After Peak-905, another great hill to climb

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Will marginalised communities have a better life under PH? - Photograph: Carol Yong, Kampung Gerachi Jaya, March 2018

If the PH government wants to be different from its predecessor, it will have to offer the people the best hope for change, writes Carol Yong.

The Merdeka celebration on 31 August this year was different from the previous ones experienced by many Malaysians. For the first time since 1957, we witnessed Merdeka Day led by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition government.

Ignited by a renewed sense of pride to Sayangi Malaysiaku or Love My Malaysia (the 2018 Merdeka Day theme), many Malaysians revelled together with their leaders in a flurry of Merdeka activities (Pesta Harapan, LED Run talks, and other events).

Though I was not there at Putrajaya, I got hints of the jubilant mood from media reports as well as messages and pictures shared with me. A friend told me: “We got flag hanging on balcony. First time ever.” Another friend, now a minister, sent to me a picture from the Merdeka venue proudly showing off the Malaysian flag and, in the backdrop, many, many more flags draping the Putrajaya buildings. Another person said this Merdaka was a celebration for welcoming “New Malaysia”.

It was not wishful thinking anymore. After six decades of rule, the Umno-BN government conceded defeat and turned over power to PH after 9 May (905). No one could deny the power behind the historic moment – the voters, ordinary women and men who conquered their fears to bring to a close a gargantuan embarrassment in our national history, kleptocracy (see Khoo Boo Teik,18 April 2018).

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After climbing a great hill, many more are waiting

In my previous article, I wrote about Mandela Day, celebrated on 18 July in honour of Nelson Mandela’s birthday; 2018 being most extraordinary because the success of Pakatan Harapan in the general election has been inscribed in the same year as Mandela’s 100th birthday.

I borrow Mandela’s analogy to describe the momentous political milestone for Malaysia: Malaysia has climbed the first great hill and reached the peak successfully. But we have to realise of course that there are many more hills to climb. The second hill that the new government has to climb is living up to the promises that they articulated in their PH election manifesto.

Several Aliran writers and contributors have already shared their insights and reflections on some of those promised reforms. If anything, it is unrealistic to expect the malaise prevailing in our country for years, especially during Najib’s kleptocratic regime – corruption, cronyism, nepotism and the abuse of power – to be erased within a relatively short period of the PH government assuming power.

Yet, as the government of the day, to build a new Malaysia and usher in a new era of just, fair, democratic, inclusive, equitable and sustainable development in the interests of the people, PH needs to prioritise and seriously tackle a number of key issues.

Who is benefiting from urban development schemes? – Photograph: Carol Yong, Kuala Lumpur, March 2018
After 17 years, the state of a resettlement house – Photograph: Carol Yong, Kampung Gerachi Jaya, March 2018

These include governance, corruption, poverty and livelihoods (including Orang Asal and poor local farmers’ lands rights, against forced displacement due to large ‘development’ projects), and racial-religious polarisation.

Some watchdog organisations focusing on anti-corruption, reform processes, good governance, social justice and human rights are beginning to question the manner some government institutions deal with controversial issues.

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A case in point is the decision to drop the prosecution against Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, then the Penang Chief Minister, for buying a bungalow at a price allegedly below market value.

Another example is the Kelantan state enforcement officers’ demolition of an Orang Asli blockade in Gua Musang, which had been set up to protect their native customary land from massive deforestation.

On this point, we should look at South Africa and Nelson Mandela, again, because there are important issues that Malaysia can learn from. Mandela was already 76 when he took office as the first black President of South Africa.

But he gave his all to serve his country and its people, and his party, the African National Congress (ANC), which formed the government after their victory in the first post-apartheid national election in 1994. Mandela’s leadership was guided by and committed to good governance, democrac, human rights, social justice, inclusivity, integrity and accountability.

After Mandela, it became a problem when career-minded people took over the ANC leadership and started behaving in questionable ways with mismanagement, corruption, nepotism and the like. The post-Mandela presidency, especially the tenure of Jacob Zuma, aroused much public anger over corruption scandals that have tainted him and his government, whch has not lived up to Mandela’s celebrated legacy.

Back to Malaysia: Mahathir is even older, approaching 93 when he made a comeback to lead the country. Yes, Malaysia faces many serious problems that need to be resolved, the most pressing being the need to keep a good record in the new government and new leadership.

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The efforts to build a new Malaysia still face considerable challenges. PH is just starting their long walk in building the foundation to ensure that good governance and transparency is maintained and continued by those taking over the leadership in future years.

If the PH government wants to be different from its predecessor, it will have to offer the people the best hope for change so that they feel secure about the present and future of Malaysia. Perhaps they should climb the next hill on ‘foot’ as ordinary Malaysians do and not be flown by helicopter or chauffeured to the next peak.

Carol Yong is a long-time supporter and friend of Aliran and fellow feminist and activist.

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