Brave New World (The Star)
September 4, 2008
A very nice colleague of mine just left Malaysia to go back home to California. Yes, he is an American, a very nice one. They do exist, you know.
He comes here every year to teach for a couple of months, and I told him that I looked forward to seeing him again next year. Just as he left, I said: “Hey, next time you come back, maybe I won’t be laughing at your President any more.”
He laughed along with me but he was far too polite (a nice, polite American, hard to believe but true) to say that a similar thing could happen here.
Could we possibly have a new ruling party in power the next time my friend comes a-calling? Who knows? Like many sceptics, I will be really surprised if Sept 16 brings about any change.
I find it hard to believe that 30 or more Barisan Nasional MPs are going to jump over to Pakatan Rakyat. I could be wrong. After all, I went on record to say that Barisan would not lose their two-thirds majority in the last general election. So I suppose the possibility for change is there.
A possibility made all the stronger with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s resounding victory in Permatang Pauh. Despite the Barisan pulling out all the stops, he won by a bigger majority than his wife Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail did a few short months ago.
The tsunami, it appears, has not stopped. Naturally, Pakatan folk have been waxing lyrical about this victory.
I found it more interesting to see what the Barisan lot had to say. Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar’s dismissal of the win as being of little importance because it was just a by-election seems a little disingenuous seeing how much effort they had put into it.
Ex-Umno supremo Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s claim that it was a rejection of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi sounds like his anger at his former chosen one has blinded him to reason.
Of all the Barisan big shots, the only one who made any real sense was Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who said that the by-election showed that people wanted a change from how things are, including the tenor of governance in Malaysia.
I would like to think this is true. That we have grown up enough to realise that for the country to prosper, we have to stop dividing ourselves based on ethnicity, and work together.
The best must be rewarded and the weak must be helped. Regardless of what they look like and whom they pray to.
But before this can happen, we need to have a serious and mature democratic process in place, and that means we have to have a two-party system. Without a real choice of a different government, it is impossible to expect any real change.
I have been voting since 1990 and every single election I have taken part in, the cry has been for the Opposition to take away the Barisan’s two-thirds majority. The possibility of actually forming a new government was deemed too unlikely. This has changed, and now that possibility is here.
The significance of Anwar’s victory is bigger than his return to mainstream politics, it is bigger than Pakatan’s continued popularity; it is the (hopefully not false) dawn of a true democracy, where the people of Malaysia have a real choice.
With a real choice, no one group can get too bigheaded or arrogant, for they will realise that their position of power is not some divine right. The offices in Putrajaya are not freehold. Those sitting in them are merely tenants, and we the people are the landlords.
If, and this is a massive if, Pakatan comes into power, and if, again another gargantuan if, they keep their promise to undo all the draconian laws that we have, then the democratic process will grow ever bigger and healthier.
And if they mess up, so what? The people will have a choice. They can vote them out. And whoever is in Opposition then should have an easier time because unlike now, their civil liberties should be protected.
Malaysia is on the cusp of something significant. We are on the verge of becoming a real democracy. That is the importance of Permatang Pauh. It was not Anwar’s victory, it was not Pakatan’s victory; it was ours.