It is critical that this public sphere is expanded so that there can be debate on alternative ideas and insights about our past, our present, and our future, says Francis Loh.
It has been 32 years since the formation of Aliran! But ‘thirty-two’, you might say, is not a particularly auspicious number. No doubt, many Malaysians, especially those who are enamoured with numerology, will wonder, why celebrate 32 years? For us, however, any additional year of struggle merits celebration, more so this time because it coincides with significant political change.
We refer, of course, to 8 March 2008, when the rakyat courageously decided to deny the Barisan Nasional a two-thirds’ majority in the 11th General Election, and to usher in, instead, untested Pakatan Rakyat governments in five states!
If we struggle continuously, change will come. Appropriately, the theme of this anniversary is just that: The struggle must continue…change will come!
Don’t get us wrong. We are not suggesting that the PR-led governments embody the change that we are struggling for. Rather, we welcome the results of the 2008 election because they facilitate the emergence of a two-party system in Malaysia. This two-party system, when consolidated, will contribute towards the emergence of a New Politics characterised by participatory democracy and social justice, accountability and transparency, and is more multi-ethnic in orientation.
Such a change also means putting an end to the BN’s Old Politics, which is essentially ethnic-based and thrives on ethno-religious bigotry, and is further characterised by money politics, coercive laws and other restrictions.
More than that, we believe that the conflict between Old Politics and New Politics is sharpening. Hence, even as we celebrate the change that has occurred, we need to remind ourselves that the struggle must continue to ensure that real – not merely apparent – change occurs. Put another way, watch out for the BN’s Old Politics, but watch out too that the PR ushers in New Politics, not Old Politics.
When Aliran was formed in Penang on 12 August 1977, we were one of a small number of NGOs which sought to engage with social and political issues. Since then, Aliran has conscientiously promoted the formation of a Malaysian civil society that is imbued with universal values such as justice and freedom, equality for all regardless of gender and ethno-religious differences, community-building instead of individuality, and sustainable development. Aliran has always adopted a non-sectarian spiritual perspective which emphasises the universality of all humankind.
For 32 years, we have challenged the dominant discourses of political, social and economic development orthodoxies and attempted to be a source of alternative analysis. Our critical thinking on new and perennial issues has been presented in talks and forums and carried in the Aliran Monthly (now in its 29th year of publication!).
Recognising the changing nature of our society and in light of the changing political scenario, Aliran conducted a soul-searching exercise in mid-2008 to analyse these new developments and to identify our priorities for the future. These priorities include continuing to publish Aliran Monthly, which many Malaysians still consider needed. This is because of the critical analysis of current developments contained within the magazine which contrasts sharply with the sycophantic reports carried in the mainstream media on the one hand and the criticisms uploaded onto the blogs and new media, often done hastily, and not uncommonly leaning on speculation and sensationalism, on the other.
Greater emphasis will also be given to networking with like-minded NGOs with whom we formed the Penang Forum in 2008. It is hoped that, working together, we might be able to consolidate civil society while expanding an autonomous public sphere. It is critical that this public sphere is expanded so that there can be debate on alternative ideas and insights about out past, our present, and our future.
On this auspicious occasion, we rededicate ourselves to the struggle and invite all Malaysians, especially all present to join us. Change will come!
For your continued faith in Aliran, your support for Aliran Monthly, and our journeying together in this struggle, we thank you.
The above is a longer version of welcome address by Aliran Secretary Prof Francis Loh at Aliran’s celebratory dinner at the Moral Uplifting Hall in Penang on 24 October.
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