is crystallized in the Christian belief where Jesus came to this world and sacrificed his life.

In line with this spirit of Christmas, let us hope that the government will learn to accept different view points and not be threatened by voices of dissent. Let us hope that the ruling elite would learn to respect the need for democratic space in the country. Let us hope that cycling would not be seen as a crime.

Despite vehement protests, repeated demands and street rallies the government is yet to release those detained under the Internal Security Act which allows for detention without trial and goes against the grains of democracy.

Peaceful protesters are threatened and beaten by police, the media is controlled, journalists are targeted and hit while carrying out their duties, preventive laws are invoked to keep a lid on any opposition to the government, corruption is rampant, wallets of cronies to the ruling elite are getting fatter by the day, minority rights are not protected and the country's economy is in the doldrums.

This is the sad reality of Malaysia today.

But as the spirit of Christmas and the New Year dawns on us all, let us hope to see positive changes from the government. Let us stand together and demand for a transparent and accountable government, the release of ISA detainees, an independent judiciary, a free media, the right to exercise our civil and political rights and equal opportunities for the poor and marginalised groups in the country.

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and fabulous New Year.

* Charles Santiago, MP for Klang