Missed opportunity

A de facto two-party system emerged from the polling boxes on March 8 two years ago. The one-party state, however, refused to make way. Thus, Malaysia missed the opportunity to evolve into a real, normal democracy.

Malaysians defied threats and overcame fear to vote for the opposition in Election 2008. About 51 per cent of voters in Peninsula voted for change, while nationally the opposition received 49 per cent of the votes.

At the press conference held in the wee hours of March 9, the then-prime minister, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, acknowledged the electoral results, thus putting to rest the fear of unrest.

It was a real opportunity for Malaysia to transform itself from a one-party state, which blurs the line between party and government and treats legitimate political dissent and opponents as enemies of the state, to a genuine two-party system, which provides for level playing fields for both sides of the divide based on rule of law.

However, the hawks have never accepted the results.

No better contrast illustrates the struggle between the possible normal democracy and the archaic one-party state than the events that unfolded around Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in mid-July 2008, four months after the electoral tsunami.

On July 14, the city of Kuala Lumpur was locked down by a massive operation involving 1,600 policemen who were trying to prevent a mass demonstration, as they attempted to arrest Anwar.

On July 15, at the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Anwar debated the then-minister of information, Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek (now Youth and Sports Minister) on a fuel price hike, a major preoccupation of the Malaysian public since a shocking 40 per cent increase on June 4. It was the first time in a decade that Anwar appeared on national television a positive figure and not as a vilified object.

On July 16, Anwar was ambushed and arrested by armed police commandos in balaclavas near his residence, despite assuring his willingness to co-operate with the police.

This was how the one-party entity treated democracy; instead of treating the opposition as a check-and-balance necessity, it went all out to destroy any form of opposition.

For Anwar, one day he was the premier-in-waiting debating a government minister; the next day, the most dangerous criminal in town.

Shabery’s less than satisfactory performance during the television debate nailed it all. The debate was perhaps the last night of Umno’s doves, if there was ever one.

Umno didn’t know how to deal with the new milieu. From the initial clumsiness trying to figure out which way to react to the new scenario, hardliners in Umno ascended quickly, especially after Abdullah’s disastrous decision to hike fuel prices at once.

An allegation of sodomy by one Saiful Bukhari against Anwar on June 28 has to be seen in this historical context. Political competition has taken an ugly turn ever since. If the leader of the opposition can be persecuted in this manner, what does that say to all other Malaysians?

On Sept 12, the Member of Parliament for Seputeh and senior exco for Selangor, Teresa Kok; Sinchew Daily journalist Tan Hoon Cheng; and blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin were dramatically arrested under the draconian Internal Security Act.

Since then, it was a spiral downhill, ranging from the controversial Perak coup, the Teoh Beng Hock custodial death, the “Allah” issue, to the recent crossovers from Parti Keadilan Rakyat. These incidents can mostly be traced to Umno’s thirst to restore its one-party dominance by all means, regardless of legality and legitimacy.

Malaysia, stuck in a time warp, continues to long for change. The nation missed its chance provided by Election 2008 to remake itself into a genuine and normal democracy.

It’s time for change, again.

The Malaysian Insider

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