Outside looking in

  • Opinion
  • Sunday, 20 May 2018

Troublemakers: Or so they used to call the brave Malaysians, like the thousands of Bersih protesters, who demanded for change.

I am a socialist.

I am an atheist.

I am both science fiction nerd and stoner hippie.

I have been told I latch on to some of these labels too tightly and rage against the world with them.

What I won’t deny is a sense of alienation that stems not just from fringe beliefs but because I am a half Tamil/half Malayalee fella who doesn’t speak his own languages.

That I was born in Helsinki and not Banting like my father is part of the reason I walk around feeling like somebody displaced.

My outlook means that when other Malaysians tell me about the ghost or an otherworldly presence they just felt, it simply does not resonate.

Nor do I understand healing miracles ascribed to deities who let much suffering go on unchecked.

It’s not that I specifically scoff at an individual’s spiritual journey, but that the answers I have found are not what is commonly acceptable.

For me the scales lifted when I realised that this is the only life we have. I have learnt to politely accept what others profess, even if I don’t feel the same reciprocal degree of tolerance.

As for politics well, socialism is just so unfashionable isn’t it? Who wants a system with high taxes where the government is responsible for your medical and educational needs?

Well I do, but I will admit that it’s hard for Malaysia to transform itself into that sort of society.

For a start you would need a government that you could trust with your tax dollars, and, as it turns out, not many trusted the outgoing regime which bore some hallmarks of unbridled greed.

For me it was always capitalism and the profit motive that was highly questionable, but as with my (non) religious views, I have long learnt that I am in the minority. I tend to shrug and try to blend in.

And yet there was a time just last week when I was at one with most Malaysians. Because on election night I had to step out of the news room on the fifth floor of Menara Star and walk down two floors below. I had to be alone because I realised that with just a quarter of the seats declared, we were on the cusp of a change. And I wept briefly.

Then I came back up to continue clearing and uploading stories of news of our historic election.

Because for all that I am an avid election watcher of polls from Paraguay to Papua New Guinea, my deepest wish was to see an election result here that really reflected the undeniable desire for some change.

Just as a drowning man is said to see his life flash before him, so did the nights of elections past flash before my eyes.

In April 1995, I watched the results stream in. Helplessly in fact, as Barisan won a massive majority against a weak opposition featuring a broken Semangat 46. The smug faces of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim wound me up. And I took two buses into the heart of Gombak (mainly because I missed getting down at Jalan Genting Klang) and signed up to join the left-leaning Parti Rakyat Malaysia.

The irony of what happened this week is not lost on me.

I never regretted joining PRM. To me the heroes of Malaysia’s history are those who struggled with dignity and seemingly in vain. Anyone from Kassim Ahmad to Tan Chee Koon to PP Narayan to Karpal Singh. My personal leader was PRM party president Dr Syed Husin Ali.

In the years since then there has been such a spread of political consciousness. Back in 1995 few of my generation seemed to care about politics.

The road to change hasn’t been smooth. They called Reformasi and Bersih troublemakers. But they gave us the courage to show that we are not alone in a nation where one elite controlled so many aspects of life. I was happy to have been one dot in a sea of thousands of faces.

On days like those, marching alongside thousands of other Malaysians, I didn’t feel so alienated.

If anything I think I regret not coming out for the Hindraf rally!

We are where we are today because of thousands of heroes who stepped up their whole lives to back up words with actions and stood in the front lines. I was not one of them. I slipped into something comfortable. My respect for you folks is immense.

Yet even on the night of the election I was faced with the constant foreboding that another near miss was on the cards.

A Swedish classmate who grew up in Malaysia ranted “Regime change in Malaysia? You gotta be kidding! Its one of the most corrupt and politically manipulated countries in the world. You don’t even realize what money politics does. Your country is not gonna change!”

I got tired of wasting my energy because at heart I didn’t have the belief that it would come in my life time.

So what now? There is hope, and hope is a priceless commodity at my age. It is easy to become bitter and disgruntled.

We live in a society that is far removed from meritocracy. A society in which yes men (and women) rise to the top and demand respect for their ability to ingratiate. It is now deeply ingrained in us.

When someone speaks out of turn we focus on their audacity in ruffling feathers rather than the content of their objection.

And as for the sycophants, how quickly they move to try and serve the new masters.

So there is much to change. And we must not get carried away.

Our new Prime Minister Dr M? I won’t lie to you, he has been the greatest “villain” in the country to me for most of my life. His crimes against the press and the judiciary during his 22 years in power are things I am not going to forget in the euphoria of victory.

But this change could not have come without his leadership and stamina. If he keeps his word and hands over power when the time comes, he will be remembered like an undefeated champion who had the guts to fix his biggest mistake.

Right now, in this era of change, we have to be wary. The new system must be better than the old. I was alarmed when I heard that the anti-fake news system was to be retained. Similarly that the PM intended to double up as education minister. Surely both are violations of campaign promises. We must hold them accountable.

Thank goodness that Dr M seems to have clamped down on the party-hopping frenzy that threatened to emerge. He also expressed his disapproval of the arrest of a man for criticising him on social media. And that should be the way.

Press freedom is truly important in an open society. Ask me what a muzzled media looks like and I can show you the man in the mirror and the faces of most of my friends. This new government must not demand a subservient media, but one which is able to ask the right questions, and hold it up to higher standards. Too much to hope for? I hope not.

There are so many dreams that I don’t know where to begin. ... ICs and government forms that do not “kira bangsa dan agama”. Simple enough. Can it be done? I want to be more than an Indian Christian number.

Maybe it’s too far to look at reforming marijuana laws and enshrining LGBT rights but I say why limit ourselves now that the shackles are off.

To truly improve the standard of public services in this country let’s have a health minister, officials and family that only use government clinics and hospitals, a transport minister that only uses public transport, an education minster whose kids only go to public schools and universities. Then our ministers will really understand the situation on the ground and see what changes need to be made. That would be a people’s government.

Water resources because we swing wildly between floods and dry periods of water shortage.

The EC standardising the size of parliamentary constituencies. For example, minimum 60,000, maximum 80,000 voters. That will allow some flexibility but be more just and prevent the abuse that the previous regime attempted to carry out.

Better still, introduce a few seats based on proportional representation, not first the post. That principle could also be applied to Dewan Negara elections and council elections for a genuinely representative democracy.

The other night I was again alone in a crowd. It was at the rally to welcome Anwar Ibrahim after his release from prison. When his daughter spoke, again I felt the emotions running through me. My generation, the one I didn’t feel so much a part of, is the generasi Reformasi.

Speaking of which, now that the Malaysian electorate is showing more signs than ever of maturity, what changes can be made? There is no doubt this is a time of realignment. I have always believed that our political institutions being based on race, religion and region is highly destabilising in terms of national unity.

Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat has often been a much maligned entity. And right now folks are saying it doesn’t matter which Pakatan party holds what. But I ask you, for the long term, when the dynamics are such that the Malay-Muslim vote is more than 70%, what is the best vehicle for change and progress?

I believe it is a multi-racial party with progressive Malays supported by the other races. Which of the five major Malay parties do you best think fits that bill? The Malay nationalist agendas of Umno and Pribumi or the Islamist agendas of PAS and Amanah? I think that PKR despite its flaws must be encouraged and supported.

Having said that, if Umno and allies can reinvent themselves (particularly as a multi-racial party) then more power to them.

What worked in the past does not necessarily work now, and the future will belong to those bold enough to make changes that the people need.

Remember all my life, I have been told that things will not change, and we need to accept them as they are.

We have seen, most emphatically, once and for all, that that simply is not true.

I, who always feel alone, want to thank Malaysians, for giving me an election that opens the door to possibilities.

For giving me the confidence to tell my children that five generations on, Malaysia is still our home.

Martin Vengadesan is a news editor who hears the words and voice of Martin Luther King ... let freedom ring!

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World , Politics , GE14 , change


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