GE14: A Malaysian Moment


In the hilly land to the north of Johannesburg, on the wall opposite the Bench in the Constitutional Court of South Africa, nestled within the Old Prison Fort where Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were once imprisoned, the bricks are red, dirty and unpainted.

Each time the Bench convenes, and as the judges face the counsels, the red, dirty and unpainted brick wall stares at them silently but powerfully.

These are bricks taken from prison cells of the old fort. The wall serves as an everpresent reminder to the sitting judges that the decisions they make, if made wrongly, may bring back the dark days of the Apartheid regime.

The very fact that the old Apartheid prison was transformed, or rather redeemed, into a monument of justice and human rights speaks of a revolution meant to be thorough and long-lasting.

Now let’s move to Malaysia…

May 9, 2018 will forever be etched in the collective memory of Malaysians. For the first time since 1957, after 14 general elections, Malaysians managed to vote out the Umno-led BN federal ruling regime. Being in government for 61 years, BN was the longest serving ruling party in a democratic country in the world.

The prospect of BN losing power was almost nil with the president of Umno-BN, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, then prime minister, declaring three days before polling that BN would not only win, but win big. He also claimed that the crowd at opposition rallies were actually ferried from elsewhere and were not genuine local voters.

Some may even say that May 9 was a miracle, but it was only because they lacked the confidence that Malaysians would do the right thing. But we did. We showed them that the moral compass in each of our hearts is still unspoiled – even if a little cranky at times – for having been suppressed for so long.

While we await details about the voting pattern and study the statistical analyses which will come after official data and information are made known, I want to share with you several observations and thoughts as one of the witnesses and participants of this momentous event.

One thing is evident: this election and then the victory belonged to the people, not to the political parties.

At about 6pm, an hour after voting stations were closed on May 9, people began gathering at certain counting centres. One of these was SMJK Jit Sin, the official Election Commission (EC) counting centre for Bukit Mertajam, my constituency.

The thing was, the DAP Bukit Mertajam Committee had already decided that there should not be any gatherings, not on the streets nor at the counting centres. While all candidates had to immediately congregate at one location, we dispatched key local leaders to the nomination centre to see through the process of result announcement. These leaders were given specific instructions to disperse or at least control the crowd if there was any.

Yet, my immediate thought that night when reading news of people gathering at counting centres was, “They were not there for us; they were there for something bigger”.

Several people criticised Pakatan Harapan (PH) for not telling our zealous supporters to “behave” outside the counting centres. What they do not realise is this: the people were not there to defend PH nor our candidates. They were there to defend their votes and their election.

I think all political parties need to realise this – that May 9, 2018 was not about political parties, just as August 31, 1957 was not about political parties. It was a people’s moment. It was a Malaysians’ Moment if you like. It was our second Merdeka.

What’s next, then?

The Morning After: A Whole New World

I believe many will agree with me that May 9 represents the beginning of a whole new world. The very next morning, many of us felt that the air was fresher, the sky bluer – and I am not just being figurative: there were also so many “Welcome to new Malaysia” greetings that morning.

Indeed, it is now a whole new world. There will be many things that we may not even have a definition for yet. Let me pull out a few notable examples from the last new government’s first week in power:

1) A new Council of Elders – which will make Dumbledore, Gandalf and Yoda smile with approval – was established almost as soon as the prime minister was sworn in, to guide and oversee the reforms promised by the new government.

2) Perak Umno assemblymen, Zainol Fadzi Paharudin and Nolee Ashilin Mohd Radzi, endorsed PH’s Ahmad Faizal Azumu as Menteri Besar, preventing a potential hung assembly in the state. Both Zainol and Nolee however did not join PH and merely gave their support to enable a state government to be formed.

3) The young and inspiring Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) Youth Chief and MP for Muar, Syed Saddiq, admonished the newly minted Johor Menteri Besar, Osman Sapian, for saying that opposition BN state assemblymen will not receive any constituency development funds from the state government.

4) The appointment of an ethnic Chinese Finance Minister – who immediately reminded the world that he is first and foremost a Malaysian, not a Chinese – which is not only a break away from Umno-BN’s old model, but also reminiscent of the national unity shown in the post-Merdeka Tunku Abdul Rahman cabinet.

And the list will only grow longer. But clearly a whole new world requires new frameworks and new thinking. Business as usual will not do.

For a start, the government can no longer be paternalistic, or authoritarian. On May 9, when the people claimed the election for themselves, they too claimed the government for themselves. It is their election, their government. They were expanding their democratic space, they demanded for their voice to be respected, and they want a government that was accountable.

I think if anything, that means there is to be a stop to enticing or allowing elected representatives to “jump” and switch party. May 9 crushed the old cynicism that “the people can never do the right thing”. Democracy is about the people making the decision, and once that is made, it must be respected. That is a good reminder to all parties and to all coalitions.

May 9, a Monument for Posterity

Like the red, dirty and unpainted bricks of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, May 9 should be consecrated as a reminder of this important event. Just as the Court is nestled in the old prison fort and thus symbolises solidly the toppling of an oppressive regime, so is May 9 situated in the caliginous period approaching May 13, symbolising the end of a dark period in our nation’s history, and celebrating the glorious Malaysian Moment that ended it.

A young colleague recently reminded me that I once told him, “The line of good and evil is not between us but within us, and the way to save our country is to be part of the change we want to see.” I am sure I paraphrased that from somewhere, but since we have just emerged from a very heated campaign and a very fierce election, there were bound to be casualties. And yes, the old regime may have hurt many of us at the personal level. But there is no time to waste on the past and on personal vengeance. Let’s move on, and together. Let’s stop the pain from being passed down. Let’s focus on nation-building, on reconciliation, on reconstruction, on justice, and most importantly, on what we have promised: reform.

We have a nation to rebuild, and we can only do it together, as Malaysians.

Steven Sim Chee Keong is the Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam.

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