Now we must exercise constant vigilance and protect our hard-won democracy, writes K Haridas.
Once, through a moment of history, we get an opportunity to commit ourselves to an ongoing cause bigger than ourselves and to do it together with others.
For me this started with the Reformasi movement and has continued to this day. There were disappointments but today persistence and a commitment to make a difference has provided the tipping point.
This is a cause that attracted the hearts and minds of many Malaysians, some of whom have suffered the indignity that the Barisan Nasional (BN) has inflicted on us and other fellow Malaysians who have felt trampled upon in obtaining educational and other opportunities.
Many of us realised that the country was increasingly in the hands of a group who were sustained in power both because of the weakness of others and their own desire to hold on to power.
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There are many lessons for us Malaysians to look back on and learn so that we look to the future realising that democracy requires constant vigilance. How do we sustain this sense of vigilance and ensure that we hold our MPs accountable and answerable? We had reached a point where the only thing left was to take control of our future through the ballot box.
The critical mass increased, and as more and more citizens read and understood, acted and committed themselves, a momentum was unleashed that contributed to the tipping point. Interesting factors like the role of Dr Mahathir and the use of a single common symbol were all welcomed despite some reservations.
Malaysians can today be proud that we were able to initiate change through the ballot box and that we rose to become Malaysians in the true sense of the word. This was unity in diversity.
Many remained cynical till election day. We had the international media like Bloomberg, foreign experts like Manjit Bhatia and local analysts who were confident that BN would win.
Yes, these challenged us but we held on despite the circumstances. Some of us decided that we would continue because it was right even if this was not perceived as achievable. Soon, encouragement blossomed as more and more spoke the language of change.
Cynicism is easy, and the more educated and analytical you are, the more you are susceptible to rational arguments when all is stacked against you and the incumbent in power always has the upper hand.
What did many Malaysians do under these circumstances? They kept their eye on the horizon and continued to be motivated by what was right for the nation as a whole. This was a chance, and to do otherwise would have been depressing.
We joined together with other Malaysians of all ethnic backgrounds and diversity committed to the fact that such large-scale corruption and misuse of power could not be accepted nor condoned. We need to regain our institutions and the checks and balances that are critical for any thriving democracy.
We needed to make this work for, apart from corruption, we also felt the wedge of religious and ethnic discrimination. Being called ‘pendatang’ and ‘kafirs’, confronted with the unsheathing of the ‘keris’, and being insulted time and time again has hurt the dignity of many Malaysians.
If there is a key lesson for all, it is that the democratic spirit calls for vigilance and response. We have to move away from mere tolerance to understanding and to stand up and make known that there are boundaries that we will not allow anyone to cross. The dignity of every Malaysian has to be our cause.
Whether it is politicians, religious leaders or those from NGOs, everyone will have to understand that vigilance is essential to democracy. In this way, we will inform and educate others regarding our sensitivities and be equally appreciative of their sensitivities.
We need justice and a level playing field when it comes to the provision of services and benefits. Whether it is on television or in committees, we must ensure as much as possible that the diversity of Malaysia is represented. Equal access for minorities has to be considered and implemented.
Having achieved what we have done through this general election, when so much was stacked against us, we have an opportunity that we must capitalise on to ensure that there is a more level playing field in elections, including constituency boundary changes so that there is an agreed parity between urban and rural constituencies.
A report card can be prepared, and our expectations from our MPs must be spelled out in very clear and specific terms. I hope to do this for my MP and communicate with him/her to ensure that key performance areas are clearly understood. Local needs as well as national aspirations will be part of this report card. This report will be circulated to the public at large.
We must act as a cabinet of conscience in our various constituencies and not just meet our MPs or state assembly members only when an election nears. This is the call of the hour if we are going to be vigilant and protect the democratic spirit. Those states where the opposition is small will need special attention.
The momentum grew as many groups like G25, Patriot, Aliran, and many notable NGOs ranging from C4 to Hakam, Tenaganita and Suaram all led initiatives towards a common goal and enlisted people to vote for the cause of change.
One must mention Suhakam, which – despite the way the previous government treated it – spoke out clearly. This is one institution that has to be strengthened for the sake of all Malaysians.
While there were corporate leaders who sold their souls at the last moment like Tony Fernandes of Air Asia and Stanley Thai of Supermax, they only highlighted the nexus between business and politics. The Business Ethics Institute of Malaysia (BEIM) is saddened by their statements as this only shows the negative aspects of doing business in Malaysia.
BEIM joined the many NGOs to take a clear stand on accountability, transparency and the need for good governance. Businesses must take a stand to clear the negative image of doing business in Malaysia. When values and ethics are not practised, then we are all in trouble. Similarly, where businesses thrive in a corrupt culture, they soon become partners in crime.
Without common values and a commitment to global ethics, democracy will be in danger. We must bring to account those who promote dishonourable conduct through rent-seeking, corruption, extortion and nepotism. We have this chance and let us hold both the government of the day and the opposition to the task to ensure that the best is achieved for all Malaysians.
Many of us can now look back and say that we did our best to make a difference. This is no mean achievement. Malaysians, ‘Malaysia Boleh’ can cut both ways! One is left with a deep sense of gratitude to one and all and to God for this amazing opportunity.