Reformasi: The Quantum Leap Forward


November 18, 2012

Reformasi: The Quantum Leap Forward

By Ali Cordoba

It was in September 1998 that the “reformasi” movement started in Malaysia. Since then, the reform movement has grown from a “group” of people pressing for change to that of a formidable opposition coalition.

With this great leap forward, the “reform” movement in Malaysia is bound to make history again in the next general election with massive gains and a potential total defeat of the ruling Barisan National coalition.

A great push forward for the Pakatan Rakyat in the 13th general election will have untold consequences for UMNO, in power since independence in 1957. It will also mean that Malaysia has finally made headway in choosing a “reform” movement that was thought to have run out of steam in the 2004 BN’s historic victory.

In 1998, a majority of the “reformasi” supporters had to hide behind the cloak of the “Internet” to promote the movement or propose ideas on how to rein in the masses against the BN and Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the then Prime Minister.

Since then, the country has made serious gains in “Internet” freedom to the extent that the government of Najib Tun Razak is facing a daily uphill battle against “pro-reform” and “pro-opposition” elements.

With Anwar Ibrahim’s release from jail in 2004, the reform movement made an incredible revival. To many, the release of Anwar, promised by the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi regime in case of a big victory in the election, was an act of divine intervention.

However, to a few observers, it is the intense pressure from some members of the International Islamic Ulema (Muslim religious figures) and the Arab World that led to the release of the most popular political figure in the country.

In 2003, the Abdullah (Badawi) regime was in the midst of wooing the Saudi Arabian, Qatari and UAE regimes to win their favours and gain in respect and investment projects. Attempts by Abdullah to win the Arab world on its side failed as the need to release Anwar became a pressing element in the negotiations.

These were the behind-the-scenes event that were not reported by the local or international media as they were kept under wraps by the Abdullah government.

Nonetheless, after the big win by the BN against an ailing opposition that had decided not to campaign on the “Anwar Ibrahim” issue (particularly by PAS), the Abdullah government decided to free Anwar.

Mahathir’s move

The release of the former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister was also the culmination of the long and strong campaign led by people like Raja Petra Kamarudin, the Malaysia Today editor in chief and maestro of “citizen journalism” in Malaysia.

It was his hard work, tough writings on the freeanwaribrahim.com blog and his campaigns in the country that helped in Abdullah regime’s consideration.

During the time of Mahathir, negotiations to free Anwar and allow him to have an operation in Germany backfired when the former Prime Minister angrily uttered the now infamous “muktamad”.

Mahathir was being pressed by the local and international media on rumours that Anwar would be freed and that negotiations between the Anwar group and Mahathir’s government were ongoing on the issue.

The fact remains that the Mahathir regime was not prepared to let go of Anwar from its claws as his release and subsequent presence in Germany would have been negative for the regime.

Not only Anwar would be free to campaign against the Mahathir regime from Germany while receiving treatment for his growing back pain, there was also the possibility that Anwar would raise funds through his friends in Germany.

That would have meant a triumphant return of Anwar at the KLIA, a return that would have probably caused tremors within the Mahathir regime at that particular fragile era.

In Germany, Anwar would have been aided by his close “friend” and ally, the former President of Indonesia, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie. The latter established himself in Germany after his downfall as the “replacement” President following the removal of General Suharto from power in the aftermath of the Indonesian “reformasi”.

This would have meant a lot of support not only for Anwar but also for the “reform” movement in Malaysia.At that particular time what remained of the movement launched by Anwar in 1998, at least in the eyes of the public, were merely echoes of “reformasi” and “memories” of the police beating and tear gas in the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

His flight to Germany would have been an unexpected boost to the Malaysian reform movement. It was, however, just a question of delaying the “tsunami” that would almost wipe out the BN in 2008.

Bigger reform movement today

Are the delays in the 2013 polls in Malaysia yet another ploy by the ruling coalition to simply put off the potential takeover of Putrajaya by the same “reform” movement?

The signs are already written on the walls of Kuala Lumpur, the city that had seen the people – mostly of Malay origin – battling the Police and the Federal Riot Units (FRU) in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman or in Kampung Baru and elsewhere in the city.

Today, the “reform” movement is a larger group, composed of Malaysians of all origins and expecting a turn of events in the 13th general election.

Will their wish come true?Anwar and the Malaysian reform movement seem to have a touch of “gold” that cannot be denied.

The former henchman of Mahathir has created history not once but multiple times. He was freed almost unconditionally from jail, and he won his seat back in a massive defeat to the BN in Permatang Pauh – the constituency that became historical thanks to the “Permatang Pauh” declaration.

He became the Opposition head in Parliament and his movement in coalition with PAS and DAP won five states in 2008, bagging 82 parliamentary seats. All these feats were never achieved by any other “deposed” leader within the UMNO-BN hierarchy.

History is littered with men of valour who lost their battle with the UMNO-BN and became victims of a terrible system of denial of justice. But Anwar braved the waves against him and rode the “tsunami” he helped create to become a hero of Malaysia.

These are historical facts that cannot be denied and more seems on the way for the making of the modern history in Malaysia.

Ali Cordoba writes extensively on local politics.

11 thoughts on “Reformasi: The Quantum Leap Forward

  1. A quantum leap of faith is required for change to happen in GE-13. A Pakatan Rakyat takeover of Putrajaya apparently is in the cards. Wishful thinking? But some analysts say that Najib can do an Obama since he is backed by money, organization and an agenda which requires only mindset change, and competent execution.

    For me, it is too close to call at this time, although it would appear that PR will get more seats at the expense of MCA, Gerakan, and MIC. Will that be enough for Anwar and his men to form the next government? Any ideas, Bean? –Din Merican

  2. Truth be told, what Anwar has achieved is remarkable already. AND If you look at the respond to Anwar road-shows, his ‘magic’ is working as it has always has. By skill and talent, Anwar is THE No. 1 Malay Leader, no question and should be the PM of this country..

    Its clear that PR is close even maybe already there. But the electoral cheating is very substantial. Overcoming the cheating will remain the biggest challenge and calls for truly extraordinary feat. The good news is that Anwar already has a great track record. The other advantage is that history of Malaysia, Malays shows they are capable of such breakthrough, practical sensabilities from time to time.

    So the issue is. Is it NOW?

  3. A week is a long time in politics.
    And months and months are a very long time in politics.

    When a ruling regime has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of its people, it can collapse very fast e.g. Ceaucescu’s regime in Romania, the DDR, etc

  4. UMNO was cought unprepare the sudden changes of voting pattern among the Malay since 2008 election.The core to the support for UMNO were malay in Kampong,Felda settler,Women folk and teachers.Najib thought since these people are simple minded,easy going ,he decided to give them money and money.He thougt money can buy everything.

    UMNO have only around three million members,even if all of them support UMNO candidate,they still cant win the election.

    Postal votes are vary crucial to BN/UMNO,since their vote are being monitor by their superio,they will 100 percent vote for BN.But you cant constructed the army camp in all parlimentery areas.

    My honest assement,assuming all of the above vote UMNO/BN,they can only win 80 parliment seats.Another 140 seats is up for grab.Out of this,accoding to SB and MIO assement,they can only win 25 seats.
    That’s why Najib is delaying the GE13.

  5. This is “reformasi” versus “transformasi” – the former is older and has gathered a voluntary following while the latter is just beginning and apparently still struggling to convince and gather more following from its own ranks & files. That is why the latter needs more time before having the GE13 – yes, “months” is a very long time in politics. The signs are beginning to show up that “transformasi” is gaining converts and influence – the “Obama happening” is more likely.

  6. Reformasi, transformasi.. ai see, beh see (hokkien: want to die, also cannot).
    Enough la.., nowadays it’s a war of informasi. You can only embellish Anwar’s credential so much before it becomes a boring mantra. Go beyond personalities.

    The Opposition must from now on concentrate on their manifesto, delivery methods/service and cohesiveness. At the moment, they seem to be performing adequately – if not magnificently. Real Issues are more edifying than gutter politicking and conditional handouts. I wouldn’t want predict on the basis of ceramah crowds, but would rather they pound the kampong and long-house roads with the Message. All that cheap publicity on ETP, EPP etc is easily countered with the question: “What is in it for me?”

    Many simple folks like me can’t be bothered about 2020, but a hungry, growling stomach and the fact the education system smells like over-fermented budu.

  7. No quarrel with the author’s narrative given the benefit of hindsight. The devil is in the future specifically the outcome of GE 13.

    UMNO-BN maintained that losing 2/3 majority in 2008 was the EC’s credibility which voters should not have to worry during the coming GE. But there is a deluge of reports that cast doubts on the neutrality of the EC to the point that the ruling regime is increasing perception that the ruling regime would win only with foul means.

    Thus the raison d’etre of BERSIH.

    Most worrying is that no concrete evidence that the electoral recommendations including that of PSC would be accepted and implemented so far and time is running short.

    Assuming that no electoral reform is forthcoming and the GE 13 is closely fought, the question is how would some razor thin results and their ensuing contests/disputes be resolved transparently (given the above perception) and avoid violence. And above all confers legitimacy.

  8. The swing state for GE 13 is Sabah. Peninsula, the outcome will be pretty much the same as before, Sarawak, minor gains by opposition. Sabah will determine who gets to putrajaya.

  9. Sabah? If that is the case, might as well pack the bags and head on to greener pastures. Really, all the Opposition needs is one-third of the Parliamentary seats from East Malaysia, Johor and Trengganu. Negri Sembilan and Melaka will take care of themselves. So will Perak. I foresee voting trend for the incumbents at the state level and Opposition at the Fed level. What say you guys?

  10. I would have to agree with Mr Bean,in as much as I pray n hope that the opposition wins GE13, the rigging will be unprecedented,never in the History of democrazy anywhere ( perhaps Zimbabwe ) will rigging shows it’s ugly face..now go down on your knees you all n pray,pray hard that I’m wrong or else?????? We are trully Forked..Oouch!!!

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