1 January 2013
It may have been four tumultuous years since the 2008 general elections, but
we can look forward to 2013 optimistically, safe in the knowledge that while the
Malaysian people have become vocal about many issues, they have remained largely
civil about it.
PART of my instructions for this piece was to write about my hopes for the
future of politics in this country. After giving it some thought, I came up with
one big New Year’s wish.
I wish that some boffin would invent a device all politicians have to
It would be akin to a large ugly hat. It should look like something which is
desperately trying to appear “high tech”. Kind of like the props that you find
in a particularly bad episode of Star Trek.
Apart from the advantage of being able to identify politicians from afar so
that you can either approach them or run away, this device would give off
electric shocks every time the wearer lies, makes a hypocritical statement or
raise God’s name in vain. In this way, we can wean out the dodgy ones right
But then, looking at some of our politicos, I think quite a few of them might
actually enjoy the occasional kinky electric shock.
Oh, well, back to the drawing board.
Actually, I am being unfair to our politicians. They are not all unbearable.
Since the last general elections, there have been a few bright sparks (on both
sides of the political divide – though more on the opposition side, I must
admit) who have been making intelligible and intelligent sounds. A refreshing
change from the usual Neanderthal grunts we are used to. Mind you, those
grunters still exist, but there is more of a counter-balance now.
The fact that this new batch of politicians are relatively young, bodes well,
in that one can hope that when the aged obtuse retire or get voted out, their
replacements will at least have greater-than-average intelligence. And political
debate will be logical, reasoned and smart minus the sexist, racist and circular
arguments that drift up from the gutter every now and again.
The biggest change over the past four years, though, is not in the hallowed
and leaking halls of parliament, but on the streets. The people of Malaysia have
changed. The most obvious indication of this change is the fact that street
demonstrations are starting to become almost a normal thing here. From the
massive Bersih and Himpunan Hijau rallies to the smaller demos and sit-ins like
the Occupy Dataran movement.
What is amazing about these gatherings is that a very large number of the
participants are not youthful rabble-rousers but middle-class, middle-aged gents
and ladies who a few years ago would rather be at home sipping tepid tea and
watching cookery shows rather than braving the Malaysian rain – both natural and
It seems to me that the cloak of fear that has retarded any thought, let
alone expression of displeasure aimed towards the powers-that-be, has been
lifted. After decades of hushed whispers and furtive glances over the shoulder
when being critical of the government, for fear that the Special Branch has
somehow managed to infiltrate even private living rooms, Malaysians are being
pretty darned vocal.
The status quo is being challenged and in a way never before seen in
Malaysian politics. The challengers cross ethnic, religious and class
boundaries. And this, in my opinion, indicates that issues are now the cause
celebre for the Malaysian people, not narrow ethnic views or individual idol
Of course, the Malaysian bug bear of race still exists. It is impossible to
think that a few years can see to the end of the country’s favourite political
weapon. And there are those who will shamelessly churn out the race ticket for
their own agenda.
And from underneath rotten logs of wood and damp rocks, there have been
groups crawling out into the sun to have their day in the spotlight; groups
which are blatantly racist and divisive. It is of no surprise, of course.
They have always been there but the events of the last few years have shaken
their comfortable existence.
Personally, I am glad it has come to this. There is nothing more annoying
than a pimple that lies under the skin. You can’t really pop it because it can’t
be seen and you risk scarring your skin. Far better to have it burst forth in
all its pus-filled glory so that you can identify it, and deal with it with a
dollop of cream and a nice squeeze.
The same goes for those with deplorable ideology. Far better to have them
where they can be seen and challenged in the open.
Staying on this theme of racial divisiveness, one must say there have been
some serious incidents in the last four years. Fire-bombed churches and severed
cow and pig heads have vied for our attention on top of the shrill, hate-filled
speech we are more accustomed to. Once again, none of this is particularly
surprising, but what is surprising is the reaction to such incidents.
There is a calmness that tempers the expected feelings of anger, and this
speaks volumes. It shows that, on the whole, the vast majority of the Malaysian
people will not be provoked and will not rise to the bait.
We have reached a point where what matters is good governance, clean politics
and the respect for democracy and human rights. Communalist thinking is taking a
back seat to these things and no matter what a few mindless idiots will do, by
and large we will not lower ourselves to their level.
And I think that the government has noticed this. They can’t be so blind as
to not notice. Therefore the Internal Security Act has been replaced; the
Peaceful Assembly Act introduced and the printing Presses and Publications Act
amended. Whether these changes are purely cosmetic or substantial, I do not have
enough space here to delve into. But what is certain is that without this newly
expressed political maturity from the citizens, such changes, as superficial as
they may be, would not have happened at all.
We are a different country today. What has changed in the last four years is
that there is a sense of empowerment in us. What I hope for in the future is
that it will continue and grow.