It is very strange. Before the 13th General Election, every single political analyst and pundit I spoke to all said that the result will be status quo. That is to say, the Barisan will win but they won’t get their precious two third majority. I myself was of the same opinion.
Then why is it that I was so damned disappointed on Sunday night?
I suppose, the heart was overruling the mind. And there were moments as the votes were being counted that I honestly thought that Monday morning would see a different era of Malaysian politics.
I guess the fact that the opposition actually obtained 51% of the popular vote compared to the 47% won by the Barisan only added salt to the wound. The gerrymandering of the past five decades has borne its bitter fruit and we now have a government which truly does not hold the popular mandate of the people.
Same Old, Same Old
I have said many times before that for the country to mature politically, there has to be a regime change. Anything short of that will see us stuck in the same rut because the ruling party simply do not know how to operate in any other way.
And it only took a few hours to see how correct that belief is. Within a day Utusan Malaysia came out with one of the most racist headlines I have ever seen and the Prime Minister, Mr One Malaysia himself, the man who claims to be liberal and progressive, not only did not condemned that publication, he condoned it.
And his comments that it was a “Chinese Tsunami” that caused the result of GE13 only added fuel to the racialist fires burning brightly in the nation. All the empty platitudes that he may make now, will ring hollow as there is no credible force of conviction behind the words.
But to be fair, perhaps he is merely playing to the gallery of his people (and by “people” I mean UMNO). Well, if that is the case, it adds a tart twist of irony to the proceedings. The Barisan’s campaign was a presidential one. It was not UMNO or any of the other component parties that were shoved into the face of the electorate. For months it has been all about the Prime Minister. A vote for the Barisan was to be a vote for one man and his supposed progressive ideals.
How blatantly untrue that is for in the past few days it is clear that Najib Razak is still beholden to his party and those who support its ideology. Men like ex Court of Appeal and current Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Complaints Committee member Mohd Noor Abdullah who said that the Chinese would face a backlash from Malays for their ingratitude in daring to vote against the Barisan. Or the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia who are now calling for a boycott of Chinese businesses for, yes you guessed it, voting against the wonderful BN.
This is the foundational support for UMNO. It is feudal and it is race based. And even with the best of intentions, Najib Razak cannot escape this political reality. If he wants to cling on to power, he will have to pander to this fact. There is no choice, for if there are progressive voices in UMNO, they are muted or in the rather unfortunate case of Saifuddin Abdullah, now in the political wilderness (the only UMNO candidate for whom I felt a twinge of regret at his losing).
This can be seen in the new Cabinet that was recently announced. The only positive sign one can see is the appointment of Paul Low, head of Transparency International Malaysia as a Minister in the PM’s Department (although at the time of writing I am not sure what his portfolio is. Holding Back the Tide, perhaps). But his is but one voice in a large Cabinet. For any real transformation to take place there has to be a transformative Cabinet. No one Ministry, let alone one Minister, can make much of a change.
And when you have people like Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the Home Minister no less, with the power to detain without trial, saying things like “if you don’t like the electoral system, then emigrate”, it is all too clear that it is business as usual, and that business is the business of intimidation, oppression and the total lack of understanding as to what a democracy means. Needless to say, I have no hopes (high or otherwise) that Najib and his men (there are only two women in the Cabinet) will make a bit of progress in changing the governance of Malaysia into something akin to what is needed.
That is not to say it is a sure thing that Najib Razak will remain in power. Barisan has done worse in GE13 than in GE12. Admittedly UMNO as a party has obtained more seats than they did the last time, but the fact remains that the coveted two third majority has slipped even further away from them. This leads to the possibility of Najib Razak being ousted. After all this is exactly what happened to his predecessor Abdullah Badawi.
Now, I don’t intend to delve into the murky depths of UMNO internal politics, there isn’t a wet suit thick enough to protect me, but it is a possibility that we may get a new PM. If this were so, the most obvious candidate would be Muhyiddin Yassin. And what if this was to occur? So what if Muhyiddin Yassin
The Barisan manifesto made no promises for any institutional changes in the government machinery. Things will remain as opaque and beholden to the executive as they ever were. This being so, it matters not a jot who actually holds the reins of power; the potential for abuse will remain as ripe as before.
Where to now for the PR?
And what of the Pakatan Rakyat? After this disappointing result will they remain together or will the clarion call of power be too alluring for some to resist. There is of course the fear that UMNO will try to lure some of the Pakatan into their fold. It has happened before; attempts to woo individuals and even PAS. Although ultimately only a few individuals changed horses, it was a mere five years ago that there was the justifiable speculation that PAS was going to jump ship.
Today, with the more progressive voices of the party, namely Dzulkifli Ahmad, Mat Sabu and Husam Musa losing, and Niz Aziz resigning as Menteri Besar, the fear resurfaces that the more conservative elements of the party may be tempted by the “united Malays” rhetoric so beloved by UMNO.
If this were so, then it would be the death knell for any claim that the party may make at being ethical. Pas has obtained unprecedented support from voters, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, because they are part of the package known as the Pakatan Rakyat and because this coalition made promises that many felt were worthy of their support; a corruption free, meritocratic, efficient and transparent government. These and a sound economy are things that really matter to the populace. A recent Merdeka Centre poll shows that amongst the Malays, only 11 per cent are concerned about “Malay issues”. The three component parties need each other to maintain not only their viability but their credibility as a workable and balanced alternative to the current government. Any break up now would be terribly foolish.
The time has come for a new type of politics; where it is clear that service and not personal aggrandisement is the motivation behind those in search for power (well, at least give us the illusion that this is so). Therefore internal squabbles within the Pakatan or their component parties, like the unseemly catty fighting regarding the Selangor Menteri Besar post, is something I am confident the average citizen will have no time and patience for.
The test for the Pakatan Rakyat now is whether they can bear the disappointment and weather the coming storms together; keeping their lofty ideals afloat. They have the popular vote of the people; it is up to them now to retain the trust of those very same people.
Massive Cloud, Sliver of Silver Lining
My god, what I am about to type is so tacky, that I feel nauseous and I must beg for your forgiveness.
The future of this country lies with the young.
There, I said it; feel free to throw up at the shameless cliché.
I realise I sound like Whitney Houston (RIP) at her syrupy worst, but the youth voice has never been so loud and confident. You can see it at the massive rallies held in various stadia around the country post GE13. They are predominantly attended by the young. And they are clamouring for change. Not in an angry way, but more in an optimistic and hopeful way. At least this is what I saw at the Kelana Jaya stadium.
These people made me feel old. They were vigorous and energetic and they are of a generation quite alien to mine. Their methods of communication are different; as is their sources of information. They do not carry the baggage of the old and they have tasted the power of their vote. And the thing is, between now and the next GE, their numbers will swell. I do not believe that they want business as usual, for we are seeing a generation who understand the importance of transparency, accountability and honesty. To view and to speak to the youth of Malaysia in the typical patriarchal and patronising way (which I suffered when I was young) would be not only an insult to them, but also a sure fire way of committing political suicide.
But why wait for the next elections? With a population growing savvier with each generation, it is time to throw off the shackles of our subservient and obedient past. If the government does not want to be accountable; if the institutions of government insist on being faithful to party and not people; then it is up to the people to keep pressing them.
Nobody said true democracy was going to be easy to come by. When anybody has had power for so long, they are not going to allow for developments that will threaten that power, no matter how correct and just those developments may be. Our freedom and our rights are ours; they are inherent and they can’t be taken away. They can however be disrespected, and it is up to us to make those who disrespect us see the error of their ways. Not just at election time; but all the time.