IT IS going to be difficult to live down the success that was 2018 for Malaysia.
Where the rest of South-East Asia is experiencing democratic regression – Indonesia with the resurgence of strongman Prabowo Subianto, the Philippines with Rodrigo Duterte continuing his track record of human right abuses, and Myanmar with its Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar - Malaysia proved a beacon with its monumental peaceful transition of power on May 9.
And it was the first ever in the country.
No one can down-vote that accomplishment. It was a big one, something for the history books.
We are now in unchartered territory, and the possibility for Malaysia in 2019 is endless. But that is also the scary part.
Let’s talk about the good first.
As Bernama rightly put, last year was the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s year. The graft busters have come a long way from their 2015 dark days when some of their best and brightest were transferred out, side-stepped or blocked from taking on Malaysia’s biggest leaks.
The charging of Barisan National big wigs and the exposure of truly horrendous, blatant political corruption is something I never thought would be published in any media - let alone mainstream, politically-owned ones – in the country.
That is another bright spot I’m looking forward to.
It’s no secret that the traditional media in Malaysia has had its wings clipped for far too long through political party ownership, advertising revenue from government-linked companies and a set of repressive laws that kept the nation’s fourth estate mute and helpless and far from doing its service for the rakyat.
With the new government promising to repeal the Printing, Presses and Publications Act and with the prospects of new laws being introduced to cap the market share political parties and companies can own in media houses, I think Malaysia will see a journalism renaissance that rivals the ones Indonesia and the Philippines had after they deposed their authoritarian governments in the 90s.
And finally, we can look forward to having our voices heard more in parliament.
Now that we have a two-party system, we can count on Putrajaya to be more receptive to the demands of the people.
Because we have broken that glass ceiling. Where before political action can be done without stakeholder engagement and for the political gain of a few, we have now created a system where we can choose to vote out people we feel have dropped the ball.
The balance of power has shifted to the voters and it will keep Pakatan Harapan on their toes. They know that they can be out of a job if they don’t deliver.
But with such optimism going into the New Year, recent developments at the tail end of 2018 has given all of us cause for concern.
The recent anti-Icerd rally, the terrible racial and religious politicking stemming from the Seafield temple debacle, the mass defection from Umno, the possibility of Bersatu entering Sabah politics and the recent Bersatu AGM where a top leader called for government contracts and positions to be given to party leaders, has raised question of whether we truly are in this so-called “New Malaysia”?
The shine of May 9 has worn off and a little disenfranchisement has settled in. Nothing kills optimism like hearing the government you voted for saying they didn’t expect to win and made promises they knew they couldn’t keep.
Neither is it promising to hear previously eloquent and charismatic leaders making the same outlandish statements and engaging in the same politicking that turned off most Malaysians previously. Never in a million years did I think politician activists would say that the Sedition Act was still needed.
It's also disheartening to know that previous political idealisms may crumble as parties grasp for control over their coalition, even if it means dealing with groups once painted as enemies.
We have lost some momentum. I’m afraid that we might lose more, or worse - totally undo the progress we made last year.
So as we enter 2019, it's good to be optimistic. That’s what got us here in the first place. But as Malaysia grows in the face of authoritarian resurgence in other parts of South-East Asia that had their own democratic breakthroughs decades before us, we need to remind ourselves, this chance is ours to lose.
We’ll just have to see through this year, together. One day at a time.