Not a new Malaysia? Blame ourselves, not just the politicians — Ram Anand

MAY 4 — Almost one year ago, I was at the corridors of Sheraton Petaling Jaya, slumped to the floor along with a dozen other journalists, impatiently refreshing the browser to see if election results were being updated on the hour. 

One floor above me, Pakatan Harapan leaders had assembled in numbers, and a scheduled press conference kept being pushed back. Soon after, journalists decided to abandon their owl posts at the Umno headquarters at Putra World Trade Centre in numbers and instead started coming to brand-new Sheraton. The ground was literally shifting. 

The next three hours was somewhat blurry. I remember standing outside Sheraton, insisting to my office colleague that the unthinkable has indeed happened — we have had a change of government for the first time in 61 years. My colleague remained unconvinced. We both belonged to the same generation — we had started journalism riding high on the newfound optimism of the 2008 elections and everything else that happened in the following decade had left a group of us as borderline cynics. 

I was a cynic too until the eve of the election, going about my job with such indifference that I almost did not feel the euphoria associated with an election campaign. (I covered the 2013 elections, and the mood back then was so much more intense than this). 

It is almost as if no one saw this coming, except for a nonagenarian who never ever gave away his emotions whenever he spoke. He had that same, casual smile hours later when official results enabled him and his team to finally declare themselves victors of the 14th general elections- and he became our new (old) Prime Minister. 

I stood in the lobby outside the press conference room and observed all the former activists and friends I had gotten to know over the years — now members of parliament for a ruling government, and potential cabinet ministers. I congratulated a fair amount of them, and then bumped a friend who asked me, “You still want to leave?”

Even though I was overwhelmed and still in shock, I didn’t feel excitement at that moment. 

“Yes, before my friends turn into enemies,” I said. A journalist will never end up just being a friend to someone who is a member of the government. We will always be, and have to be, an annoying voice of conscience, for the lack of a better description. 

The next day, I was at the national palace for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s swearing in, and wrote a small personal note as to how this new government should never use the previous administration as a yardstick for their own performance. Soon after, I quit journalism entirely, after nine years, two Bersih rallies, multiple tear-gases, and two general elections. I was not even 30 years old at this point — but I was tired. 

One year later, the optimism has waned and has given way to cynicism, and a stream of criticism directed at the government. As expected (and feared), the government picked up the habit of blaming Barisan Nasional for its past failings very early on in its administration, and it has never quite let go of that habit over the following 300-odd days. 

And all of a sudden, Datuk Seri Najib Razak saw the vacuum and transformed himself from the political villain to the victim/new hero in the space of a few months. And the people lapped up this image makeover with such enthusiastic speed it was almost scary. 

All of a sudden, people were adoring and championing the cause of a man who is still facing multiple corruption charges, wantonly shut down media organisations and cost my friends their jobs and livelihood, and under whose administration journalists and activists were chased through the length of the streets and beaten to a pulp. 

All that was forgotten as soon as the new government did not become the hero many expected them to be. I was wrong, the disease of comparing to the past isn’t something isolated to Pakatan alone, it is a collective malaise that we suffer from as Malaysians. 

The government would not stop comparing their report card to BN’s, while the people would not stop comparing how they had more financially beneficial schemes during the BN era. 

This merry-go-round had to led to many people questioning why the term “Malaysia Baharu” was coined in the first place, and has led to people wondering if we will see political stability again in Malaysia. 

I never believed a new Malaysia was born in 2018. It is still the same old Malaysia for me. I once had to go homeless because the racial preference column in room rental listings was not particularly open for a single brown man. Has these racial preferences malaise left our society miraculously after May 9? No. 

Are people being given matriculation seats on merit instead of race? No. Are people being hired for their talents and skill set instead of their race, colour or creed? No. 

Is it up to the government to change all this? Even if they were to try, they can’t effectively implement a change. Because this is our collective malaise. The people we want to blame so badly can probably be found in the mirror, but of course it is easier to target politicians and blame them everything and anything under the sun. 

As much as we like to blame the government for the problems we see around us, we waste no time in putting capes on a former Prime Minister facing graft charges, because our need for hero-worshipping did not diminish overnight on May 9. 

Political stability as we knew it had stopped existing in Malaysia since 2008. The climate has changed, and the consistent criticism and voice of dissent can only be good in advancing our cause as a democracy in practice, not just on paper. 

We can look at Spain or even United Kingdom to understand what is the real definition of political instability to the point of jostling, that is not what we experience in Malaysia. We have a general election every five years on average, just as expected. Instead, we need to stop relating all our issues and problems to the political realm. 

Asking for such stability be “restored” means providing two-thirds majority in Parliament for a particular party, and I need not write down how glorious those days were for those who dared to have a radically different voice or opinion. 

For a collective that loves comparing to the past, we seem equally handicapped by a tunnel vision and an inability to see our own collective history with objectivity. We can’t cherry pick part of our past that suits our argument or narrative and discard all other elements doesn’t suit the story we are weaving. 

Pakatan Harapan can only be measured against its own promises- only then we can claim that there is something remotely “new” about Malaysia post-GE14. We need to truly move on from the past 61 years of conditioning, idolising politicians, expecting handouts, and constant need to play the role of a victim. 

Otherwise, the past year would be nothing but a hollow rebranding exercise — not just for politics, but also for us as individuals and as a society. We are not just the victims, but also the orchestrators.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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