We must never forget that the power to create change is not just with elected representatives or legislators but also with us, the people, says Prema Devaraj.
It’s wonderful to see so many of you at our 41st anniversary celebration.
This is the first Aliran anniversary celebrated in the wake of a new government – something which many of us did not believe would happen in our lifetimes.
But it has – and here we are today, already four months under the new Pakatan Harapan government.
Tonight, as we celebrate Aliran’s journey over decades in working towards justice, freedom and solidarity, we acknowledge the ordinary Malaysians who took a stand and voted for change. We salute the many activists, educators, and politicians who were and who still are part of this struggle for change, not just recently but persevering over years – not just to keep the struggle alive but to grow the momentum for change.
This evening, we have with us three of the four former Aliran presidents [Francis Loh, P Ramakrishnan and Ariffin Omar], signatories from the previous Aliran Trust Fund as well as past and present executive committee members. We also have ordinary members here, some of whom have been members for over 30 years. And let me not forget to mention our office administrator Ms Evelyn Tang, who has worked with all five Aliran presidents.
Can I have all these people – past presidents, past and present ExCo members, previous Aliran Trust Fund signatories and ordinary members – to please stand up.
I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful all of you have been – for believing in a better Malaysia and for persevering and keeping that flame for justice, freedom and solidarity alive for over 40 years, for all of us. Ladies and gentlemen a huge round of applause for them and also for yourselves as Aliran supporters. Thank you all so much.
You know people have always remarked that Aliran members are so very old – well, it’s sort of true… many are retirees now… but can i just point out to all the ageists present that the country is currently being led by someone who is 93. So a round of applause for all the above 60s!
Over the last 40 years, Aliran has evolved – from producing a monthly magazine to going online. Our 30-odd writers continue to contribute their articles voluntarily on our website. aliran.com has a monthly readership averaging over 50,000 different individuals. And during the months leading up to the election, this figure almost tripled.
Later this evening, we will launch our new book Regime Change based on articles written during the recent elections [as well as new material].
Last year we launched our archives (33 years of the soft copies of the Aliran Monthly print magazine) online and since then over a thousand people have accessed this resource, which documents the struggle for rights over the years. Aliran continues to be a source of information and alternative narratives and analyses to mainstream news.
Aliran members especially the executive committe members continue to work on a variety of issues including human rights, sustainable development and good governance. We partner with groups as well as work in a variety of civil society platforms and coalitions including Bersih, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM), and Penang Forum. In the spirit of solidarity we seek to widen these networks.
We continue to be listed on the Roster of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and several groups under Aliran’s accreditation have been able to raise issues at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
On a much smaller scale, our efforts in reaching out to the youth continue – through our writing workshops and movie screenings and when we serve as resource persons in youth-organised forums and events.
When the new government came into power, several Aliran members in various capacities had the opportunity to make representations to the Council of Eminent Persons and the Committee for Institutional Reform and directly to the new government through various platforms including through Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak) and as well as by being part of the recently set up Electoral Reform Committee.
Aliran welcomes the change in government but we are fully aware that the work ahead for reform is immense as are the challenges, including the abilities and the direction of the new government. After decades of poor governance, reform will take time.
The first 100 days of the new government, working as a coalition, was extraordinary in terms of the speed in which things moved, the initial changes initiated as well as the engagement with people. While cleaning up corrupt systems and getting to the bottom of financial scandals is important, let us not forget the importance of the reforming of institutions and the promoting of good governance.
Equally important is the direction the country takes with regard to the development of the nation including the wellbeing of the people. As the new government forges ahead, how will we – Malaysia’s civil society – encourage and support the new government’s reform agenda and ensure an adherence to a people-centred agenda, bearing in mind regional and global forces at play?
What is needed to balance the rights of workers with corporate profits? How do we balance affordable housing with property market profiteering and speculation? How do we use natural resources but conserve and protect our environment, bearing in mind climate change. And what about the land disputes including the land rights of our indigenous people?
How do we get gender equality taken seriously and stop discrimination against women? How do we balance our views on gender diversity in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country? How do we stop the persecution, discrimination and humiliation of those who are deemed different from others? Is the caning of women really the way forward?
How do we develop the country without succumbing completely to highways and mega projects? How do we respect the rights of migrant workers and refugees? What legislative reform is needed to ensure just laws in both civil and Sharia legal systems?
How do we ensure good health for all and not just for those who can afford it? How do we heal a society fractured by years of ethnic and religious politicisation and polarisation? How do we address the glaring wealth gap in the country, between the haves and the have nots?
These and many more are the challenges ahead not just for the Pakatan Harapan government as they try to fulfil their manifesto promises but for all of us. There are no easy solutions. There is much to think about, much discussion to be had and much work to be done.
And in this, each of us has a responsibility to work towards the change we want for Malaysia. We must never forget that the power to create change is not just with elected representatives or legislators but also with us, the people.
As part of civil society in a democracy, we must push to ensure, that the direction the country takes is in accordance with the larger global human rights agenda. There will be times when we will engage and be supportive of efforts of the new government. And there will be times when we will be critical.
In all our involvements, we must remain vigilant and provide checks and balances to the politicians and the government. We must be honest in our appraisals, including of ourselves – sustained and meticulous in our efforts, bearing in mind that accountability and integrity are principles which we must never compromise on. The dignity and rights of all people must be at the forefront of our endeavours.
With that, on behalf of Aliran – once again let me thank you all for making tonight possible. You have all been so very generous in your support.
I also thank our special guests Zunar, Marina, as well as our guest artistes Azyml, Adil and Johan (all of whom travelled from Kuala Lumpur to be with us tonight) and not forgetting the Aliran team including those who also travelled from afar to be with us tonight.
Once again, for your continued support of Aliran’s work for a better Malaysia, I thank you. Enjoy the rest of the evening.
The above address was delivered at Aliran’s 41st anniversary fundraising dinner at Majestic Theatre in Penang on 8 September 2018.