MAY 23 — In just the space of a week, Malaysia has experienced more change than we’ve perhaps seen in years where freedom of expression and the media is concerned.
It feels as though we’re all players in a movie, with a narrative that for most of us seemed more fantasy than reality with more twists and turns than a telenovella.
While it is important that we keep looking and moving forward, it is as Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” It is still wise to think back on what brought us to this point and not forget the things that could have prevented it from happening.
One such thing is that line fed to us that we had to vote for candidates, not for coalitions. That by voting for the right people no matter which side, we could somehow affect change from the “inside.”
I thought about the challenges of institutional reform while, of all things, watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Netflix.
In one episode, Terry Crews’ character Sergeant Terrance Vincent “Terry” Jeffords faced a moral conundrum — report a fellow police officer for harassing him on the basis of him being black or ignore the incident, so as not to affect his chances for a liaison position.
Jeffords chose to report the officer, despite it likely costing him the position. While the argument is that his keeping quiet would give him influence in the long run, his making the report meant there would be be one less bigoted police officer on the force.
We watched for years as the Internet saw more controls, with its culmination being the Fake News law. Yet still we were told that the government could change, if we let the “right” people change it from within.
Then we found out that sometimes the only way to create change in government was to change the government. Wholesale.
All the dire warnings so far have proved false. There has been no chaos. No bloodshed. No sudden declarations of martial law. The transition of power has been so smooth even first-world countries are disbelieving about how we managed it. Especially when compared to neighbours such as Indonesia and Thailand who weren’t as lucky.
You cannot change an institution that resists change, for instance political parties that insist that the top leadership positions shouldn’t be contested freely. Isn’t that the entire point of elections? To prove, without a doubt, who really has the mandate.
External pressures are far more effective at pushing reform and those external pressures need to be constantly applied. In Malaysia’s case, that external pressure should come not just from circumstances (economic and environmental conditions) but from citizens.
It’s going to be a very noisy time for everyone as Malaysians discover that they can actually ask for things and get them; instead of being promised things they didn’t even ask for in the first place. Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way so keep making noise, Malaysians. You’ve earned the right.