Going by the talk about town, this may be my last column before the next General Election. It may therefore be opportune to consider what this General Election means to some, if not all, of us.
I thin it is safe to say that many of us are tired of how politicking appears to have become the raison d’etre of government. It appears to me that somewhere along the way, the politicians lost sight of the truth that no matter what the politics of the situation were, the end objective had always intended to be the due governance of the nation, be it in accordance with one set of policies or the other. And once they lost sight of that truth, it seems that it was simply put of their minds; political brinksmanship became the cause in itself.
I believe that this was more evident in the period since the last General Election, and that this was partly due to the fact that for the first time in a very long while, there was a credible opposition that, to the extent that they were capable of, presented a different perspective on how things are and where things might be headed. The incumbent parties have had to increasingly address policies, issues and practices that have come to be questioned by voters. This was a radical shift from a political landscape defined exclusively by the incumbents.
Simply put, the world is no longer as the Barisan Nasional says it is; as the Prime Minister unfortunately found out during the Barisan Nasional Open House in Penang, a growing number of Malaysians now see a world beyond that construct. Fundamentally, they want to live in a society grounded in social justice and one in which they believe that their interests are being looked out for.
An objective consideration of the state of the country would give any reasonable voter basis for a belief that that is not currently the case. The standard of public services is questionable, be it in healthcare or education. The cost of living has increased in a way that is not commensurate with the earning potential of many Malaysians. Corruption appears to be unbridled. Public institutions do not enjoy the confidence of the people in a way they did two decades ago. As scandal after scandal is left without response or reaction by the relevant authorities, the Rule of Law appears to be nothing more than a catchphrase employed to rally a flagging crowd.
And worryingly, the incumbent government continues to be dismissive about these legitimate concerns, characterising them as misperceptions brought about by parties intent on undermining the government. So much so that the incumbents are growingly being described as having lost the plot.
This then is the context in which the voter sits as he or she grapples with the question of how it is they are to achieve the society they aspire to. Some are worried about change and its implications. This is understandable; change is never an easy thing, sometimes requiring us to embrace uncertainty. Others are more gung-ho, perhaps having less to lose or firmly believing that there is no other solution.
Whatever the case though, I believe that there are critical issues that confront this society in a way that requires an urgent response, issues that serve as indicators marking the way forward if we recognise that every single ballot cast is a means to our desired end. The primary issues, as I see them, can be summarised as follows.
Firstly, the Rule of Law. This is not just about the courts and lawyers. It is a far wider concept that embraces the principle that the Government and its agencies are accountable to the people. It equally embraces the principle that no one is above the law. It calls for immediate action to restore the credibility of the Judiciary, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Royal Malaysian Police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, amongst others. It equally calls for a repeal of all laws that do not serve, or even impede, the cause of democracy.
Secondly, corruption. Unaddressed corruption is bleeding this country in a way that is harming it drastically. The fight against corruption must be focused on not only punishing perpetrators but also in sealing the fissures that allow for it. It calls for transparency and accountability that is premised on a freedom to, and of, information. The government of this country cannot be permitted to administer it by stealth.
Thirdly, social inclusiveness. Divisive policies, in particular the politics of race and religion, must be dismantled and replaced with policies that give the interests of every single Malaysian due regard. Every one of us must be brought into the protective embrace of the State.
The problems underlying these issues have festered for a while and are now threatening to overwhelm us. The incumbents have in the recent past attempted to assure us that they are being addressed, that more time is needed. The challengers tell us that they will address the same if given a chance. I appreciate that talk is cheap, and that it is nearly impossible to find a politician that is not willing to overstate or understate a point to gain an advantage. The situation however calls for an evaluation, to the extent that that is possible.
More fundamentally, it calls for self-respect. It is indisputable that the state of affairs is highly unsatisfactory and requires action. Reforms are sorely needed, not just for us, but also for the generations that follow. The way forward lies in what our heart tells us is going to allow us to protect those generations.
(This comment was first published in The Edge on 16.0.2013)