Elizabeth Wong and our hope for a new politics in Malaysia

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This struggle for a new Malaysia and a new Malaysian politics is our common struggle, the struggle of the new generation of Malaysians today. One of us among our ranks has been attacked and fallen. We owe it to her as a friend and comrade to support her now, and to remain focused on the pressing need to reform the old order of our authoritarian, racist, communitarian past and its attendant institutions, says Farish A Noor.

As someone who has known Ms Elizabeth Wong, former Adun and Exco member of the Selangor state government, for almost ten years, I am profoundly distressed by the treatment that has been meted out to her by the mainstream and tabloid press over the revelation of photos that have compromised her. There are no words adequate enough to describe my feelings of disgust and anger over how this capable and committed activist-politician has been slandered and abused recently.

The facts surrounding the case are well known by now and one need not dwell upon them here. Suffice to say that one of the brightest, capable and efficient politicians of our land has been discredited via a malicious campaign to tarnish her reputation, that reeks of hypocrisy and conspiracy of the highest order.

What needs to be emphasised in the midst of this media hullabaloo is this: the private lives of politicians are as sacrosanct as the right of any other citizen, and that politicians deserve the same degree of respect as anyone else. This is what we are fighting for; and this is what the elections of March 2008 were all about: our earnest wish to see a new kind of politics in Malaysia, a new politics that would reflect and mirror the new Malaysian society that we live in today.

The ascendancy of Ms Wong and a host of other younger politicians who were elected to office last March signalled – in the clearest terms – the desire for change and reform. Malaysians of all creeds, races and gender have demonstrated that we are sick and tired of the old mode of neo-feudal communitarian politics which has hitherto been propped up by nothing more than an assembly of tired and outdated clichés. We yearn for a new Malaysia that is colour-blind, anti-racist, anti-sexist, democratic, tolerant and plural. We yearn for a new generation of professional politicians who can do their job well in the spirit of accountability and transparency. We yearn, in short, for a new political culture altogether.

Ms. Wong’s election to office demonstrated that a significant section of her constituents had faith in her abilities to translate those ideals into reality and political praxis. They voted her into power because they believed that this was a woman who would stand by the rights of all her constituents; who would further a politics of inclusivity and non-communitarianism, and that she would also foreground the needs and concerns of women as well. The proof of this is evident to all who have followed her career that has now been tragically cut short: as an advocate for gender equality, her presence in the state assembly of Selangor has ensured that the sexist culture that was so prevalent in the past ceased to continue. During the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide tragedy, she was one of the few politicians who was seen present at the ground-level doing relief work while some other politicians merely procrastinated and pontificated while doing nothing.

The unfortunate turn of events that has led to her resignation has therefore robbed us – the Malaysian public – of one of the few capable elected representatives that we could count on; and the loss is that of the Malaysian public’s as much as it is hers.

Today as Malaysia heads into a recession under the febrile leadership of old politicians who remain in a state of denial, we are in need of a younger generation of elected representatives whose political orientation and political culture are different: Elizabeth did not lead, she represented. And she gave a voice to the voiceless who clamoured for attention on her behalf. Her passing out of political life – which I personally hope will be temporary – has been a blow to our common struggle for a better, newer Malaysia. It is my earnest wish that despite the setbacks she has suffered, Elizabeth Wong will continue in the struggle for a better and newer Malaysia in whatever capacity that she can.

This struggle for a new Malaysia and a new Malaysian politics is our common struggle, the struggle of the new generation of Malaysians today. One of us among our ranks has been attacked and fallen. We owe it to her as a friend and comrade to support her now, and to remain focused on the pressing need to reform the old order of our authoritarian, racist, communitarian past and its attendant institutions.

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