Hopes and heroes: Malaysia in 2018


January 1, 2019

Hopes and heroes: Malaysia in 2018

Opinion  |by Bridget Welsh

Published:  |  Modified:

Hopes and heroes: Malaysia in 2018

Opinion  |by Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | Malaysia’s year of embracing change has been both euphoric and disquieting. After the victory of Pakatan Harapan in May and the rapid formation of a new government, high expectations have been met by hard realities.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s return has brought to the fore many of the problems of his earlier tenure and simultaneously showcased the burdensome financial mismanagement of the Najib Abdul Razak era.

Not only is the new government facing serious domestic political challenges and a growing public perception that it is not delivering, but Mahathir has also returned to power in unfavourable global conditions, of which the uncertainty and slowdown of the world economy are arguably the most serious and foreshadowing a difficult year ahead.

As the year ends, it is fitting to reflect on both positive and negative developments and to recognise that, despite disappointments and persistent divisions, 2018 was indeed a year of hope and heroes.

Citizen empowerment and freedom

Foremost in this list are the ordinary Malaysians. From across the political spectrum, citizens went to the polls and took to the streets to express their aspirations.

Malaysia had a peaceful transition of government and despite real anxieties over increased race-based mobilisation, rallies and protests have largely remained peaceful.

A grave exception to this was the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple riot in late November, which led to the tragic loss of life of firefighter Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim. He was an extraordinary hero; his bravery in service to fellow Malaysians is a reminder of the sacrifices that many on the frontline of safety make for others, irrespective of race, and the need for responsible responses to honour his memory.

In the sadness and outrage over the loss, one cannot ignore the calls for outreach to maintain the richness of Malaysia’s diverse social fabric. In fact, Malaysians have taken on more responsibility and are no longer as afraid to speak out.

This is palpable in everyday conversations, and in both social and mainstream media. Despite the constant political gossiping and obsession with who and why a person is with whom in photos, another important feature of the year has been the welcoming of the widening of political space.

The challenge has been that many of the discussions have been shallow, mono-dimensional and highly personalistic, effectively minimising meaningful debate of the real problems Malaysians are facing. Yet, even within this constant political storytelling, there is greater attention to policy problems, from drug use to unemployment.

It takes time to change patterns of behaviour, but more Malaysians are showing comfort with more political freedom and greater political sophistication in how they process information.

Messaging and macro successes

The Harapan government has encouraged dialogue. It has opened itself for criticism in an unprecedented way compared to BN governments, but at the same time, its public engagement is episodic and reactive. Too many times over the year, it has appeared unprepared and defensive – aka old opposition mode.

The Harapan government faces a challenge of communication, as inconsistencies and conflicts in messages have not reinforced confidence and clarity in its direction of governance. A more effective media strategy and greater collaboration on messaging can go a long way to actualise the hopes all Malaysians have for their country.

While the year ends with intensive discussion of race in the wake of the December Icerd rally (photo) and the Harapan government’s U-turn on promised greater equal representation (at least symbolically in an international agreement), this year has been one in which substantive hopes have been actualised.

Among the most important successes to date of the Harapan government are greater inclusiveness (for youth, women and minorities); a strengthening of the checks and balances (with greater independence for the judiciary; a stronger Parliament, a reduction in powers of the prime minister and freer media); tougher (although uneven) enforcement for corruption to include not only perceived abuses by former elected officials but also that alleged of bureaucrats; increased professionalisation of appointments in the civil service (notably in the Election Commission and the Attorney-General’s Chambers); an extensive forensic internal government review of contracts; spending and institutional arrangements; and a return of pride for Malaysia on the international stage.

These accomplishments in less than eight months should not be underestimated and from a global perspective are indeed heroic. They reinforce the fact that hopes can yield results.

If Malaysia had followed the path of increased debt and mismanagement, the negative effects would be even more far-reaching for future generations.

However, it is important to note that many of these successes are not concrete for ordinary Malaysians, who are increasingly dissatisfied with the government’s performance. Take heed that the critical memes on shoes speak to growing discontent, not just among opposition supporters but even within the Harapan political base.

Plans needed for the economy

Importantly, the economy has slowed in public perceptions.

While shaped by adverse international conditions and heavy inherited financial burdens, the choking of the domestic sector through the ending of the contracts to previously BN-favoured business allies and contraction of pump-priming has been a painful process and contributed to a slowdown.

International investors face unnecessary obstacles and uncertainty in the business climate, exacerbated by conflicted messaging and uneven competencies in different ministries.

Consumers have not seen a meaningful change in the cost of living and economic opportunities and this has split over into a cacophony of complaints.

There is no real sense of what are the plans for the economy and the steps that will move Malaysia towards greater and fairer prosperity. There is an urgent need for perceived achievements.

Cynicism is setting in, especially in how the government-linked-companies (GLCs) are being (mis)managed.

Old faces at the core have not offered new ideas and new arrangements to conform to the new conditions.

Elite-oriented patronage is not a solution for domestic growth and opens up the new government to the temptations of corruption.

The need for meaningful economic reform, outcomes and direction is pressing – as this poses a real threat to Malaysia’s future and democratic opening, post-May 9.

Destructive power struggle

Along with economic woes, the perceived move from cooperation to competition among political elites, most notably between Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim, over national leadership has been destabilising.

PKR’s election – and both pre- and post-wrangling and petty positioning – has not instilled confidence that this party can govern effectively and carry out an election that respects fair processes.

Red-wearing Bersatu’s apparent embrace of tainted leaders from UMNOhas additionally upset an already delicate balance of relationships.

Harapan leaders have not learnt the lesson that conflicts should be kept inside the tent, nor fully appreciate that in this age of social media news (and conspiracies about that news) are the norm. The choice appears to be to position against each other, rather than to position for the people.

The dynamic provides considerable news fodder but does not appear properly functional. Before May, Harapan faced serious reservations about its ability to govern together and to date, these concerns have been heightened rather than dissipated.

The ongoing power struggle(s) are destructive as they have brought to the fore old “divide and rule” tactics and distracted leaders from doing the jobs they were elected to do – to govern.

In the contestation, there is little realisation that all the leaders are getting hurt. Making Mahathir into a “lame duck” undercuts the leader of a current prime minister and spreading rumours (with photos) serves to discredit future leaders – all leading to a spiral of fragmentation and distrust.

In the pattern of old Malaysia, today’s Malaysian leaders seem to be still caught up in taking each other down and too focused on themselves (and positions).

Narrow new opposition

This pattern is evident in the opposition as well. The last six months have witnessed the collapse of UMNO, with criminal charges levied against the former prime minister Najib and his close ally Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (photo), who recently stepped aside from the Umno presidency after being elected in a competitive fight in June.

The largely self-inflicted decimation of UMNO reflects the selfish search for safe landings by its elites and a failure to engage in party reform. In less than a year, UMNOo has essentially passed the baton of national opposition leadership to the Islamic party PAS, which sings a low-pitched song focused on a narrow religious conservative agenda.

Its governance at state levels to date has been lacklustre. Both UMNO and PAS have taken on a more confrontational racialised approach, one in which will essentially mean that they might dominate the national narrative but will not be able to assume the mantle of truly national leadership for Malaysia as a whole.

It is as short-sighted and corrosive as Harapan’s infighting. It has empowered resistance within the system and contributed to a worrying worsening of ethnic relations.

What then of hopes in this context? Are there heroes willing to buck the evolving negative patterns, to return to engage the sweet blossoms and promises of May?

The hard reality is that transitions are not easy, and given decades of decay of institutions, social trust and narrow-taught mindsets, expectations need to be recalibrated.

At the same time, politicians need to be reminded that they were elected to serve the people and the country, not themselves, and more that are expected of them, not least of which is a clear plan from the new government for succession and policy priorities.

If anything, however, 2018 has shown the capacity of elites to learn, regroup and re-engage. The year also has illustrated that breaks with the past are possible and given social pressures for better governance and deliverables from an increasingly sophisticated citizen electorate, the power of ordinary Malaysians – who want and deserve more than they have been given – is real.

Though dented, hope remains alive as the pressures of continued heroism extend into the new year.


BRIDGET WELSH is an associate professor of political science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a senior associate research fellow at the National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a university fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book is the post-election edition of The end of Umno? Essays on Malaysia’s former dominant party. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

And the newsmaker of 2018 is…


December 28, 2018

And the newsmaker of 2018 is…

Image result for The Malaysian People

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/458052

Published:  |  Modified:

 

POLL | Over the past 18 years, Malaysiakini has without fail named a top newsmaker as we bring the curtain down on the year.

A newsmaker is defined as “someone whose actions make news headlines, who effects the course of public discourse and creates an impact in Malaysian politics, for better or worse”.

Malaysiakini has nominated 15 candidates for the Newsmaker of 2018 award.

A total of 3,445 participated in the seven-day poll. They voted by indicating their preference for each of the nominees – 0 being the lowest and 10 the highest.

And here’s their verdict…

https://pages.malaysiakini.com/topnews2018/en/newsmakers.html

Yesterday: Top 10 news of 2018 – Malaysiakini readers’ choice

Previous newsmakers

2017 – Mahathir Mohamad

2016 – MO1

2015 – Mahathir Mohamad

2014 – Passengers and crew of MH370 and MH17

2013 – Rosmah Mansor

2012 – Ambiga Sreenevasan

2011 – Bersih supporters

2010 – Ibrahim Ali

2009 – Teoh Beng Hock

2008 – YOU

2007 – VK Lingam

2006 – Mahathir Mohamad

2005 – Joint award – Rafidah Aziz and Mahathir Mohamad

2004 – S Samy Vellu

2003 – Husam Musa

2002 – Zainuddin Maidin

2001 – Rais Yatim

 

Melayu Baru: How to keep Bersatu from turning into UMNO 2.0


December 28, 2018

Melayu Baru: How to keep Bersatu from turning into UMNO 2.0

By Nathaniel Tan

https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/457927

A truly new Malaysia is only possible with a new Malay – one where the old feudal sycophants are left behind, in favour of towering Malays who the rest of the world respect not because it is demanded, but because it is earned. Where the feudal Malay relied on handouts, quotas, chauvinism and other crutches, the new Malay will rely on diligence, education and mutual respect.–Nat Tan’s BIG IF And Harapan ( Hope)

COMMENT | Today, Bersatu kicks off its first AGM as a ruling party. All eyes are on the party, as it looks to define its heart and soul.

The question many ask is as simple as it is pressing: Will Bersatu turn into UMNO 2.0?

Today’s article will look at some of the main indicators that will help us answer this question – corruption, feudal patronage, and the role of race.

It is easy to accuse Bersatu of having UMNO DNA, since the vast majority of them do have past UMNO associations.

The fact of the matter is, a great number of Harapan politicians have UMNO origins, all the way up to Anwar Ibrahim and Dr. Mahathir Mohamad themselves.

If that alone was a disqualifying clause or cause for cynicism, then we might as well give up before we begin.

As time has shown however, one ex -UMNO individual is not necessarily the same as another.The question of mega-corruption might be the easiest to answer.

We are too close to the 1MDB disaster, and under a Prime Mnister whose allergy towards such massive fraud runs too deep, for us to see a quick return to corruption on that massive scale.

No doubt there will be elements drawn to Bersatu who want a return to those UMNO-style ‘good old days’, but one assumes that the majority of the original membership of Bersatu joined at least in part because they could not stomach the levels of corruption that UMNO saw under its former President Najib Abdul Razak.

The question of grassroots-level corruption, however, may be a little harder to face.

Feudal patronage and warlordism

I have written at length about the politics of feudal patronage, which was the predominant UMNO grassroots model.

Here, the idea was that if you buttered up ( ampu) your local UMNO warlord, he would be responsible for funneling all sorts of government money your way.

If you did your part for the UMNO machine, then you were given a seat on the gravy train; if not, then you were excluded, forced to sit out on the sidelines.

This simple arrangement kept local UMNO warlords secure in power for decades.

It is those same warlords today who are probably most eager to jump ship and join a party that is in power, so that they can get back to their shenanigans.

If Bersatu is genuinely interested in reforms, and seeks a true departure from UMNO’s business as usual, it is probably here that they must make the biggest departure from the old culture of politics.

Under UMNO, the idea of party membership was just another facet of feudal patronage. You joined the party to demonstrate your loyalty, and to ensure the party’s victory in elections, so that the gravy train can chug along.

Bersatu has a chance now to redefine what supporting a political cause means. Instead of focusing solely on membership drives, the time has come to make the idea of membership more meaningful – quality over quantity.

Here, we might even learn from parties like PAS and PSM, whose members have a true sense of shared identity and shared purpose. Their ideological anchor gives them a type of strength that is not as apparent as in parties like PKR or DAP.

Related image

Will Super-Det Seize The Moment?

This is Bersatu’s opportunity to catapult Malay hood into the 21st century – first by ejecting the feudal Malay mindset, and then by launching the Malays of into a future where they are genuinely globally competitive.

Seize the opportunity to banish the culture of handouts, and replace it with a culture of genuine empowerment (pemberdayaan) and independence.

Image result for The new malay

If Bersatu can make the ideological foundation and drive of their party this idea of fostering genuine Malay competitiveness – the elusive goal Mahathir has always obsessed about – rather than UMNOo’s pork barrel approach to politics, then they will have successfully carved themselves a true ideological niche that differentiates them from UMNO.

Race and exclusivity

Last is the thorny question of race.

As argued in my last article, we will not face the UMNO of GE-14 in GE-15, and we no longer need to dance to their racist, divisive tune.

Some may even feel that the one-race-one-party approach of BN actually worked, and want to maintain the formula. I think this will result in electoral disaster.

As a non-Malay myself, I think the balanced approach here is to not feel a need to rush Bersatu into opening up to other races.

That said, what may be important at this point is for a party like Bersatu not to paint itself into a corner.

Whatever its short-term needs are, perhaps Bersatu can achieve some sort of balance by making sure that nothing it does closes the door or burns any bridges regarding what the racial composition of the party might be in the future.

Ultimately, I think global trends suggest that a less racial approach to politics has the best long-term potential.

Also, staying mon-ethnic means that those who want to drive a wedge between PKR and Bersatu will always have a convenient ideological reason to do so.

So, Bersatu can focus on what it needs to for now, but hopefully, we will see them being as open minded about the future as possible.

Melayu Baru for a Malaysia Baru

A truly new Malaysia is only possible with a new Malay – one where the old feudal sycophants are left behind, in favour of towering Malays who the rest of the world respect not because it is demanded, but because it is earned.

Where the feudal Malay relied on handouts, quotas, chauvinism and other crutches, the new Malay will rely on diligence, education and mutual respect.

With some luck, Bersatu will emerge from their AGM with a clearer vision of how to make this happen.

As the party of the Prime Minister, it would also be good if they can map out a strategy in which some sort of sustainable political ecosystem can be encouraged.

This includes finding the right ideological and conceptual formula for what will keep Pakatan Harapan together, and creating the right conditions for an effective opposition to play its role.

The bogeyman of UMNO is nothing like it once was, and we shouldn’t let the fears of the past tie us down. Let us instead take up the courage of the youth, and be mindful that fortune favours the bold – because there is now an entire new Malaysia to define and make our own.


NATHANIEL TAN is winding down for the year, and looking forward to 2019. He has been thinking a lot about a blueprint for a New Malaysia.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

Malaysia: From Harapan ( Hope)-(No Harapan), If UMNO-Centric Politics Only


December 28, 2018

Malaysia: From Harapan ( Hope)- ( No Harapan), If UMNO-Centric Politics  Only

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/457796

Image result for  Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman

INTERVIEW by Geraldine Tong | Bersatu Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said the government needs to focus on the rakyat’s well-being so that Malaysia does not follow the US in swinging to the other side in the next election.

He said this in response to a question on whether Bersatu would consider opening full membership to non-bumiputera.

“The most important thing now is for us to fight for the future of Malaysia and on issues close to the rakyat’s heart such as the cost of living, housing and others and to give them confidence that… we will defend the constitution.

“We do not want to become like the US, where they elected Barack Obama as President and in the next election, the pendulum swung the other way and they got Donald Trump (as their president),” Syed Saddiq said in a press interview at the Youth and Sports Ministry in Putrajaya.

Now that Pakatan Harapan has become the government, it is time for them to think like a government, he added, though he stressed they must still work hard like an opposition.

They still need to go down to the ground, he said, such as visiting food stalls, having dialogue sessions and having townhall sessions like they used to when they were the opposition.

That is why, he said, Bersatu Youth holds programmes every day, as he believes this is the best way to become closer to the rakyat.

“We cannot, now that we are the government, just go to official events, cut ribbons and hold meetings in our own office and call it a day.

“We have to ensure that we are working like the opposition,” Syed Saddiq said.

Integrity and trustworthy

The Youth and Sports Minister stressed that the Harapan government is dedicated to defending and upholding the Federal Constitution.

At the same time, they want to ensure that their leadership has integrity and is trustworthy, he said.

“We need to ensure that our leadership, which always defends the constitution, will not misuse their position and power when given them.

“It is no use for us to shout about defending the Federal Constitution but our hand is behind our backs stealing money (or) shouting ‘long live the Malays’ but our right hand is stealing money from Felda or Tabung Haji.

“I think what the rakyat wants, what the Malays want, is a line-up of Malay leaders who are trustworthy and have integrity, who can move towards Malaysia’s future together,” he said.

Bersatu, he said, needs to live up to these expectations, especially in the wake of the rally to protest the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd).

Though Syed Saddiq dismissed the anti-Icerd rhetoric as a sign that the opposition has no other issues to bring up, he said it is still important for Bersatu to play its role in deflecting such negative perception.

“Bersatu needs to play the essential role in deflecting this negative perception and prove that the new Malaysian government will continue to uphold the Federal Constitution.

“(We need to focus on) core issues.

“Even there are pressures from UMNO and PAS to go to the extreme right, we should not go to the extreme right. We should not go to the extreme left. We must always be in the centre,” he said.

The three-day Bersatu general assembly will kick off tomorrow at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre.

 

 

 

Entering a new year with what ifs– A 2019 Message To PH Leadership. Reject Ketuanan Politics


December 27, 2018

Entering a new year with what ifs– A Message To PH Leadership.Reject Ketuanan Politics

Leadership at its most fundamental is about moving people in the right direction – usually through changing their thinking and actions. It’s about empowering the people to move forward together towards a shared goal of improving the human condition.

In South Africa, it’s known as ubuntu – “the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others,” Mandela said.

An ancient word of the Bantu peoples in South Africa, ubuntu essentially means “’I am what I am because of who we all are”. –Eric Loo

Leadership at its most fundamental is about moving people in the right direction – usually through changing their thinking and actions. It’s about empowering the people to move forward together towards a shared goal of improving the human condition.

In South Africa, it’s known as ubuntu – “the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others,” Mandela said.

An ancient word of the Bantu peoples in South Africa, ubuntu essentially means “’I am what I am because of who we all are”.

Ubuntu manifests itself in our individual actions, in our family, in society, and on a larger scale in our politics. When we work together in the ubuntu spirit to oil the squeaky wheels of reforms and keep it turning, it will eventually lead to a transformation of cultures and mindsets.–Eric Loo

COMMENT | Madiba’s Way – Lessons on Life is worth a repeat reading. The book describes how former South African president Nelson Mandela, as a young boy, used to herd the village cattle with his friends in the afternoon.

“You know, when you want to get the cattle to move in a certain direction, you stand at the back with a stick,” he said.

“And then you get a few of the cleverer cattle to go to the front and move in the direction that you want them to go.

“The rest of the cattle follow the few more energetic cattle in the front, but you are really guiding them from the back. That is how a leader should do his work.”

As we start the New Year with a new government grappling with the old issues of communal politics and party factionalism, let us reflect on Mandela’s pragmatic leadership in apartheid South Africa, why the answer to complex questions is not always either-or but often the inclusive both, and the ideals that a leader is prepared to die for.

Leadership at its most fundamental is about moving people in the right direction – usually through changing their thinking and actions. It’s about empowering the people to move forward together towards a shared goal of improving the human condition.

In South Africa, it’s known as ubuntu – “the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others,” Mandela said.

An ancient word of the Bantu peoples in South Africa, ubuntu essentially means “’I am what I am because of who we all are”.

Ubuntu manifests itself in our individual actions, in our family, in society, and on a larger scale in our politics. When we work together in the ubuntu spirit to oil the squeaky wheels of reforms and keep it turning, it will eventually lead to a transformation of cultures and mindsets.

Here, I’m reminded of the Group of 25, a congregation of Malay public intellectuals who came out to strongly reject Islamic extremism and “supremacist NGOs” that “have led to the deterioration of race relations, eroded citizens’ sense of safety and protection under the rule of law and undermined stability”.

But since its formation in December 2014, not much else is known about the G25 or how the progressive Malay intelligentsia could have significantly influenced the tone and contents of the national conversation. Which leads me to wonder about the what ifs as we enter the New Year.

What if the G25 had sustained its intellectual momentum and prompted the emergence of other progressive bumiputera think tanks?

Would it have fostered a gradual transformation of mindsets and rethinking of ketuanan politics among the Malays?

Would we see less factional politics in the Harapan cabinet and more concerted efforts in meeting its election promises of fundamental reforms?

What if Mahathir were to step aside over the next year or so and guide a younger leader ‘from the back’ the Mandela way? Would the leadership transfer see us move forward to a Malaysia Baru, away from the old politics of special rights and privileges? Maybe not.

What if the stranglehold of Ketuanan politics on the Malay mindset were to regress Pakatan Harapan to the vision and values, policies and propaganda, character and convictions of the old UMNO-led BN?

The situation is certainly fluid. As we enter another year of political uncertainties and factionalism, let not the cliched messages by our leaders be mere rhetoric.

Let us ensure that their pedestrian words of hope are matched by their audacious deeds over the next four years or so.

Here, I’m reminded of the “audacity of hope” that President Barack Obama invoked often in his speeches.

Writing in The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (2006, page 63), he said: “Sometimes we need both cultural transformation and government action – a change in values and a change in policy – to promote the kind of society we want … I believe in the power of culture to determine both individual success and social cohesion … we ignore cultural factors at our peril.”

May the 20-something age voters with their ideals, particularly from the Malay heartland, foster a new progressive language that can shift the bumiputera-or-non-bumiputera mentality to an inclusive mindset, akin Malaysian ubuntu that channel our energy into overcoming impossibilities and fulfilling potentials rather than continuing to harp on special privileges and rights to move ahead.

As we enter the New Year, may the polity awaken the ubuntu spirit here to replenish our hope for improved living conditions, equitable opportunities for all, and institutional reforms under Pakatan Harapan, which the rakyat gave the mandate to govern for the next four years or so, but which they can easily take back at the GE-15 if the new government morphs into another UMNO-BN outfit.


ERIC LOO is a senior fellow (journalism) at the School of the Arts, English & Media, Faculty of Law Humanities & Arts, University of Wollongong. He is also the founding editor of Asia Pacific Media Educator.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

 

 

 

 

As 2018 comes to an end


December 23, 2018

As 2018 comes to an end

 

QUESTION TIME | While 2018 draws to a close, bringing with it a time for reflection, some serious questions are being asked as to the state of the country and what it means when Malaysia’s oldest party, UMNO, faces collapse from within as elected representatives desert it in droves for what they think are greener pastures.This will cause problems in Pakatan Harapan, for it threatens to significantly alter the delicate power balance within the coalition, which may see a sudden burgeoning of power for Bersatu with all its attendant implications. And then there are the power shifts within PKR itself. All of these spell uncertainty ahead.

But even so, things are much better right now than a year ago, despite the many problems that need to be resolved. If the challenge of removing BN after 61 years has been successfully overcome, surely the ones facing the nation right now can be more easily settled.

One year ago, the nation was already in the throes of election fever. There was desperation, despair, denial, and fear on both sides – fear that they might lose the elections with all implications for both sides. And the rakyat worried like never before about whether the unbridled kleptocracy would end or not.

In the end, they took the right and brave decision to throw out a corrupt and thieving government, paving the way for a former prime minister of 22 years to return to the helm for the interim and de facto Harapan leader Anwar Ibrahim to take over the reins later.

That unprecedented overthrow of UMNO-BN was, without doubt, the highlight of the year with all the drama of a 92-year-old waiting at the palace to be installed as the next prime minister as agreed by the Harapan coalition.

Along with that drama, there was another one unfolding which saw Anwar finally getting an unconditional pardon and released from jail. There was much jubilation and elation at Harapan’s victory, and everyone admired Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s energy and persistence throughout the process, something remarkable for a man his age.

Inevitable problems

But the inevitable problems began to surface. First, it was the cabinet composition and then the formation of the Jedi-like so-called Council of Eminent Persons headed by the controversial Daim Zainuddin (photo).

It was clear that this council, with a declared lifetime of 100 days was more powerful than the cabinet itself and was making many decisions which should rightly have been decided at the ministerial level.

Daim’s reports to Mahathir still remain confidential, with the public in the dark about the measures recommended by the council. Despite the council no longer sitting, Daim still continues to exert considerable influence in government, leading to discomfort among some members of Harapan.

After subsiding for a while, the problem of “frogging” – leaping from one party to another – has resurfaced with a vengeance with some 17 UMNO MPs having resigned and a handful joining component Harapan parties, mostly Bersatu.

There is considerable discord over this party hopping, with PKR and DAP clearly against it while Bersatu is as clearly for it because of the small number of MPs it has and the potential for such moves to increase its numbers and influence. Bersatu has even set up a vetting process to consider who should be admitted.

Far-reaching consequences

This is going to be a serious problem for Harapan going forward, because it has the potential to cause far-reaching changes within the ruling coalition which will alter its balance of power and may even set off a race among coalition members, except DAP, to get some of the defectors into their fold.

As much as there is uncertainty now over what will happen to Harapan and the reforms and changes it promised, it is still far better than the situation a year ago, with ominous consequences for the country if BN-UMNO was yet again re-elected.

In the end, faith prevailed and collectively we turned away from the abyss that faced us by voting out an allegedly kleptocratic government and averted near-certain disaster.

Subsequent events have shown that we were right about the magnitude of the problems facing the country, and that steps are necessary to ensure we, as a nation, don’t face a similar problem in future.

If everybody involved in the reform movement remembers the past and how near we were to a colossal breakdown of epic proportions in government due to extensive and ingrained corruption, outright pilferage of borrowed money, and the constant raising of race and religion as issues to mask deficiencies, then they will realise the need for reform to stop corruption and theft.

That would mean not allowing into government anyone who is even remotely connected with the previous government’s unprecedented kleptocracy, no matter how small the role they played in that. That means no hopping MPs.

And that means standing up for these reforms and facing up to those who now want to forget them. Only that will ensure a better Malaysia going forward, even if there is some initial cost to this vital long-term benefit that we need in order to sustain this country of ours as a viable nation.


P . GUNASEGARAM wishes all Malaysiakini readers and subscribers a merry Christmas and happy new year. His column will resume next year. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.