The Malaysian agenda must be in the forefront of all who are now in power, writes K Haridas.
There are many expressions about the role that Mahathir played to win the 2018 general election.
Yes, it is true that he played a part but not an exclusive one. He came towards the latter part of the struggle, and while we acknowledge his role, we must never leave out the role played by many others who for years have been challenging the establishment and creating an alternative to Barisan Nasional (BN). This cannot be a struggle seen in the context of just one general election.
BN lost the popular vote in the 2013 general election, but never reflected nor learned any lessons. The BN leaders’ arrogance, blindness and political skulduggery were astonishing. Cash was king and with gerrymandering and constituency boundary changes in their favour, they felt they could carry on as usual.
Roll of honour
Perhaps the one person who contributed most to the victory of the opposition was none other than Najib Razak, with all his excesses.
The entire opposition played a significant role, and leaders within Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP) must be credited for their persistence, perseverance and vigour at taking on issues that Najib left on the plate. They fought in Parliament, had issues in court and turned to the people.
We must also not forget the relentless work of Rafizi Ramli of PKR and his Invoke team. I can appreciate their feelings when undue importance is given to Mahathir’s contribution. Invoke was on the ground for several months doing the needed leg work, raising money and educating the public. Rafizi put down a sizeable amount of his own cash, used crowdfunding and led a team on the ground. So let us be wise when we take issue with him. It is easy to comment without having displayed that level of commitment.
Although we respect Mahathir and his leadership, the fact is Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) only managed to secure 12 out of the 52 parliamentary seats and 22 out of the 102 state seats that it contested. If Mahathir was such an icon, then Bersatu should have done better.
Further, Bersatu is only open to Bumiputeras. There is no future for such exclusive parties and it is amazing that Mahathir leads such a party and Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, with all his intelligence, succumbs to it. They are just Umno 2.0. So Mahathir and his colleagues themselves need a change in mindset.
We must also thank unsung heroes like Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Ahmad Maslan, Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, Abdul Rahman Dhalan and Salleh Said Keruak. Their remarks and the ‘intelligence’ they exhibited over several years made many lose confidence in BN. They were just mere echoes for Najib and were ready to even spin on his behalf. They should each be awarded the erstwhile ‘broom award’ that a former Selangor government used to present.
Destiny has its way of working into the issues of the day. The fact that Bersatu was deregistered led to the idea of the opposition standing under one logo. The willingness of the DAP to forgo its rocket emblem and for Bersatu to stand under the PKR logo for the larger good was strategic.
The timing was also significant in that Najib waited and procrastinated till the very end to call the general election. This allowed time for Mahathir to come in and provide some leadership.
Najib’s leadership qualities were tested over the last nine years, and many times, he failed badly in holding the nation together in one direction. His divide-and-rule approach – playing the Islamic card when it benefited him – and his shameful use of money all caught up with him in the end. Amazingly, he lost the Umno bastions of Johore, Kedah, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Malacca. To deny that there was a tsunami is to be unreal.
Although there were excellent examples of affirmative leadership among opposition ranks and a cause that grew over the years culminating with the 1MDB exploits, this general election was Najib’s to lose. In fact, many had speculated he would win including journalists like Manjit Bhatia, even Bloomberg and other international media.
Yet, the people who had worked relentlessly held on and the momentum just broke through. East Malaysians responded by breaking BN’s fixed deposits and voting for opposition parties. They could no more be taken for granted. In the end, it was a Malaysian victory, and credit must eventually go to the Malaysian voters.
Mind your power
Now that we have achieved what many felt was impossible, it is important to focus on what lies ahead. Power has the uncanny ability to divide and splinter when the focus is lost. It is therefore crucial for those in power to ensure, that in the first two years of their rule, key pledges in their manifesto are fulfilled.
Power also distorts character because suddenly a lot of adoration, new friends, and temptations of many kinds invade the minds and lives of those in power. All the trappings of power require a newfound sense of humility, grace and capacity to manage one’s self. Otherwise, arrogance and pride soon take over, and the ego will ensure that issues that were not of concern previously become matters that one is now sensitive about.
Imagine what this does to Najib and his whole legacy. For a man who has been in power in one way or another for over four decades, the rot did set set in: the sense of invincibility, the aura that he was God’s chosen person for this job, the mindset that cash is king and that everyone has a price.
This worked before; so why not again, he must have thought. He suffered a total loss of reality because all his sidekicks and people around him just sang the same song, and soon many were out of touch with reality. Nearly everyone can stand adversity but if you want to test a person’s character give him or her power, said Abraham Lincoln
Money, power, women and the fast lane provide the track, and soon those in power tend to become numb to the realities around them. It is only when leaders have lost power that sobriety returns.
That is why a term limit of 10 years is much needed; otherwise, leaders would become susceptible to the ways power can corrupt and rust their character. The Putins and Xi’s of life can extend the period of their terms in office – but they will soon realise that more power and autocratic rule is needed to sustain themselves in their positions.
Watch the race, religion card
Those who have lost power will now do their utmost to divide the group in power, and it is important therefore to ensure that those now in power will not become victims of such attempts.
Then, there will be those who will also attempt to infiltrate and divide. Those in power will have to learn how to both lead and deliver as a team. This calls for much patience and understanding. They must, even among themselves, speak truth to power in respectful ways.
We must be aware, in the Malaysian context, of the ethnic fissures and the religious card that can be used to exploit differences. The Malaysian agenda must be in the forefront of all who are now in power. We placed them there to make a difference in all our lives and to nurture a sense of belonging to this nation.
Leadership requires action and stern warnings. The first should go to Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, who has indicated that race and religion are under threat. This is Umno playing its old game. We should ensure that such expressions are not welcome in the new Malaysia. As Malaysians we are here to ensure and protect all interests. He should be asked to explain in specific terms how his race and religion are now under threat and be taken to task.
This is what being a Malaysian represents. It is time we sent the Tajuddins of life for re-education programmes. Perhaps we will need a new National Civics Bureau (BTN) for this purpose!
The government should take a stand; otherwise, we will soon have all sorts of interest groups fanning issues of race and religion. The present leadership needs to send a clear signal that such expressions are not welcome today. Is it not fair to expect this sort of leadership from PH?
Towards an inclusive Malaysia
Malaysian voted for an inclusive Malaysia. The days of Umno, the Malaysian Indian Congress, the Malaysian Chinese Association and other ethnic parties that used divide-and-rule to remain in power over the last few decades are over. They have to move on to the new turf if they are to remain relevant.
Hopefully, BN will become a party of consequence with all the earlier coalition members accepting their irrelevance and merging into one opposition reality that champions the Malaysian cause. It is only in this context that they will have a future.
New blood will have to come into BN. This is the opportunity for young and committed Malaysians who have politics in mind to go in and reshape the cause, idealism and direction that BN so desperately needs.
It is only when we do our best by the whole that we are also just by everyone. Such is the nature of inclusive politics.