(Kota Melaka, Monday): There is a great political effervescence among Malaysians who hunger for change, for social equity, greater openness, freedom, justice, accountability, transparency and integrity in public life.
This political effervescence for political change and reform did not begin on Sept. 2 when Anwar Ibrahim was sacked in a most shocking and unprecedented manner as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister by the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, followed by his trial and conviction by media for heinous crimes, his detention under the infamous Internal Security Act with a black-eye with world-wide reverberrations when when he was produced and charged in court ten days later.
In fact, the DAP had been one of the prime movers for such political change and reform in Malaysia in the months and years after the 1995 general elections, to give voice and form to the deep-seated stirrings for change among Malaysians who want their aspirations for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance to be taken seriously by the Government.
This was why a week before the completely unexpected sacking of Anwar as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, I had said at the 12th DAP National Congress that the next general elections may be a watershed in Malaysian politics with the Barisan Nasional government denied of its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time in Malaysian electoral history - regardless of whether general elections are held this year or next year or whether Anwar was still inside the government as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.
The protracted and worst economic crisis in Malaysian history, together with a multitude of other crises including political, judiciary, environmental, information, and the crisis over corruption, cronyism and nepotism (KKN) , have spawned a new political scenario in Malaysia.
It was because of such deep-seated stirrings for political change in the Malaysian public consciousness that the DAP scored the Richter-6 by-election victory in the Teluk Intan parliamentary by-election in May last year and Parti Islam (PAS) scored the Richter-5 by-election victory in the Arau parliamentary by-election in July this year.
If there is a Teluk Intan wind in the next general elections, 27 MCA, Gerakan and MIC parliamentary seats are not safe; and if there is an Arau wind, 23 UMNO parliamentary seats could be at risk - making the prospect of the deprivation of the Barisan National’s traditional parliamentary two-thirds majority very real and near - which is a politically earth-shaking event for Malaysia.
Such a new political scenario could not have been stemmed by Anwar even if he had continued as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, for it was more powerful than individiual personalities.
The unprecedented sacking of Anwar in circumstances which shocked and even jolted Malaysians who are quite apathetic and indifferent to the political stirrings among the Malaysian consciousness have resulted in a political awakening in Malay society which has lent greater depth, breadth and power to the political wind of change in the country.
In a nutshell, it would not be wrong to describe the injustice of the Lim Guan Eng case as the main yeast in the ferment for political change and reform in Malaysia, particularly in the urban areas, before Sept. 2, while after Sept. 2 it was the injustice of the handling of the Anwar Ibrahim case which acted as the catalyst for the unprecedented political awakening in Malay society demanding for political change and reforms.
As part of this national political efferverscene in the past few years, there has been a coming together of like-minded forces in political parties, NGOs and Malaysians on common issues of interest.
Three such coalitions have so far been formed. The first such coalition known as the Council for Justice, Freedom, Democracy and Good Governance was formed in June and was the direct expression of nation-wide shock and outrage at the selective prosecution and victimisation of Opposition Parliamentarian Lim Guan Eng, who is now serving two concurrent 18-month jail sentences in Kajang Prisons for diligently, conscientiously and courageously discharging his duties as Member of Parliament in defending the honour, women’s rights and human rights of a 15-year-old girl from victimisation from the powerful and mighty - placing in jeopardy not only his Parliamentary status but also his professional status as a certified accountant.
The Council for Justice, Freedom, Democracy and Good Governance launched a mass nation-wide signature campaign to appeal to the Yang di Pertuan Agong to pardon Guan Eng so that he would not be disqualified as a Member of Parliament and could continue to serve the nation and people - and in the first ten days of the campaign, collected over 203,000 signatures.
Two other coalitions of people’s power that have since been formed are the Gagasan Demokrasi Rakyat or Coalition for People’s Democracy comprising four political parties and 12 NGOs which issued a Joint Declaration upholding freedom, justice, democracy and human rights and the Majlis Gerakan Keadilan Rakyat Malaysia (GERAK) or the Malaysian People’s Action Council for Justice focussing on the repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA), the immediate release of Anwar Ibrahim and other ISA detainees and an end to the abuses of the instruments of government to suppress human rights and democratic freedoms of Malaysians.
In an era of unprecedented political efferverscence, DAP is prepared to rise above party politics and even to work not only with other opposition parties and NGOs but even with Barisan Nasional component parties or leaders if they are prepared to stand on a common platform of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
Is there any UMNO, MCA, Gerakan or MIC national leader who is prepared to rise above party or ethnic politics as to approach the Lim Guan Eng case for instance solely from the standpoint of justice?
It is to the credit of the three coalitions which have been formed in the past few months that everyone of them went out of their way to take fully into account the racial or religious sensitivities of Malaysia’s plural society and to take positions which can reach out to all Malaysians, regardless of race or religion, on the great issues of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
Malaysians want change but they will use the Malaysian and not the Indonesian way. Malaysians will use the ballot box to demand political change and not the Indonesian-style of street violence. However, the time has come for the expansion of democratic space in Malaysia for the people to peacefully gather and demonstrate their aspirations for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
If the National Front Government continues to resort to high-handed repression and draconian laws, refusing to respond positively to the people’s demand for political change and ensure that there is more democratic space to exercise their democratic right to peaceful assembly to express their legitimate demands, the next general elections is likely to see a sea-change in the political verdict of the people.