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Reformati? ‘SteadyAku47’ Hussein Hamid’s last words should stir us to action

It's not just about Anwar, we need to do our part too


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Days after the Pardons Board decision on Najib was announced, a neighbour sent me a message that reeked of frustration:

Top Members of Suaram, Bersih, LFL, Aliran etc, should form a 3rd Force party for next GE.

Still have 4 years & there must be at least 200+ genuinely good people in the country.

Hours later, on second thoughts, he sent me another message:

Sometimes gotta be careful for what we wish for.

On further thinking, will a 3rd Force genuinely help or worse scenario, split the votes resulting in PAS majority (our worst fear)?

Maybe better if we strongly demand a NEW fresh face action oriented PM, without any baggage or suspect background?

Similarly, there must a few from current/Ex-MPs or a completely new Messiah??

His two messages, in a nutshell, capture the dilemma facing many in Malaysia. The fear of a theocratic state on a supremacist agenda is enough for many to put up with the slow pace of reforms under the Anwar Ibrahim administration.

Over the long Lunar New Year weekend, I chatted with a visiting activist from KL at a lunch party, while munching cashew nuts.

He observed: “The rest of the country is now facing the same political dilemma that the people of Penang have already experienced since 2008.” That was when opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat seized power in Penang (and four other states), ousting Barisan Nasional which had ruled the state for six decades.

Many were reluctant to be too critical of the state government because they couldn’t bear thinking about the return of the BN. So criticism of PH rule in the state was muted despite soaring house prices, haphazard high-density development, massive land reclamation and a developers’ plan masquerading as a ‘transport masterplan’.

The recent reduction in Najib’s sentence has triggered angst among many who thought they had seen the last of him in public life. Unfortunately, it sends the wrong message about our seriousness in ridding the nation of corruption.

Corruption has caused the nation dearly. The federal government’s debt is projected to hit 64% of GDP as at end-2024 or RM1.3 trillion — only 1% short of the 65% statutory debt limit (which itself is higher than the pre-lockdown debt limit of 55%). The soaring debt is not helped by the mega-projects that our politicians seem to obsess over.

Whether or not it is a coincidence, this mountain of debt is almost similar in scale to the accumulated illicit outflows of funds from Malaysia due to crime, corruption and tax evasion. This totalled $370bn in the 10 years between 2002 and 2011 – or RM1.8 trillion!

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Some of the richest people in the Malaysia – like Taib Mahmud and Daim Zainuddin – are not even listed in the Forbes “2023 Malaysia’s 50 Richest” list, perhaps because their wealth is off the charts or more difficult to measure!

Another estimate puts the figure lost to corruption at about RM30bn per year.

Imagine how much money could have been used to uplift the people’s lives through a universal pension scheme and vastly improved public healthcare and education. We wouldn’t even have to raise the sales and service tax rate or crack our heads about subsidies or eliminate pensions for new civil servants.

Instead, politicians squabble about perkara yang remeh-temeh (trivial issues), often harping on the politics of race and religion, while the real issues are neglected. Issues like affordable housing, public healthcare, acessible education, nutritious food for the masses, sustainable mobility and a progressive taxation system.

So has the Reformasi struggle been in vain? Understandably, some people have lost hope. Some cynically even remark “Reformati” (Reforms are dead). Anwar, they say, has let the people down. All hope is lost and it’s time for us to pack up and leave – and make no mistake, many have already emigrated.

But the problem is not just with Anwar. It is also with us. Many of us placed our hopes in a political ‘messiah’ or political party to lead us to the Promised Land, and when that person disappoints, we turn around and look for another saviour. When we don’t see one on the horizon, we figure all hope is lost.

Yes, Anwar was the standard bearer of the Reformasi movement, which was triggered by his ouster from government in 1998. But we forget that the long arc of history did not start in 1998. It began decades earlier – with the struggles of the left in the 1930s and 40s to the trade union movement and Socialist Front in the 1950s and 60s to the emergence of civil society groups in the 1970s and 80s.

This is where we have to situate the Reformasi movement. It was built on the foundation of the work that preceded it. It was another phase in the people’s movement for justice and freedom. For much of this phase, Anwar was the icon of hope for reforms and change – with Dr Mahathir Mohamad and later Najib Razak being the polar opposites, battening down the hatches against the groundswell for change.

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Mahathir himself rode on the Reformasi movement ahead of the 2018 general election, which provided a brief dawn which he cruelly extinguished.

Meanwhile, Anwar has his hands full with this balancing act to keep his “unity government” afloat for a full term. The alternative – a coalition pushing a racial, theocratic agenda – is too awful to contemplate.

It doesn’t help that Anwar has to balance, even accommodate, a host of elite interests against the people’s demands for change – all the while ever-conscious of the lack of support his coalition has from the ethnic majority and even pandering to that majority.

Already, farmers and fisherfolk have lost their farmlands and fishing waters, ostensibly to make way for ‘development’, even when the nation’s food security has reached a vulnerable point. Klang Valley residents worry about more mega-highways adding to congestion in the long run.

In accommodating powerful elite and corporate interests, who knows what concessions and compromises to the reform agenda Anwar has had to make.

This nod to vested interests should not mean Anwar’s administration should get a free pass. Civil society, in particular, needs to keep reminding him of the People’s Agenda, which over 50 groups endorsed.

The five key points:

  1. Uphold the dignity and quality of life of the people
  2. Promote equitable, sustainable development and address the climate crisis
  3. Celebrate diversity and inclusivity
  4. Save democracy and uphold the rule of law
  5. Fight corruption and cronyism

These points are crucial. Ill-conceived mega-projects – big-ticket transport projects, massive land reclamation – are a poor substitute for real improvements in housing, public healthcare and education, food security and a living wage.

If anything, these mega-projects are likely to increase the government’s debt – which ultimately has to be borne by the people – while enriching ‘fortunate’ vested interests. These mega-projects force us to overlook more sustainable and affordable alternatives. Do we really need a multi-billion-ringgit transport infrastructure project now when we should first improve our bus service with first-and-last-mile connectivity?

There is a serious opportunity cost to all this: the money on mega-projects could be used to uplift the people’s live in more meaning ways – affordable housing, better-equipped hospitals and schools, and more reliable water supply.

As voters, perhaps it is time to take another look at the political parties that are doing solid people-centred grassroots work, which are often trampled on when gajah sama gajah berjuang (when ‘elephants’ – in this case, the large mainstream political parties – go toe to toe).

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For those who have lost hope, remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Looking at the fate of Mahathir and Daim Zainuddin, it is clear that power and wealth cannot buy you peace of mind in the long run or the adulation of the people – and that ‘karma’ or God does not forget. Their worst nightmare was Anwar coming to power – even if their supporters may claim it is selective prosecution.

The Reformasi movement under Anwar has taken us this far. Now that he seems hamstrung by the exigencies of power – local and globally – it is left to us to nudge the quest for reforms and justice further down the arc of the moral universe. There are no political saviours other than us.

So, get involved in political and civil society groups, support groups like Bersih, Aliran, Suaram, Penang Forum, the women’s groups, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia, the green groups… Build bridges where you are, not walls. Have a look at other political parties doing serious grassroots work.

Help raise awareness of the genuine reforms we need, using your own social media.

Remember, we are not powerless and together we can snowball into an irresistible force for change. The work for justice and peace has never been more urgent.

I can think of no better way to end than by quoting the irrepressible blogger Hussein Abdul Hamid, also known as ‘SteadyAku47’, who sadly passed away in Kuala Lumpur at dawn today following stroke complications.


In his poignant last post on 6 February, Hamid wrote:

Malaysia is in flux. It is constantly changing and we all want change but are the changes that are now happening around us, the changes we want? You got to work out what you want and what you do not want of the things that are now happening to and in our country today…but just remember this. You and me…we the people…now control our own destiny. NOT THE POLITICIANS…though sometimes, it may seem to be that way.

Anil Netto
Aliran newsletter
15 February 2024

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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