It was a rare feat – dislodging a political behemoth which has reigned for more than six decades. Some would even describe it as nothing short of a miracle. The dawn of Malaysia’s democratisation or Malaysia Baharu (New Malaysia) as many would dub it. But what’s certain is that 9 May 2018 wasn’t an overnight victory.
It was a culmination of struggles and sacrifices, a collective effort by the people which spanned across years if not decades leading up to that historic moment. Five BERSIH rallies advocating for free and fair elections, countless mega and minor public assemblies, and not forgetting the numerous nationwide roadshows and field work conducted by civil societies. These were the building blocks at the heart of this victory.
It’s a story of the people’s victory against all odds, especially in the lead up to the poll – Mid-week polling day to suppress voter turnout, malapportionment and gerrymandering of electoral boundaries by the then Election Commission (EC), #UndiRosak campaign and its proponents, incidents of hacked phones and spam calls on polling day itself, disenfranchised Malaysian voters overseas in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei who had to return home to vote, and many more.
Yet, the people’s resilience knows no bounds. We banded together and overcame all these obstacles that came in our way.
In the case of outstation voters, the instant it was announced that polling day would be a Wednesday, countless grassroots’ initiatives sprung up. #UndiRabu, #PulangMengundi and Jom Balik Undi to name a few. Strangers offered to pay strangers their travel cost. Some even offered carpooling on Twitter. While others chartered busses to transport Malaysian voters from Singapore to major towns in the peninsula. Not forgetting those who volunteered to fly home to deliver postal ballots by hand since voting was no longer held at Malaysian embassies. It was an amazing race of epic proportions resulting in a whopping 82.32% voter turnout.
The drama didn’t stop there even after the polling closes. The announcement of the official results were delayed with claims of backdoor political manoeuvrings taking place. Malay-Muslim Members of Parliament (MP) in Pakatan Harapan were allegedly courted by rivals to switch sides. Eventually, the EC only announced PH’s victory at 4.55am on 10 May.
We continued to be in the state of flux for the day ahead. As the ceremony was delayed, it was not until 9.30pm of 10 May 2018 (more than 24 hours after the poll ended) did Malaysia witness the swearing in of Tun Mahathir (again) as the country’s Seventh Prime Minister.
Poetically, that day did resemble our two-decade-long journey towards democratisation. Never smooth-sailing, filled with twist and turns, and always keeping us at the edge of our seats. But overall, it was a civil and peaceful transition. Through it all, Malaysians were truly invested, determined to see this revolution through, glued to their screen for updates and putting off sleep for another day; that shall have to wait. Some even went to the Istana Negara to demonstrate their support for a new government.
Indeed, ‘Malaysia Baharu’ wasn’t any party’s political agenda. It was an outcome manifested by the masses. It was a campaign of the people, by the people, and for the people. The atmosphere of exuberance was a genuine as the people celebrate our collective achievement.
Unfortunately, as this euphoria fizzled out, the same goes for the movement of activist Malaysians who had fought for this revolution.
While the newly elected government tries to learn the ropes in governing, we went back to our usual lives. Optimistic that the politicians we voted for would sort things out on our behalf, we surrendered everything, as they say, to the politicians.
Without the constant vigilance of the eagle-eyed public, some politicians took this opportunity to manoeuvre and consolidate their power. Using the smoke and mirrors of religious and racial issues they tore apart the social fabric of our society turning one community against the other.
The complacency of the middle and moderate Malaysians gave way to the extremists to set the agenda and propagate their views. Economic anxieties of the different communities were exploited. Every issue became a religious or a racial one. The stage was set – it was us against them. Malaysia Baharu is a threat to Islam and the Malays they say. That was the prevailing narrative.
What comes next is a story that every one of us is all too familiar with. The first-time government had their deck stacked against them, with threats coming from outside and within its fold. A game of political musical chairs ensued and just a few months shy of 2 years since the people’s victory, Malaysia found itself with yet a new government, Perikatan Nasional, a fledgling coalition formed by former component members of PH cobbled together with Barisan Nasional and PAS.
Dare We Hope Again?
Obviously, with these developments, ‘Malaysia Baharu’ also evolved into dirty phrase that is uttered cynically, as if ridiculing those who dared to believe in it. By now you would’ve realised that the phrase takes on a different meaning to different people.
Confronted with this new low in Malaysia’s short democratic history, some friends have voiced out their frustration and disillusionment with the entire process, “Why should we care so much if in the end the politicians will do whatever according to their whims and fancy?”
To them, I say, ‘Malaysia Baharu’ means a society that is no longer defined according to racial lines. An administration that is firmly working towards a pro-rakyat and globally competitive economy where the lives and livelihood of its people always take centre stage. One that is bold and imaginative enough to provide jobs, decent pay, shelter, food, healthcare, public transportation, quality education and, sustainable environment, for its people. Ultimately, espousing the values of justice, freedom and solidarity.
Evidently, this worthwhile ideal need not crumble with the collapse of the PH government. We need to reinvest our own energy into making it a reality and not leave it merely to the politicians. We’ve done it before, we can do it again.
Honestly, ‘Malaysia Baharu’ can’t be achieved overnight. It’s a long and continuous struggle. As long as there are people among us who have a sliver of hope, who still believes in it, we’ll get there some day.