In the hilly land to the north of Johannesburg, on the wall opposite the Bench, in the Constitutional Court of South Africa, nestled in the Old Prison Fort where Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi were once imprisoned, the bricks were red, dirty and unpainted.
Each time the Bench convene, and as the judges face the counsels, the red, dirty and unpainted brick wall stared at them silently but powerfully.
These were bricks from prison cells of the old fort. The wall serves as an ever present reminder to the sitting judges that the decisions they make may bring back the dark days of the Apartheid regime.
The fact that the old Apartheid prison was transformed, or rather redeemed, into a monument of justice and human rights itself speaks of a revolution meant to be thorough and long-lasting.
Back to Malaysia.
A Malaysians’ Moment
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 Barisan Nasional (BN) federal ruling regime. Being in government for 61 years, BN is 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, Najib Razak, then Prime Minister, declaring three days just before polling that BN would not only win but win big. He 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 could and would do the right thing. We showed them that we did it, that the moral compass in each our hearts is still unspoiled if a little cranky from years of suppression by the former regime.
While we await the voting pattern and analyses once the official number is out, 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 its victory belonged to the people, not political parties.
At about 6.00 pm, an hour after voting was closed on 9 May, people began gathering at several counting centres. One of these was SMJK Jit Sin, the official Election Commission (EC) counting centre for Bukit Mertajam, my constituency.
The fact is, DAP Bukit Mertajam Committee had decided that there shall 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 our key local leaders to the nomination centre to see through the process of result announcement. These leaders were given specific instruction to disperse or at least control the crowd if 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 for not telling our zealous supporters to “behave” outside the counting centres. What they do not realise was this: the people were not there to defend Pakatan Harapan nor our candidates. They were there to defend their votes and their election.
I think all political parties need to realise this by now. That this May 9, 2018 was not about any political parties, just as August 31, 1957 was not about political parties even though Pakatan Harapan and the Alliance were important players on each occasion respectively. It was a people’s moment, for the lack of words. A Malaysians’ Moment if you like, our second Merdeka.
What’s next then?
The morning after: A whole new world
I believe many will agree with me if May 9 represents a whole new world; the very next morning, how many of us felt the air were fresher the sky bluer and I am not just being figurative – there were so many “Welcome to new Malaysia” greetings that morning.
Indeed it was a whole new world. There will be many things which we may not even have a definition for yet. Let me pull out a few notable examples in the last one week:
1) A new Council of Elders – which would 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 Pakatan Harapan’s Ahmad Faizal Azumu as Menteri Besar, preventing a potential hung assembly. Both Zainol and Nolee however did not join Pakatan Harapan 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 Barisan Nasional state assemblymen will not receive constituency development fund from the state government.
4) The appointment of an ethnic Chinese Finance Minister – who nevertheless reminded the world no less, that he is through and through a Malaysian – which is not only a break away from UMNO-BN’s old model, but also reminiscent of the strength of our national unity reflected in the post-Merdeka Tunku Abdul Rahman cabinet.
And the list will only grow longer. But clearly a whole new world requires new framework and new thinking. Business as usual will not do anymore.
For a start, government can no longer be paternalistic, or worse authoritarian. Just like the night of May 9 when the people claimed the election for themselves, they too had claimed the government for themselves. It is their election, their government. Democratic space must be expanded, and the people’s voice must be respected and government accountability must be upheld.
I think if anything, that means stop enticing or allowing elected representatives to “jump” party. May 9 crushed the old cynical wisdom that “the people can never do the right thing”. We should trust the people to make the right decision for our country, and therefore respect the decision once it has been made. This is a self-reminder to my party and coalition.
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 in a strange way redeeming the symbol of an oppressive regime, so May 9 is situated in the caliginous period approaching May 13, hopefully in time to come, redeeming the memory of the dark period of our nation’s history, celebrating in its stead, the glorious Malaysians’ Moment.
Oh, and one more thing. 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, I don’t know. But we just emerged from a very heated campaign and a very fierce election, there are bound to be casualties. And yes, the old regime may have hurt some of us at the personal level. But there is no time to waste on the trivial and on personal vengeance. Let’s move on, but together. Let’s stop the pain from being passed down. Let’s focus on nation building, on reconciliation, on reconstruction, on justice not vengeance, and most importantly, on what we have promised, reform, not revenge.
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.