The same could well be said about Malaysia following the 13th General Elections.
There can be little doubt that there was widespread electoral fraud during the elections. The Election Commission’s much touted indelible ink, for example, turned out to be a joke. The only indelible stain, as far as most Malaysians are concerned, is on the reputation and credibility of the EC itself.
Until these reports are properly and transparently investigated and put to rest, it is reasonable for Malaysians to question the validity of the elections and the continuing legitimacy of the Barisan Nasional (BN) government. Clearly, BN has lost the support and confidence of the majority of Malaysians.
Our options, however, are limited. The BN government has a strong grip on the levers of power; almost all national institutions function as little more than appendages of the ruling party. No fair process of appeal is therefore available or possible.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that we have to resign ourselves to the hijacking of our democracy. Citizens actually have enormous power and there are a number of things we can do and must do.
We can, for example, work to change the media environment and promote independent journalism by boycotting government-controlled media like the New Straits Times, The Star and Utusan Malaysia, and subscribing instead to online media like Malaysiakini which tend to report without fear or favour. It’s high time we leveraged our collective economic strength to send a strong signal to the media barons of Malaysia that we will no longer accept one-sided and fawning news coverage.
We can continue to support BERSIH and let the Elections Commission know that we won’t accept anything less than a clean, credible and fair electoral system. BERSIH has indicated that a tribunal will be set up to investigate electoral fraud. All those who have evidence of electoral fraud of any kind should come forward. Together, we can expose what really went on during the elections and hopefully prevent it from happening the next time.
We can also continue to expose corruption, the abuse of power and misgovernance. If we can’t trust the system to put an end to this cancer in our society, we must do it ourselves. We have already seen the impact that exposés of corruption and the abuse of power can have. If we blow the whistle on corruption and wrongdoing whenever and wherever we find it, we can put the corrupt on notice that there is a good chance that they will be discovered and shamed if not prosecuted.
Pakatan Rakyaat (PK) leaders, especially in Selangor, Penang and Kelantan have done an outstanding job in showing the nation what good and responsible government looks like. In many ways, they have already set the benchmark for good governance in Malaysia. We must support and encourage them further. We must become even more active participants in the political process because the future of our democracy will be determined in no small way by what happens in these states during the next five years.
Most of all, let us build upon the spirit of national unity and common purpose that is already in evidence throughout the country. An immense psychological barrier was broken when the people of Malaysia rejected the old paradigm of racial and religious division and distrust. The ghost of May 13th has been finally exorcized despite the best efforts of racist and morally bankrupt politicians to keep it alive. It is now incumbent upon us, the ordinary citizens, to build upon this and deepen the roots of unity, tolerance and respect. We don’t need, and cannot expect, politicians to teach us about national unity; we just need to begin with ourselves and practice it as a way of life.
We have already come a long way. Despite the electoral fraud and the hijacking of our democracy, our nation has irrevocably changed for the better because of the commitment and activism of millions of ordinary citizens. We finally have a credible two-party parliamentary system. We have found our common purpose and reaffirmed our common identity as Malaysians first and foremost. And just as exciting, the youth of Malaysia have become agents of change.
As well, we have served notice on the BN elites that we can’t be fooled by empty promises, that we won’t be divided by race or religion, that we refuse to be cowered by threats and intimidation, that we reject entirely the sleaze, corruption and the abuse of power they have foisted upon our nation for so long.
If BN wants our support and allegiance, if they really want to promote reconciliation and demonstrate their worthiness to govern, let them compete with PR in good governance, in service to the people, in sound policies and proper implementation, and in respect for the dignity of the people they govern. If they want our respect, let them emulate the integrity and humility of Tok Guru Nik Aziz, the selfless service and commitment of Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Kit Siang, the economic stewardship of Lim Guan Eng and Khalid Ibrahim, and the zeal for democracy of Ambiga and her colleagues in BERSIH.