Many woke up the day after the 12th General Elections on 8 March with the feeling that a tsunami had hit the country over the past 24 hours. Almost no one expected the scale of change that would sweep over the political landscape. The Barisan National (BN) not only lost its 2/3 majority in Parliament but also an unprecedented five states to the Opposition as well. Whereas some had feared that any major swing towards the opposition will result in a BN government with a much weakened non-Malay representation but an even more dominant UMNO, that was not to be. The swing against BN in West Malaysia cut across all three dominant races—Malay, Chinese and Indian.
A side observation on the election is that the Christian (or at least the Protestant part) community has also grown over the last few decades. As recent as no more than 20 years ago, the idea dominant in many churches was that ‘Politics is dirty’ and that it should be left to the people ‘of this world’ to deal with. Christians should be concerned with ‘higher things’ such as preaching the gospel and getting ourselves ready for heaven (even though many were also trying to make as much mammon for ourselves along the way, sometimes in the most unholy of manners)! And we sang with great gusto hymns like ‘This world is not our home, we are just passing through …’ But this election showed that there was widespread concern in many parts of the church to be actively engaged in the political process, so that we can truly be ‘salt and light’ in a broken world. It is most heartening to note this change. The challenge now is for the Christian community to move forward towards greater maturity in living out our responsibilities as citizens!
Many have written on the factors that brought about the massive swing of votes. Dr Azly Rahman in his article ‘The Malaysian Revolution of 2008!’ listed a number of moral and governance factors that led many to reject BN, among which are massive corruption and the protection of those involved, rampant abuse of power, arrogant leaders, outdated abuse of racist arguments, inability to produce equitable and sustainable development programs, cronyism and nepotism, creation of an alienated and disposed generation, conspicuous consumption, rampant rising prices, inefficient management of resources, blatant disregard of human rights, exploitation of the dangerous concept of ‘ketuanan Melayu’, and leaders who have overstayed.
To the above may be added at least three other socio-political factors. The first is the emergence of a more mature electorate, especially among the younger and more educated, who are seriously concerned with the declining standards and the lack of competitiveness of Malaysia in a globalized world. These are reflected in our declining world ranking in economic competitiveness, FDI, corruption index and university standards. The second is the power of the Internet and the mobile phone. Whereas the BN could control the information flow via the radio, TV and press in the past, the bloggers and the SMS’s blew all that away this time round and forever! And of course, there is the Anwar factor. The large swing of Malay votes to the Opposition was no doubt due to the influence he exercises among the Malay middle-class professionals and civil servants!
Clearly, Malaysian politics will never be the same again. Whereas BN (or at least some parties within BN) has thought of itself as being untouchable, what this election has shown is that no one can put himself or his party above the concerns of the people of this country, and still think that he or his party will survive in the next round! Much credit for the change this time must go to the people of Malaysia, who dared to ask hard questions and are demanding higher standards of morality and governance from those elected, instead of being merely bought over by handouts and election ‘ang-pows’!
So the party has begun, right? Just before we get too carried away by our post-election euphoria, allow me to suggest that we are still a long way from home! For what makes us so sure that the Opposition is that answer that Malaysia needs? We have seen enough in our country to remind us that when an opposition party comes into power, it does not necessarily do better! As Lord Acton so famously put it, ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’! And if you are not convinced by historic examples from our own country, just look at Zimbabwe. Mugabe, who led and won the fight against the white supremacist government of Ian Smith, and whose Presidency began with such promises for his nation, has tragically ruined his once rich country and made it a basket case!
Further, there are tough questions that the present Opposition has yet to address adequately. To what extent is their present alliance merely a marriage of convenience, which will begin to unfold once the hard process of governing begins, with countervailing forces pulling in hundreds of different directions? How many fairy tale marriages have ended up in acrimonious divorces before our eyes in real life? Moreover, we have to frankly state that PAS’ decision not to talk of an Islamic state this round is nothing more than an election ploy. It has never renounced that as its ultimate goal, nor offered the possibility of a more acceptable alternative. Finally, when we examine the track records of some of the opposition leaders, we do not always see virtuous political virgins in unblemished white. Look carefully and you will find skeletons in their cupboards as well.
This brings me to my real concern in this article. How are we to respond as Christians to the sea of change that has swept over the country? Allow me to suggest three things. First, the church must put her own house in order. How can we speak with moral authority about integrity and truthfulness in public life if Christians and church leaders are also known to be dishonest in life and speech? How can we expect our political leaders to be uncorrupted if we regularly and casually pay bribes to get our own way or maximize our profits? Irrespective of whether the BN or the Opposition wins, our call as Christians remains unchanged: to live by God’s truth, to obey His commands, and thereby be the ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ (Matthew 5:13ff, Holy Bible).
Secondly, irrespective of who is in power, we must do all that is within our means to ensure that integrity and accountability prevails in government. We should demand of our elected officials and civil servants transparency at every level. We should not be afraid to use the press and our blogs, or mass emailing and SMS’s, directly or through NGOs and similar organizations, to expose evil, incompetence and corruption at all levels. But whenever we do this, we must ensure that it is done wisely and responsibly, without being careless, extravagant and unnecessarily sensational in our social critique. A good example of this is the ‘CPPS Elections 08 Policy Fact Sheets,’ produced by the Centre for Public Policy Studies and circulated on the internet. CPPS simply stated the plain facts, and allowed thinking Malaysians to draw their own conclusions. And those of us who have been elected or are invited to participate in the process of governing, we should strive to be examples of diligence, efficiency, honesty and compassion towards all, such as Joseph, Daniel and Nehemiah were in Old Testament times.
Finally, the Bible enjoins us to pray regularly ‘for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ (1Timothy 2:2, Holy Bible). Many of us had prayed that God will act to bring about a more godly and just government through the last elections. Now that the elections are over, our responsibility to pray does not end. Let us continue to pray that God will subdue all forces of extremism and violence so that stability and peace will prevail in our nation; that national leaders will stop politicking and get on with the process of responsible governing instead; that God will continue to expose and remove those bent on self-seeking ambition and advancing chauvinistic agendas of every kind; that integrity and justice will rule in the corridors of power; and all citizens, especially the poor and marginalized, will have a fair share of the goodness, wealth and opportunities with which God has so richly endowed Malaysia. Pray too especially for Christians who have been elected or appointed to office, that God will give them grace sufficient for their tasks.
Recently, the Malaysia National Prayer Network (MNPN) was launched on 19 March. This is essentially a network of prayer networks that already exist. The MNPN leadership has called on the whole church in the country to join together in a prayer initiative wherein every Christian takes a few minutes at least (but longer if possible) EVERY DAY at 12 noon, to pray for the revival of the church and the transformation of the nation. In particular, they have asked all Christians and churches over the next 50 days, from 23rd March (Resurrection Sunday) to 11th May (Pentecost Sunday), to set aside time for praise, prayer and intercession for Malaysia and all post-election issues. If the whole church can rise up to take on this challenge, many are convinced that the sea change that has begun will certainly open the way for truly greater things to come for our nation, to the blessing of millions in the land and to the glory of God!
This article was written by Rev. Dr. Hwa Yung, Bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaysia in the April edition of Pelita Methodist