On being on the right side of history


  • Business
  • Saturday, 12 May 2018

ON Thursday morning, I received this text message from my brother-in law. It sounded perplexed: “I just woke up and found out I’m pro-government.”

You could say it was a feeling shared by a majority of Malaysians on that morning. The month of May used to be synonymous with a particular date that generally evoked dread. Not any more.

Move over May 13. May 9 will go down in history as the day Malaysians collectively crossed a political Rubicon. Indeed, it may be forever associated with new hope amid a dawning of better tomorrows.

On the morning of May 9, lawyer Tommy Thomas predicted in an essay that the Barisan Nasional government would fall complete with reasons why. Many read it appreciatively but few gave it credence. Which is why this election is so remarkable.

Against all odds, a coalition that had been established for over six decades, got unceremoniously shown the door. It had the machinery, manpower and money and it still got dumped.

And a nation that had never known a two-party system smoothly adjusted to one. OK, there were a few hiccups but the relatively smooth transition may have been the best part because it has set the stage: it has created a precedent and everyone should be put on notice.

Which is another way of saying: you Harapan fellows better do a good job because if we can throw them out, we can, after five years, throw you out too!

But enough of recrimination. You’ve got to admit polling day was nice. When my wife and I reached our station in Petaling Jaya at 9am, the line was already out into the main road. Even that early, it was already hot and sweltering but there was an air of cheer and good fellowship in the air that was simply contagious.

It was amazing to see old people on walkers, some in wheelchairs; Malaysians of all races, all determined to have their say, to cast a vote in favour of their country. And everyone seemed anxious to be on their best behaviour with complete strangers helping each other out.

In the end, it was a triumph for democracy and both of us cried a bit when the results came in. We were overwhelmed, simply proud of being Malaysian.

On Thursday morning, a Western ambassador sent my wife a text message. It read simply: “Malaysians Boleh.”

Quite. Despite all the hoop-la, it wasn’t a Malay tsunami that did it. Rather, it was one gigantic Malaysian wave.

“The old order changeth yielding way to the new,” said the poet Tennyson. “And God fulfills himself in many ways. Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”

All sorts of old orders got junked on Wednesday. Indeed, the humble mobile phone may have been the biggest game-changer of the election.

The citizenry no longer seemed to need television or the newspaper to know what was happening. The country has a mobile penetration rate of over 200% – meaning an average of over two phones per person – which meant everyone was plugged in. And a party could now campaign using short, slick Madison Avenue-style advertisements in WhatsApp messages to millions of voters simultaneously.

And it was all free.

The old ways no longer worked. In politics’ brave new world, the Internet and social media are the instruments of choice.

Some things, however, still remain the same. The voter still wants to meet his/her candidate. And, yes, large crowds at political ceramahs indicate popularity, not curiousity.

I have one, final question though. Does anyone know how to get silver nitrate off a finger? My index finger looks gangrenous.

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