As Malaysians head to the polls, perhaps it is a good time to pause and look backward towards the lessons of the 2008 general election, says Christopher Chong.
The 2008 general election was historically significant because the ruling coalition was denied, for the first time in its long rule, a two-third majority in Parliament. More importantly, the last general election demonstrated the meaning of the phrase “rakyat is boss”.
The polls saw voters going to the ballot box with a critical eye towards the performance of the ruling coalition despite its overwhelming advantage of the mainstream media extolling the virtues of Barisan Nasional and the promises of more development projects for electoral support. The days of a lopsided media singing praises and promises of developmental projects are over. The rakyat now wants to appraise the overall performance of the government and not mere promises and perception.
When the results of the 2008 general election were announced with its surprising results, the spectre of May 13 was raised which caused some anxiety in certain quarters. But as the next day dawned, people went about their daily routines and the day passed like any other day. Malaysians demonstrated on that day their political maturity, that the threat to violence would not be tolerated. This maturity was seen again, in the post election period, when a spate of attacks on places of worship saw Malaysians from various faiths coming together to condemn such attacks as un-Malaysian.
The most important development in the years leading up to the present general election is the rise of civil activism among ordinary Malaysians. For example in Bersih 2.0 and 3.0, Malaysians from different walks of life came together, despite threats by authorities that such gatherings were illegal. They braved the water cannons, tear gas and charges from the police to stand up for their right to peacefully gather and demonstrate their demands for electoral reform. Such activism was unheard of prior to 2008 and again showed a political awakening among Malaysians that the will of the rakyat cannot be denied.
As we head towards the polls today, lets us then not forget the lesson of the 2008 general election: that the “rakyat is boss”. In the face of misinformation and the threat of violence, let us remember to keep calm and vote.
Dr Christopher Chong is an Aliran executive committee member. He teaches politics in a private university in KL.