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Malaysia is changing rapidly. Each new day we seem to be breaking new ground, pushing back the limits of what we thought was possible. The appointment of Tommy Thomas as Attorney-General is yet another signal event – not because of his ethnicity or religious background but because  we once again have a man of integrity and impeccable credentials as attorney-general.

Many Malaysians are, of course, celebrating these changes and rightly so. Democracy and good governance were an essential part of what we all voted for and it is thrilling that we finally have a government that is making it happen. 

Old power structure

Not everyone, however, is excited about these changes or has an interest in good governance and the rule of law.

The old power structure (the UMNO politico-business-media complex), for example, is seething over the loss of its privileged position. They remain  completely unrepentant, even defiant. Former Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, for example, suggested that the ongoing exercise to uncover corruption and the abuse of power during the long years of UMNO rule is nothing more than the “politics of hate.”  They even have the audacity to try to lay claim to the millions in cash seized from Najib’s house insisting that it’s all legitimate “party” funds.

Far from going quietly into the night after their shock defeat at the polls, they are, in fact, regrouping. They still have significant representation in parliament and undoubtedly have huge sums of money (stashed away both at home and abroad)  at their disposal. Despite talk about making UMNO more inclusive, they now seem to be moving even further to the right. With most of the old discredited leadership still in place, a return to the old toxic politics of race and religion seems inevitable.

As well, they may have lost political power but they have not lost their power to manipulate and exploit the fears and uncertainties of those who have been conditioned by long years of racist propaganda. For many of them, every step the new Malaysia takes is perceived as a step backward, a loss of power and influence, a setback for race and religion. 

Hidden hands

We are already beginning to see the hand of the old power structure manifest itself in the ongoing discussions about institutional reform and particularly over key appointments.

Groups which conveniently slept through the disastrous years of the previous attorney-general, for example, are now suddenly weighing in against Tommy Thomas and worrying about Malay rights, the role of Islam and cronyism.

Where were they when the rights of all Malaysians were being trampled upon, when billions were being plundered from our national coffers and the religious values that underpin our nation were flouted without so much as a second thought?

In the light of all this, it is more imperative than ever that the full story of UMNO-BN’s corruption and misrule  be quickly exposed. Every last UMNO-BN politician and crony who has broken the law should be brought to book and their misdeeds revealed.

The people, particularly in the rural heartland, must see all these UMNO-BN leaders for who they truly are – not defenders of the faith but defrauders of the faithful, not champions of their race but  cheaters of their own people. They must never be allowed to pretend otherwise, not after the way the betrayed our nation.

Hopefully, the truth about their corruption and misdeeds will bury them politically.

Uniting behind Mahathir 

In the meantime, a key task of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government must be to win  the allegiance and support of the 50% of the electorate (including a majority of Malays) who did not vote for it and remain wary of all the changes that are going on in the country. The old power structure must not be allowed to exploit their fears or play on the insecurities of these voters.

Unity within the PH coalition will be critical to winning wider support, particularly among the Malay electorate.  PH leaders must themselves resist the temptation to play the old UMNO game of race and religion or play to the gallery to win popularity for themselves at the expense of PH as a whole.

PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim’s recent statement pledging, once again, his full support for Dr Mahathir’s leadership should be welcomed. Hopefully, it will help put to rest persistent doubts about his intentions.

The ongoing impasse in filling the remaining cabinet posts is also not helpful. For the sake of the country, party interests should be set aside and the Prime Minister given a free hand to fill the remaining cabinet posts as soon as possible. While equitable party representation is important, filling the cabinet with the best available team must take precedence.

For now at least, the rakyat want Mahathir to be given all the support he needs to get the job done; any attempt to undermine him will not go down well with them.

Not out of the woods yet

Our nation is making huge strides forward but we are not out of the woods yet. The old power structure is lurking in the background trying, by hook or by crook, to make a comeback, to forestall change. The people must continue to be vigilant and united behind Mahathir’s leadership if we are to see our democracy consolidated and our future secured.

[Dennis Ignatius | 8th June 2018 | Kuala Lumpur]