Below is a commentary on the results of the 12th Malaysian General Elections which took place last month. This commentary is written by Tricia Yeoh on behalf of RoH Malaysia.
In several months' time, RoH Malaysia aims to publish a book consisting of various papers written by the members of our Team. This book will contain a fuller assessment of where we think Malaysia is now in her journey towards a mature society. Complementing this assessment will be our theological, pastoral, and spiritual responses towards these observed Malaysian realities.
Commentary on Malaysia’s 12th General Elections 2008
For Revolution of Hope (RoH Malaysia)
by Tricia Yeoh
Tricia is currently the Director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies, at which she engages in national socio-economic issues through research, analysis and fostering policy dialogue. This covers a wide range of issues, dealing for example, with inter-faith dialogue and economic policies. Her work involves interacting closely with the country's socio-political environment. She hopes to work constructively toward a matured and united Malaysia, and envisions faith and vocation as one, as we seek common goals and platforms in the long-term nation-building process. She blogs on http://www.egalitaria.wordpress.com/.
For those who have toiled many years fighting injustice in Malaysia, the results of the 12th General Election was considered vindication. Growing frustration with the administration led to what has been called a “political tsunami”, leading to the stronghold Barisan Nasional coalition losing its two-thirds majority at Parliament level. More shocking was its loss of four states, leaving the loose Opposition coalition to lead five State Governments in total, also unprecedented since Malaysia’s independence in 1957.
There were certainly a host of factors leading to this watershed event. Touted very much as an elections in which people exercised punishment votes, the percentage of popular vote for the coalition Government fell from 63% in 2004 to 51.2% in 2008, showing only slightly more than half of Malaysia’s voting population showing support for the present administration. These “push” variables have been charted out in analytic terms, listed in simple order as state corruption, inflation, displeasure with the New Economic Policy and its accompanying preferential policies for the Bumiputera community (made up of Malays and natives of the land) resulting in gross intra-ethnic socio economic disparity, issues of religious freedom, the economy, and the general perception of institutional and structural failures (the judiciary and police are two in particular).
One of the more significant “pull” factors was Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s ex-Deputy Prime Minister, who, after his recent release from seven-year imprisonment, went on massive rounds all across the country to rally for candidates in his party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat, originally formed on the premise of highlighting political injustice that was served him in 1998). Anwar’s ambition is to shoot for power, namely as head honcho of the state, and observers see these results as steadily laying the bricks in that very direction. The fact that the nation’s ex-Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed (arch enemy of Anwar), launched a series of strong criticism against the present Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi added fuel to the fire.
In a complexity of sorts, Malaysians had a plethora of issues and platforms to choose from, in voting against Barisan Nasional. All seemed to work in favour of the opposition, even if this was not considered a viable alternative. If one were not necessarily an Anwar supporter, one would weigh carefully the once-considered-wisdom of Dr Mahathir. If one were not necessarily an advocate for human rights and social justice, one would cite the dwindling economy as a reason to awaken the seemingly slackening Government. In either corner one turned, one was hit smack in the face with endless issues 360 degrees all around. The degrees and complexities to which each issue lent itself to the fabric of dissatisfaction remains to be explored. Some, for example, have argued that the Government’s last-minute decision to withdraw the use of indelible ink (earlier promised tooth and nail to enhance transparent election processes) was the straw that broke the camel’s back, proving the insincerity and potential fraudulence of the system.
As results streamed in steadily on a late Saturday night, into an early Sunday on March the 9th, Malaysians awoke to a new dawn. This new Malaysia was one characterised by an empowerment that although ironically belonged to the people, was also unrecognisable. For so long had frustrations simmered silently, until no longer could a storm in a teacup remain still. Despite initial hiccups, political instability within the opposition groups (PKR, DAP, PAS) and Government (UMNO, MCA, MIC, and others), this momentous event marks a positive step for Malaysia’s democratisation process as a whole. People now acknowledge their role as participatory citizens in the future of the nation, the very element necessary in any democracy.
Perseverance and longsuffering take on a new meaning in light of this new Malaysia. Many strived towards achieving a goal, although this goal was nowhere near in sight. Underlying this was a belief, real or imagined, that someday their work would reap good fruit. Now, whether or not these results would have been harvested in one’s lifetime is irrelevant, since dedication to a cause (for social, economic and political justice) should not be influenced by one’s belief in its ease of attainment. No, many should (and would) have continued working anyway, in creating a better society, whether or not the Elections resulted in opposition obtaining zero or 82 Parliamentary seats.
The point is, sweet victory was tasted and it is a welcome reminder that little “kingdoms on earth” can be exemplified right here, right now. Why the results of the Elections are considered a victory is not because Barisan Nasional lost numerous seats, nor was it because the Opposition control five out of 13 state Governments, a fivefold achievement. It is because Malaysians are now pointed in the direction of democratisation, an equitable society, social justice, principled governance (over and above race-based politics), public accountability, and freedom of expression. For all political parties to recognise this is a giant step for the country. Now begins the actual work in putting rhetoric into practice. Malaysians are holding their breath, but they acknowledge this. That this outcome has been a blessing of the most extraordinary kind.