Change is in the air

Speech by DAP National Political Education Director Liew Chin Tong at the DAP Chamek pre-CNY Dinner on Sunday 11/2 (released on 14/2)

On the 10th of February 2015, I was in a hospital waiting for Mum outside the operating theatre where she had to undergo a surgery after a fall. It was then when I received news that the court has sentenced Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to jail. This was one of the rare occasions in the past decade where I wasn’t physically present at a historical moment of the Malaysian political scene.

This day also marked the start of a “leadership vacuum” in Malaysia. More Malays were getting frustrated with Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration but the Opposition had also lost some of our finest leaders. (Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat passed on two days later.)

April that year, I gave a speech at my alma mater, the Australian National University, where I completed my degree in Political Science and Asian Studies. I spoke about the Malay political leadership vacuum. I pointed out the failure of Najib to re-establish his authority and stature after the debacle in GE13, and how this would lead to a drastic reduction in the size of BN’s support base. At the same time, the Opposition had to do without Anwar and Nik Aziz while Hadi re-aligned himself (and PAS) to Najib. This could only mean one thing – that there was vacuum and we were just waiting for the rise of a new political order.

Following the split of PAS in June 2015 and the sacking of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin from UMNO a month later, I posited the idea that a Malay political tsunami and a political earthquake would happen soon. It was just a matter of time. No one took me seriously for the first two years, but now the so-called “pundits” are starting to echo me, or some of them are still trying very hard to dispute me.

While the “Malay tsunami” theory garnered much attention, it should be read together with the idea of “Malay leadership vacuum”. This vacuum was created after the imprisonment of Anwar, the passing of Nik Aziz and the defection of Hadi to the dark side.

Najib together with some of his high-profile BN leaders have angered the ordinary people way beyond repair. If Hishammuddin Hussein and Khairy Jamaludin were made PM and DPM back in 2015, this vacuum could have been filled easily. These figures are simply more appealing to Malaysians compared to Najib and Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. But we all know that this is impossible as Najib has to hang onto his position as PM to avoid prosecution following his multiple mega scandals.

By “political earthquake” I refer to the fact that never before in our 61 years of nationhood have we seen the two largest Malay political parties (UMNO and PAS) splitting at the same time when their leaders, Najib and Hadi are losing support from the masses. UMNO and PAS have lost their moral high ground in the eyes of their supporters.

To me, chatter at local kopitiams, markets or suraus reflect the big political picture. When MCA supporters can’t defend their party leaders during conversations over a cup of kopi O, when UMNO grassroot members find no explanation to Najib’s 1MDB scandal after being questioned by fellow surau-goers and when the Wanita UMNO members suffer from the ever-increasing price of groceries after implementation of GST, that’s when and where the epicentre of a tsunami will form. Let’s not forget PAS members who can’t justify the close collaboration between Hadi and Najib.

Similar to what happened in 2013, young non-Malay adults who return home from big cities play the role to convince their elderly parents to vote for the Opposition. But this time around, it will happen among the Malay community. Each Malay who bothers to drive home from Kuala Lumpur to his or her semi urban home would not vote for Najib.

Back in 2015, nobody would have imagined, even in their wildest dream, that the Malay leadership vacuum would eventually be filled by Mahathir. But it happened. And the tsunami is nearing.

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