The dilemma of hope

  • Making Progress
  • Tuesday, 13 Aug 2019

If the past couple of weeks are anything to go by, then we have a real reason to worry about the state of our nation.

The khat or Jawi calligraphy issue is threatening to unravel the governing Pakatan Harapan coalition. Ministers and component parties of Harapan have taken polar opposite positions. Harapan veteran, Lim Kit Siang was even heckled by his own voters over this perceived prevarication on the issue.

A road rage that involved men of two different ethnicities and resulted in the death of one of them has spiralled into a racial issue – just get on Twitter and read some of the hateful comments, and you will be aghast.

The much-vaunted announcement on the government takeover of several toll concessionaires has been put on hold because it seems the government cannot afford it.

A DAP Member of Parliament has asked Harapan to rein in the Prime Minister – an unprecedented reprimand even in the era of new Malaysia.

The Menteri Besar of Selangor wants to allow unilateral conversion of minors to Islam in Selangor – a move that flies in the face of a recent Federal Court decision that unequivocally stated that the consent of both parents is needed before a minor can be converted to Islam.

Bersatu Youth has started a petition to outlaw the Chinese educationist group – Dong Zong. Umno, even at the height of their arrogance and power, never propagated such a drastic move.

The power struggle in PKR is also intensifying with rumours that its deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali is looking for a new “political home”.

All of this against a backdrop of worsening economic news. There is a 30% chance that there will be a recession next year.

Exports to China have dropped significantly, wage growth has been anaemic, and businesses are suffering because of cash flow issues due to the Sales and Services Tax (SST). Prices of goods and services have continued to rise, and many people are just "getting by".

The price of commodities, especially palm oil, is low, and the government seems helpless.

Suddenly, the audacity of hope that propelled Harapan to power some 17 months ago has created a dilemma for most Malaysians – a dilemma of hope.

Hope is a good thing. It is a powerful emotion that constant beseeches us to think that our best days have yet to come. It sustains the weak and keeps the powerful in check. It has given rise to the greatest of human achievements.

However, in Malaysia, hope is fast becoming a crisis. Many Malaysians, including those who were on the losing end of the last general election, including me, was of the view that a change of in government can be a good thing.

All things considered – beyond the pain of losing – the idea of the country winning also gave me hope. I felt that after 60 years of one-party rule, a change will usher in a kinder, more compassionate and accepting Malaysia. In this regard, I shared the aspirations of most Malaysians that things will get better.

Furthermore, Harapan politicians had made some pretty good promises on reforms in their manifesto that it was hard for ardent Barisan Nasional supporters like me to ignore. I put aside political differences because, in my loss, I still wanted the nation to win.

Alas, that is not the case.

Politicians have this need to disappoint. Power changes a man. Lincoln once said – to test a man, give him power.

As many Harapan politicians have gone from sleeping in the streets to occupying plush offices in Putrajaya, simple meals have given way to banquets in fancy hotels; public transport has been supplanted by chauffeur driven cars.

A search of the directory of officers on most ministers will see they now have a coterie of special officers, while in the past they relied on volunteers.

So yes – power has changed them, but I don't know if it's for the better. It is for the people to judge. But going by the state of affairs of the country, I doubt we are much better off than we were a year ago.

So what can we do?

I think the answer is simple. We can do a lot.

One aspect of the New Malaysia that I find most empowering as a citizen is the power of social media (albeit responsibly).

This government understand the power of the people well because they harnessed it to overthrow the previous one. As such, they fully understand that it would be foolish to ignore the voices of the masses.

We have to continually militate against any attempt by the government to recant its express promises as contained in the Harapan manifesto. The most important is the institutional reforms and repeal of oppressive laws. This will ensure that there are strong enough checks and balances, so no Prime Minister or government will abuse its power.

Malaysians must also rise above ethnic and religious politics. The opposition, namely Umno and PAS, have found their calling in the fault lines of Malaysian politics – they have chosen to thrive by focusing on race, religion and royalty.

What is even more shocking is that Bersatu and Amanah are aping this approach by trying to reinforce its Malay/Muslim credentials at the expense of the hope and promise of the New Malaysia.

DAP, despite its superior number of seats in Parliament, has chosen to remain silent and meek. Previously, they would excoriate MCA and Gerakan for being "lapdogs" of Umno. In those previous times, despite Umno having almost five or six times more seats than MCA, MIC and Gerakan combined – we managed to rein in Umno on issues such as khat and unilateral conversions.

I think DAP needs to introspect and find its soul.

In the end, it is up to us, everyday Malaysians to do what we can to ensure our country is not torn apart by politicians who only want to remain in power and are willing to do everything it can to see it happen.

Ivanpal Singh Grewal is an advocate and solicitor. He was formerly political secretary to the Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities.

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Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal is an Advocate & Solicitor. He was formerly Political Secretary to the Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities.


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