AS I am writing this, I am getting ready to go to Bernama TV for some programme or other. I’ve been told that we will be discussing issues such as human rights and judicial independence.
I’ve also been on government-run radio stations to talk about the lowering of the voting age and on several private broadcasters to discuss a variety of issues.
I am not listing all these things to show off. But it is just that for all our grouses and complaints, this kind of exposure to the media would have been impossible under the old regime.
The laws that can be used against the media are still in place, and therefore, until this changes, there will always be the danger of them being used.
But the point is, at this moment, they are not, and there is a palpable sense of having the freedom to express oneself.
It is very key that those who are hoping for a Malaysia that is democratic, inclusive, plural and progressive, make full use of this freedom. There has to be a concerted effort at putting forward progressive views in a manner that is understandable and clear.
It is so important because at the moment, the opposition is working on a very dangerous platform indeed.
Left in the lurch by the electorate, Umno is now desperately seeking relevance. And they are doing this by falling back into their comfort zone, which is to make everything about race and religion.
It is their right, of course, to do so, but there has to be a counter-narrative. I think Umno has given up on any idea of getting a broad mandate and support from Malaysians of all creeds, ethnicity and faiths.
Their recent activities point to them focusing on the Malay demographic and raising hot-button issues that they believe will get Malay people on their side.
The increasing flirtations with PAS is also ominous because there is the constant nagging concern that these two will try to form a super-Malay coalition. Let’s not forget that in the last general election, PAS and Umno received an estimated 70% of the Malay votes.
If these two were to become political partners, then politics in this country will not be about policies and ideas and instead be divided on that crudest of divisions – race and (seeming) religiosity. This is not healthy for the country.
What then can be done? I am quite certain that at the end of the day, most Malaysians, regardless of ethnicity, are concerned mainly with bread-and-butter issues. It is vital therefore that the government counteracts its opponents by making all our lives better in a practical and meaningful manner.
In the meantime, there also has to be a constant countering of the kinds of racist and supremacist talk being spouted by those desperate enough to do anything to reclaim power. We have greater freedom of speech now, so let us not allow the bigoted to drive the agenda and instead make sure that a different narrative can be heard.
There are those who will never back down from their stance, but there are many who have only heard one view. Now is the time to provide an alternative to as wide an audience as possible.
Azmi Sharom (email@example.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
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