The Spirit of March 8 for Real Change


January 31, 2011

BOOK Review by GEOFFREY YEOW, The Star

March 8: Time for  Real Change
Edited by Kee Thuan Chye
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish, 363 pages
ISBN: 978-9814328333

AS a relative youngster, politics has always been like a love-hate relationship for me. We love how politics can ignite passionate debates about right and wrong, yet we hate how it manages to transform everything good into something evil.

So when I was asked to review this book, I took it up as a challenge to delve into a world that I admittedly do not know much about but always had a dormant interest in.

This was one of the first books to come out after the landmark March 8, 2008, elections, when the Opposition won an unprecedented number of Parliamentary seats. Back then, it was entitled March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up.

Time for Real Change is a re-issued edition with new content released late last year – and very timely it is, too, what with the number of by-elections that have taken place lately and rumours of the next general election swirling about the World Wide Web.

Let us get some things straight before we start off. March 8 is not a book about politics. It is a compilation of many thoughts that run parallel to a man’s dream of living in a nation where equality, justice and true freedom are the rule of thumb.

Is that too much to ask? In this day and age, it probably is. Here’s a quick re-cap of the events that sparked the first version of this book (for those of you who might have, by some wild chance, missed it all): On that fateful day three years ago, for the first time since the 1969 general elections, the ruling coalition of Barisan Nasional failed to secure the two-thirds majority in Parliament required to pass amendments to the Malaysian Constitution.

This represented a major shift in power, with the Opposition parties having a larger say in Parliament and greater control over amendments to the law. More importantly, it proved to Malaysians that the once-impenetrable has finally encountered kryptonite.

This book is made up of three main sections. The first, Where We Are Now, evaluates the significance of events in the aftermath of the general election. This includes the ruling coalitions’ attempts to instil change and reform.

The middle section, Back to the Beginning, chronicles the events that culminated in March 8, while the last, Where Do We Go From Here, discusses the future of our nation and the growing hope for change that seemed so bright on that fateful day.

Kee Thuan Chye, the editor (and also contributing writer) of the book, is a dramatist, poet and retired journalist. From the first page, it was fascinating to see him using his expertise in all three fields to pull us in with smooth-flowing sentences and words that are easy to understand (which is something most authors tend to forget).

His summation of events leading up to March 8 and its aftermath paint a clear picture, without our needing to go to Google and look up specifics details. Kee’s voice is always distinct amidst all the facts and statistics, his frustration with the current political landscape is clearly delivered.

In all the sections, a number of well-respected names share their thoughts on the historic general election and its repercussions. Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and controversial Malaysia Today editor, Raja Petra Kamarudin lead the voices in the call for change and democracy.

With most books, it is not unusual for us to feel as though we are reading behind a glass wall, with the author telling us the story. In this book, however, Kee writes with a personal touch, emphasising phrases such as “we have to do our part” and “we continue to support it”. We get the impression that he is on our side of the wall, pointing out to the world and telling us what is really going on out there.

As someone just starting to get the hang of politics, John Lee’s article, Youth Votes Count for Everything, speaks to me in particular. Lee states that although a minority of the younger generation cares passionately about the political landscape, most are just not interested.

He then goes on to argue that although this remains an issue, the March 8 general election has produced positive change by increasing the interest in the young as they begin to realise the power of their votes and, essentially, their voice. With the advent of political blogs, “Twittersphere” and social media, the point that Lee makes resonates loudly, as the younger generation could well prove to be the turning point in the next general election.

Some people may argue that this book was written with a pro-opposition bias. I feel the appropriate term should be that it was written with a pro-change and pro-democracy bias. As Kee says: “March 8 has gives us something precious for the next general election, and hopefully for longer into the future: Choice … It sure beats having a monopoly.”

Readers will find his book eye-opening as it drags you in from the very start and inspires you to believe that while real change and true democracy may be improbable, they are certainly not impossible.

14 thoughts on “The Spirit of March 8 for Real Change

  1. Three years ago we thought that the stunning performance of the Opposition coalition would usher-in a new era for our country. In the period that has passed it has become clear that there is no credible opposition to speak of.

    The choices are clear:-
    1. Let the current opposition govern as many states as possible so they can cut their teeth.
    2. Allow BN to continue but with the slenderest of majorities.
    3. Keep up the pressure on BN to reform.

    I believe this will give us the all-important stability to move forward.

  2. Reply to Q1. How? See the Selangor state government.
    Khalid is left alone to fight his battle.
    My pals from PKR said Azmin now is lining up new alliances to take over from Khalid. He can see that Anwar is going to jail in a few months.
    He knows that there’s no way PKR leader can be PM. So controlling a state will do.
    And in politics there is no such thing as allowing for slender majorities.
    You will lose all if you allow that to happen.
    And BN is reforming now, albeit slowly.

  3. Pak Abu – Sorry cannot agree with you about slender majorities. A slender lead forces the ruling group to always keep looking over their shoulder and is thus in itself a type of “checks and balance” mechanism.

    In three years, BN has not carried out a single meaningful reform. But then you may be aware of things that I am not so I hope you are right.

    We also urgently need an OMBUDSMAN.

  4. Kee and the writers are a bunch of dreamers. The 2008 momentum has fizzled out. It is business as usual, whichever way you look. This is the peculiarity of our politics. Words are free and action is difficult. Wither Anwar Ibrahim these days?

    Tsunami is a random event. Pakatan Rakyat frittered its chances away because it is not likely that there is a second chance if credibility has been destroyed by sheer folly and poor judgment. –Din Merican

  5. According to some group of people a true democracy is undesirably possible and certainly must make it more improbable. In my opinion the 12th GE result is the best for the pro-change and pro-democracy people could have. I would hope to be wrong.

    The Tenang by-election proves that loud observation and opinion thorough political blogs, twittersphere, and social media could not do much to inspire change towards a true democracy.

  6. Our dearest Dato’ seems to agree with me. PKR has been given the mandate in some states to effect change. But in Selangor for example, Khalid is more concerned with small administrative matters like Khusrin’s appointment.

    Being a luminary ex-MD, he could have used the expertise to build a more dynamic Selangor, befitting its status as Malaysia’s Silicon valley. In politics, it’s all about opportunity. He lost it.

    I am no fan of Keadilan. But I sincerely hope he could have done better than the nauseating Toyol. Looks like he’s gonna be a one-term MB. Maybe he will not be given a parliamentary seat.

  7. Keep up the pressure on BN to reform – Isa Manteqi

    It is like asking the leopard to change its spots.

    Who to keep up the pressure? The only pressure UMNO-BN knows is when it is truly thrown out of office in a GE. Not before.

  8. The Tenang by-election proves that loud observation and opinion through political blogs, twittersphere, and social media could not do much to inspire change towards a true democracy.- Danial Haziq

    The answer to the riddle is simple: The folks in the Malay rural heartland who are THE KINGMAKERS don’t give two shits to twitters, blogs and social media. They get their political nourishment from Utusan Melayu, RTM and the JKKK.

  9. Danial Haziq,

    How do you expect the “heads in the sky” MCLM blokes talking to the rural makciks and pakciks. Talk to them about reform, democracy….?????

    Buang masa saja.

  10. The leopard changing its spots – FRANK, above – is a valid point but the question comes back to “replace BN with whom?”

    A revolutionary approach of throwing out BN might assuage our anger, but will it solve the country’s problems? I do not think so. BN have to be kept on a tight leash until they have carried out the reforms the electorate expect. And allowing them only a slender majority is one way of bringing this about.

    Other steps will be necessary. One that comes to mind is to question the necessity of an Upper House which is nothing more than a rubber stamp. A small but separately elected Council of Guardians that is out of the reach of the government of the day would much better serve the all-important task that an Upper House is meant to do but does not.

    And add an OMBUDSMAN and we shall be better governed.

  11. A revolutionary approach of throwing out BN might assuage our anger, but will it solve the country’s problems? I do not think so.- Isa Manteqi

    That is being speculative and not based on facts. It is an opinion without sufficient factual basis

    PR had never been in the Federal Govt. How could you say that BN will be better than PR?

    I am not saying that PKR will do better.

    At this point, we already have 52 years of UMNO-BN rule. Where has it taken the country down the road. Racial polarisation, making a joke out of parliamentary democracry, race anchors every decision including education, civil service, and social development and the rape of the judiciary.

    A change in govt cannot be any worse than what we have today.

    The seeming calm in the Malay heartland is because UMNO is using its illegal money from kickbacks of mega projects laundered in GLCs and other UMNO-proxy companies to bribe the Malay voters.

    It has been doing for 40 years and that money will run out as the country’s economy cannot be having so many mega projects to fill the coffers of UMNO.

    No, your concern that a change of govt is bad for the country is FEAR MONGERING.

  12. FRANK : Of the 50 odd years of our country, the problems you mention (racial polarisation, making a joke out of parliamentary democracy etc) have surfaced only in the past couple of decades or so which means we did start off on the right track.

    Despite everything that has gone so terribly wrong, we are still a stable country – a very big plus fpr the nation as a whole. This stability must be maintained at all costs.

    And it is not a question of BN being better than PR (I did not say this anyway) but that at the moment PR will better serve as state governments.

    As for your “a change in government cannot be any worse than what we have today” all I can say is that elect PR to Putra Jaya now and we shall soon be wishing for the “bad old days under BN”. How do I know? Revolutions teach us this…

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