Saturday, March 08, 2008

From Oh Wow to What Next: Malaysia's Foremost Question

Look carefully and see the tear gas cannisters lobbed
back at the Federal Reserve Unit.

The opposition has made a landmark and unprecedented victory in the 2008 Malaysian elections. This is a surprise to jaded and politically apathetic citizens like myself, and the pundits and analysts will have a field day deciding how it happened - whether it was the return of Anwar Ibrahim to the political scene, a marginalization of the poor or increased racial tensions. Malaysians over the years have shown that the majority are willing to concede much - equal standing of all Malaysians, and imprisonment without trial - so long as they have a basic minimum of being more or less left alone. Malaysians have a traditionally high level of inertia and don't get inspired easily to make changes. But get them frustrated enough to get off their seats and you never know what can happen. Either that basic minimum has not been met, or the Malaysian people have decided that the bar is finally too low.

The real question for me will be how the next few years unfold. This summer I will be returning home to a state run by a completely different government which I've never experienced in my life. Politicians will move from offices in small converted homes and shoplots to the towering government building in the centre of Georgetown.

Many things can happen. The Democratic Action Party now in control of the state of Penang has a unique opportunity to prove not only that it can run a government fairly and efficiently, but to be the bigger person in treating the new opposition with the kind of fairness that it so rarely received. Eyes will be on areas like Bayan Lepas, won by Umno to see if the DAP government treats them with a fairer hand than the way the federal government has treated opposition-held Kelantan.

If the DAP government is smart, it will take the high ground to and use Penang as a showcase of how a Malaysian Malaysia might look. In doing so, they would gain the ability of increasing their national wins not simply out of a discontent with the Barisan Nasional, but out of real credibility and proven achievements. Getting back at old scores will only destroy any future chances of success... underscoring the idea that all politicians are essentially the same.

It's easy to see how to fix some things, like crazy development ideas that would scar the face of the island, or better treatment of racial minorities. It's also easy to see areas where one can help without having to be anti-incumbent - like the incredibly congested traffic. It's far more complicated to see how things will be for government projects that actually do work - like the Penang State Symphony Orchestra or perhaps Tourism Penang. The challenge truly is starting with distrust and frustration, and transforming that to trust and inspiration. There is cause for hope: the DAP as a whole has had the moral advantage of supporting government motions in Parliament when they make sense, a favour not returned. Now that the DAP takes the role of government, the people will look to see if gaining power has changed that at all.

There was a charge for change.
The change is here.
Now comes the time to see what change really means.

1 comment:

stev said...

interesting pov

lets see how things unfold

ps. welcome back in advance for this summer =)