The time has come when we can look forward to a new Malaysia, where good governance is the order of the day, and real political power lies in the hands of the rakyat affirms Henry Loh.
Aliran held a forum “GE13: The burning issues’ on 8 March 2013, it being the fifth anniversary of the 2008 general election. It was also International Women Day; hence, we felt that it was doubly significant. The Forum was held in Kompleks Masyarakat Penyayang, just next door to the Governor’s Residence.
There were four prominent speakers that evening: P Ramakrishnan, ExCo member and immediate past president of Aliran; Dr Mustafa K Anuar, Aliran honorary secretary; Dr Prema Devaraj. Aliran ExCo member; and Dato Dr Toh Kin Woon, Bersih 2.0 steering committee member and Aliran member). Aliran president Dr Francis Loh was the moderator.
About a week before the Forum, we heard news that Pakatan Rakyat was going to organise a rally at the Penang Esplanade to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Pakatan’s rule in Penang on the same day! We were anxious whether we could attract a large enough crowd to our indoor gathering. Fortunately, about two hundred people turned up for the forum.
Prior to the forum proper, we showed a set of short video clips to the early arrivals. The first clip was one that encouraged Malaysians of voting age to register and exercise their democratic right to vote. The video was bi-partisan in nature and had personalities from both sides of the political divide appearing in it. Among others one could spot, Tengku Razaleigh (Umno) and Nurul Izzah (PKR) . Another clip that was played was a remixed and abridged version of the now famous “Listen! Listen! Listen!” video. Then there was the now famous video of PM Najib at the BN-sponsored Chinese New Year Open House featuring Korean superstar Psy, who was in Penang to perform his sensational ‘Oppan Gangnam Style’.
In good time, the forum began. But not before the moderator invited everyone present to stand and observe a minute of silence as a mark of respect to all who had lost their lives in the skirmishes and fighting that had taken place in Lahad Datu recently. He reminded every one to also remember the families of all those who had died. This done, Francis Loh next introduced the speakers.
First up was Ramakrishnan. Rama who has always been forthright, clear and consistent against corruption and abuse of power maintained that the Barisan Nasional did not have the moral rectitude to rule the country. He highlighted how under project IC in Sabah, thousands of foreigners many of whom had entered Malaysia illegally, were awarded citizenship while many others who had lived and laboured in the country for many years were constantly denied citizenship.
Fed- up with the excesses, cronyism and corruption that had been allowed to fester under Barisan rule, Rama urged all present to throw out the ruling BN federal government at the forthcoming GE13 (refer to his article in this issue).
Prema was the second speaker. She highlighted that women voters in Malaysia constituted 50.2 % or 6.58 million of a 13.1 million strong electorate. She posed a significant and important question: how will women vote?
Prema argued that it was essential that efforts be made to reach out to those women voters who have remained undecided as to whether they should support the ruling coalition or the opposition. Some analysts estimate that up to 30 per cent of total voters, including a large proportion of women voters, remain undecided.
As well, Prema highlighted that leakages, corruption and abuse of state funds by the powers that be have ended up depriving many of much needed assistance and social services. These funds could have been much better utilised for education, health care and public transport. She therefore urged all women voters to use their vote wisely as they have a chance to make a difference (refer to Prema’s article in this issue).
Next up was Mustafa K Anuar, who presented on ‘Reporting Malaysia, Gangnam Style’. Mus argued that just like there are numerous ways to perform the ‘Gangnam-style’ dance, there are many different approaches to journalism in Malaysia. He lamented that the current state of the mainstream media leaves much to be desired. Too often and for far too long the mainstream media have been horsing around with half-truths, rumours and distortions. These media, he stressed, had been “far too economical with the truth”.
Consequently, the Malaysian public especially the internet savvy are beginning to rely more on the alternative social media for news and information. Mus pointed out that although social media has an important role to play, it is not doing enough to highlight issues such as workers’ rights and rural concerns. Hence much needs to be done and Malaysians should push for meaningful reforms in the media world. There needs to be genuine freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of information (refer to his article in this issue).
Finally, Kin Woon addressed the floor. His presentation was in the format of a series of questions which he posed, and then answered. They included: Why is the next GE important? Why is regime change necessary? And what we can do to bring about regime change?
In essence, Kin Woon argued that the next GE provides the best chance ever for this country to usher in a two-party system that would effectively break the hegemony and monopoly of state power, which has for far too long (55 years) been held by Umno/Barisan Nasional. Apart from merely exercising our right to vote, he encouraged all concerned Malaysians to be active in civil society movements such as Bersih 2.0 and others to strengthen Malaysia’s democracy (see his article in this issue).
Each of the four speakers highlighted their care and concern for the future of our beloved Malaysia. The political atmosphere is vibrant and the country’s electorate post-2008 have displayed a sense of political maturity that has given rise to guarded optimism that perhaps the time has come when we can look forward to a new Malaysia, where good governance is the order of the day, and real political power lies in the hands of the rakyat. All in all, it was an evening well spent. We thank all present for coming. Thank you also for your financial contribution, which covered the costs of holding the forum.