It’s 62 years today since Malaysia gained independence from British Rule. Happy Merdeka/Happy Independence Day fellow Malaysians but is it? Yes, we may have self-rule and autonomy over our own present and future but how real is this power at citizen level today?
Let’s face it, independence was gained over 6 decades ago and that’s a lifetime, really, and Malaysia is at crossroads like never before despite a spectacular election win by the opposition in 2018. It was hailed globally as a success for democracy at a time when the Western world was electing racist governments into power. Populism on the rise in the West and Malaysia, a small country in the East, was hailed by the American press as leading the way for true democracy.
What has happened since?
I keep receiving messages from friends and family in Malaysia about their sense of unhappiness at the unravelling of political promises made during the election. The sense of disenchantment is palpable.
It was with a heavy heart that I read this article titled, ‘A Meaningless Merdeka’ in which the author predicts a downward spiral for Malaysia. The esteemed author, Professor Dr Mohd Tajudddin Mod Rasdi, is an academic at the UCSI University who states that he has “no more to give” to the country because of the way it is being riven apart by entrenched hostility to a multi-cultural society. As the Professor sees it, the embrace of multi-culturalism is the path to a stable and prosperous society.
I had, along with millions of others, hoped that 2018 would finally be the turning point. What is striking about the article is the overwhelming feeling of disempowerment felt, both, by the reader (you and I) and of the author.
When it looked as if Malaysia, previously classed as a ‘third world country’ ,would become a new marker for ‘first world’ failing democracies, the Professor, instead, hails Malaysia as a ‘fourth world’ country. He classes this category as being a “go nowhere, be no thing” existence and accuses the country of entrenching itself into “old political mindsets”.
The main societal driver of last year’s election was a hunger for change. The ruling party since 1957 was beset with corruption and people felt that their interests were being trumped at every corner by financial vested interests.
The ‘take back control’ Western mantra was the unsung hymn sheet of Malaysians who voted in big numbers for change. They wanted to take political control back of their lives. Their votes were cast. The citizens spoke. Self-serving politicians had ruled for too long as authoritarians under the guise of being ‘democrats’.
My good friend and fellow blogger, Mariam Mokhtar, has reconceptualised ‘Merdeka’ as a call for a departure from the politics of religion and race.
The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has acknowledged the collective sense of disappointment being felt in the country this year.
The 2018 election galvanised a new voter mindset. One that wanted to join the democratic world it had been deprived off. Despite difficulties, there is endless possibility among people who embrace this. Meaningful political participation is the way forward. Malaysia has a truly multi-cultural society which needs a multi-cultural political force with clout to serve it.
‘Happy Merdeka’ Malaysians.