I told this to my friends many times over the years: real and fundamental reforms cannot happen in this country because Malaysians in general do not have the will to make it happen. There has never been a real people’s movement in this country since independence. If the citizens of this country do not have the will to WANT to make fundamental reforms, how can it ever happen?
We like to make the mistake of thinking that a mere mass assembly of people is a people’s movement. One example is the “Semarak Rakyat” during the Mahathir era which swept the country during the so called constitutional crisis. True, that was the first of such ‘movement’ since independence where we have the Prime Minister addressing crowds of people at open assemblies. This was however completely politically orchestrated by strong political parties. Much of the attendance at these assemblies was orchestrated too. It was also meant to address only one issue – political power versus royal power. So in this sense, it cannot be considered as a “people’s movement” though it was politically very clever of the political masters of that time.
The second often quoted so-called movement was the “reformasi movement” since the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim from UMNO. True again, it was also the first time since independence that many Malays took to the streets to protest against the Government. I will say that it did have an impact on Malay political activity in the sense that for the first time, Malays were willing to go against their Malay political leaders. I consider those “street demonstrations” a new phenomenon in Malay political activity post independence. It has also left an indelible shock wave through the UMNO party which I believe UMNO has yet to fully recover to date. The impact of the “Anwar sacking” and his subsequent charge on the first sodomy case appeared to have affected UMNO’s balance in a way that Semangat 46 could not. Even PAS and UMNO as two independent Malay political parties did not bring about such a drastic impact on the Malay’s perspective of political activity and perception.
Maybe, these events lead to Malay political maturity about race-based politics and its effectiveness because these events, rightly or wrongly, brought about the perception that there is no guarantee that your own race will not suppress you if politically necessary. Obviously, those on the side of Anwar Ibrahim, being former UMNO members felt betrayed by their own UMNO members. PKR, which was born directly out of Anwar’s episode had to be pragmatically multi-racial because it did not receive or was not able to garner the overt support many of the UMNO and PAS members. I think politics would have been totally different today for PKR had PKR been largely Malay or had succeeded in wooing members from PAS and UMNO in large droves. However, the main objective of PKR, as perceived, in the early days was to secure the release of Anwar Ibrahim. A new political party, like the bus, will have many passengers with their own directions and destination points. But I have digressed and this point may be discussed at another date.
I was going to talk about the people’s movement and why we may never have fundamental reforms in our society. I have to conclude on the above discussion by saying that neither events like the “semarak” or “Anwar’s reformasi via the PKR” can be considered as a people’s movement.
There were however semblances of “people’s movements” in this country like the “Bersih campaign” and the “Lawyer’s walk”. These were two unprecedented events where the ordinary citizen took part without any cajoling, force or payment. Once again, the objective of these two events was very limited to specific objectives and it did not really succeed in firing up the imagination of the general citizen to pursue the issues canvassed.
For a people’s movement to arise, the people themselves must have the will to want to have fundamental reforms. For them to want reforms, they must know the following:
1. 1. The fundamental flaws of our existing system – for this to happen, there must be an environment of knowledge and discussion;
2. 2. There must know that alternative ways of doing things are available and possible;
3. 3. They must feel the injustice or the inefficiency of the system and be less tolerant of the same;
4. 4. They must understand or be made to understand that often they are being made use of as pawns on the political chessboard by the existing crop of politicians;
5. 5. They must see beyond their own selfish, narrow interests and learn that their indifference to larger things in society will hurt them or their future generations one day.
6. 6. That no fundamental reforms in human history has ever been achieved without sacrifices of energy, time and wealth.
7. 7. That what they do or do not do today will affect the well being of tomorrow.
Generally, I believe that we, as a society, are far away from possessing the above 7 characteristics. We are a Third world country that has developed but has still retained the third world mentality of non interference in National affairs. However, we fail to see that national affairs have a direct bearing on our daily lives, especially so in the long run. It is such “national indifference”, apathy’ ignorance and “fear” that will prevent us, the People, from bring about fundamental reforms in our country.
Lacking the will to bring about fundamental reforms, we develop a culture of “fire-fighting” and ad hoc measures. I find it extremely sad that we waste huge resources in developing fire-fighting measures only to spend more resources to put out more fires resulting from the expiry of the shelf life of the earlier fire-fighting measure! We are content to be a Nation of ad-hoc solutions without any concern for long term National goals and vision. Hence, we also end up having “cosmetic” reforms and reforms that cannot work because the system as a whole is not ready or capable of absorbing or sustaining such a reform. For example, the best of reforms in bringing about a “corruption free system” will fail if the factor of the corrupt human being who is tasked with implementing the system is not addressed. It will be like asking the cat to guard the fish. The cat must either be asked to go and replaced or be rehabilitated, if possible.
In the absence of the general will of the People to seek fundamental reforms, there are pockets of individuals or groups of Raperas who relentlessly try to seek fundamental reforms through their modest means. Sadly, however, even the efforts of these groups and individuals do not receive the kind of support from the people that they deserve. There many public interest non-governmental organizations, and individuals who are selflessly trying to make life better for all of us. We need to seek them out and provide our energy to strengthen their struggles.
For fundamental reforms to happen, I believe we must first of all get out of our current political understanding and perspectives (for those who find understanding very difficult). This, in itself is a major challenge because most people do not like to revisit their understanding of anything in their lives. It is this trait of Malaysians that is fully understood and capitalized upon by our current crop of politicians so that each of them can simply keep rewinding their own slogans and vision statements. We do not seem to realize that they are actually determining our values for us without even us having to evaluate them. The self-oppressive values become as normal as breathing.
It should be clear that if we are unwilling to re-evaluate our current political understanding, then we can never bring about any reforms. This is because our current political understanding is confined to the activities and thoughts of the currently existing political parties and we all know what they stand for and what they have achieved.
Are we happy with any of them? If not, do we expect them to radically reform or change? This answer cannot be accurately answered without first realizing that there is a big difference between the political government and the administrative government (civil service). The political government is the political party that forms the “government of the day”. For example, politically, Malacca is BN government while Penang is PR government. Administratively, is there any change in the state civil service of the two? The civil service is largely on auto pilot where it matters most to the people’s daily lives.
A creative, reform minded and energetic political government will give people benefitting direction and vision to the administrative government. That’s the critical difference. The manner in which the administrative government functions will also be influenced by the culture and values of the political government. Hence, though the civil service is almost on auto pilot, its integrity and level of efficiency will, to a large extent, be influenced by their political masters.
Therefore, it is extremely crucial that you evaluate the political masters that you want to put in the seat of political power. You can only do this wisely if you are prepared to think outside or alternative to your current understanding of politics.