Let's Seize the Year
A new year has arrived, and while it will probably not be as historic as the last, let it be a year of consolidation. Our country has made great strides forward in 2008; in 2009, I hope it can crystallise those gains and build on our past progress. A new Prime Minister and a renewed opposition must work together to produce new reforms and defend the advances we have made.
This previous year, we saw a landmark election with completely unexpected results. While disheartening for most ardent supporters of the ruling party, I think any Malaysian who loves democracy must admire the way we upheld an institution we have previously only paid lip service to. Before March 8, few really believed we had the freedom to elect our leaders; since then, no Malaysian can doubt that our democracy, as imperfect and nascent as it is, is real and meaningful.
The effects of March 8 have been a boon for any Malaysian who loves the freedoms we cherish and the rule of law. We have seen renewed efforts to combat corruption and restore judicial independence; we have seen the tide continue to turn against repressive laws like the Internal Security Act which a majority of the nation rejects. These reforms, as imperfect and stillborn as they are, remain important steps forward.
This year must be the year that we turn the promises of 2008 into reality. We will have a new Prime Minister to work with, and will begin the year for the first time with a stronger opposition than ever before. These must not be impediments to progress, but rather see the reforms Malaysians demanded on March 8 come into being.
Some people might think this is a year of complacency. But the resignation of Abdullah Badawi should not be the death knell for the reforms he has begun; it should herald a Prime Minister who will not only see them into being, but see them bloom like we could never have imagined before. Abdullah was not an effective Prime Minister, but Malaysians' appetite for change will not be sated by merely changing the name of our Prime Minister; polls more than ever show that Malaysians are still hungry for the reforms Abdullah promised, the reforms Pakatan Rakyat demands; if Najib Tun Razak wants his premiership to be a success, he cannot afford to let these reforms fail.
Others might think there is not much to look forward to now that a new federal government is not likely. But there is no mandate for the opposition to rest on its laurels either. The opposition must continue to fight for the reforms their constituents demand. The five Pakatan state governments have few excuses now; they must take leadership in moving their states forward and working on policy initiatives which will benefit the people who elected them. At the federal level, Pakatan MPs cannot let up on the pressure for constitutional and institutional reforms.
As we look back on 2008, it is hard to believe that exactly a year ago, many were just waiting to get the election over with so we could go back to business as usual. Hardly anyone on either side of the political divide seriously thought that half of Peninsular Malaysia would vote for the opposition, or that the Barisan Nasional's 2/3rds majority would be so solidly destroyed. 2008 was truly a year of incredible, seismic change, and the historic nature of it becomes increasingly clear as March 8 recedes ever further into the past.
It may be asking too much of 2009 to hope that by this time next year, we can say the same thing. This is likely to be a year of quiet, but God willing, solid progress. This is a crucial moment in our history; if we let things stall now, if we let the momentum for reforms slow, we will indubitably look back and see this as a year of wasted opportunity. The blush is not yet off the rose; the opportunity for reform—and political glory for either Barisan or Pakatan, or even both— still remains. Carpe diem, the Romans said—seize the day. Malaysians, let's seize the year; let's work together, no matter our race, religion or political affiliation, to make the reforms we all want and need a reality in this year of opportunity.
First published in The Malaysian Insider.